Before he became Twitter’s biggest shareholder with a 9.2% stake, Elon Musk asked his followers: do you believe Twitter rigorously adheres to free speech? Of the two million respondents, over 70% said no.
Two days later, the Tesla CEO tweeted he is giving “serious thought” to setting up his own social media platform, with again, an emphasis on making free speech a priority. “Given that Twitter serves as the de facto public town square, failing to adhere to free speech principles fundamentally undermines democracy,” he said.
The rise of “free speech” social media apps
Musk is not alone however, as an increasing number of alternative social media platforms with a “free speech” USP are cropping up. In February, Donald Trump set up Truth Social as a response to being banned from Twitter, in what he called the “fight against Big Tech”.
So far, the launch has been largely unsuccessful with a share price collapse, a 93% drop in sign-ups and a figurehead who rarely posts on his own app. It’s also only available to Apple users in the US on mobile devices.
What are Parler, Gettr & Rumble?
Then there’s Parler, Gettr and Rumble – platforms which are also attracting a right-wing audience centered around “free speech”. Parler was removed from the Apple app store in the wake of the US capitol riots in January 2021 because of posts on the network inciting violence.
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However, the app was made available again a few months later after agreeing to exclude specific content from the iOS version of its app. This content remains available on desktop and Android versions.
Gettr, founded by former Donald Trump advisor Jason Miller, positions itself as a platform rejecting political censorship and cancel culture. The app was set up to be a hub for American conservatives, but has since gained international user interest as well.
British actor, musician and failed politician Laurence Fox is already a fan. He tweeted in January: “I’m so happy @gettr exists. I can’t wait to be kicked off the smut platform of twitter.” So far, his 32,000 Gettr followers don’t quite match up to his 308,000-strong Twitter following.
Video platform Rumble has YouTube in its sights. As YouTube has become stricter at enforcing its content moderation policies, Rumble has become a hub for “alternative facts” and has a high frequency of conspiracy videos – many focused on QAnon and vaccine misinformation. Reporters from WIRED found “Rumble has not only allowed misinformation to thrive on its platform, it has also actively recommended it”.
Social media platforms with a less stern moderating policy seem to be all the rage. The largely politically homogeneous audiences on these platforms could contribute to creating even more impenetrable echo chambers than the ones we currently have on mainstream platforms.
Twitter and YouTube are social media behemoths, with a structure and user base that won’t be toppled by new platforms, some barely six months old, and for now, their impact is varied and unpredictable. While Trump has a loyal following, they haven’t successfully migrated with him to Truth Social, whereas platforms like Rumble demonstrate the dire consequences of right-wing, self-policed content not just allowed, but encouraged to thrive online.
By Dina Zubi, staff writer for CORQ.