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Rumble, the Right’s Go-To Video Site, Has Much Bigger Ambitions
The company, supported by Donald Trump, Peter Thiel and other prominent conservatives, wants to help build a “new internet” independent from Silicon Valley’s titans.
Credit... Erik Carter
By Jeremy W. Peters
- Published March 28, 2022 Updated March 29, 2022
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You won’t find Red Pill News or the X22 Report on YouTube anymore. The far-right online shows were taken down in the fall of 2020 after the major social media and tech companies started purging accounts that spread the QAnon conspiracy theory.
But you will find both of them on a video-sharing platform called Rumble, where their content ranks among the most popular on the site.
Over the last week, as Republicans opened a misleading attack on Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson as too lenient with criminals who sexually abuse children, Red Pill News and the X22 Report posted videos claiming that her nomination to the Supreme Court by President Biden was all the proof anyone needed that a cabal of pedophiles operated at the highest levels of the government, a belief QAnon adherents hold.
“Think about the bigger picture,” the host of the X22 Report, which has more than half a million Rumble subscribers, implored his viewers in an episode posted on Wednesday. “Right now, people are being taught about pedophilia. People are listening to this, and they’re seeing exactly how these people think and how they’re trying to normalize it.”
In one day, that episode was viewed almost 220,000 times on Rumble, which has experienced explosive growth since conservatives and supporters of former President Donald J. Trump embraced it after the 2020 election. Its users and financial backers see it as the new frontier in social media — a network built by and for them, where virtually anything goes.
Rumble’s chief executive pitches the company, which is based in Toronto, as “immune from cancel culture.” It has tens of millions of dollars in financing from right-of-center entrepreneurs like the billionaire Peter Thiel, and Mr. Trump entered into an arrangement for Rumble to provide his new social media service, Truth Social, with the technology and operational support that it lacked itself.
Once better known for viral videos of cats and toddlers, Rumble now draws 44 million monthly visitors, according to the analytics firm Similarweb, giving it a larger reach than other top destinations for conservative content, including Breitbart, Newsmax and The Daily Wire. In the first nine months of last year, the most recently available financial information, Rumble generated more than $6.5 million in revenue, most of it from advertising, but was not profitable. It has announced plans to trade publicly, as soon as the middle of this year, after merging with a special purpose acquisition company.
The story of Rumble’s success is instructive for both sides of the tense debate over balancing the right to free speech with the growing threat that disinformation poses to the stability of governments around the globe. For those who argue that Google and Facebook algorithms are blunt, deeply flawed instruments for policing discourse, Rumble offers a welcome alternative, albeit an imperfect one. And for those who fear that lawmakers and technology companies aren’t doing enough to tame false and fabricated information ahead of the next presidential election, Rumble has opened up a potentially dangerous loophole.
“There is something very significant about Rumble that I don’t think people appreciate,” said Angelo Carusone, president of Media Matters, the liberal media watchdog. Mr. Carusone said the painstaking work that went into persuading Facebook, Google and Twitter to be more aggressive about policing fake and inciting content prevented a lot of it from breaking through to a wider audience.
“Rumble basically changes that game,” he added.
Rumble’s chief executive, Chris Pavlovski, has said he did not set out to create a platform where right-wing content is favored when he started it in 2013. Rather, he said, he envisioned Rumble as an alternative to the approach that Google and other large tech companies took a decade ago when they began to promote the content of a select group of influencers over everyday users.
“There is no ideology here. If anything, we’re just neutral,” Mr. Pavlovski said in an interview last month with a popular Rumble content creator.
He has described his mission in lofty, virtuous terms. “We are a movement that does not stifle, censor or punish creativity,” he said in announcing Rumble’s plans to go public. More recently, he has chastised social media and search engine companies like DuckDuckGo, a Google alternative popular on the right that angered some users when it said it would steer people away from sites that promoted misinformation about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Mr. Pavlovski announced on Twitter that he had deleted its app from his phone.
But Rumble’s democratizing vision for speech online has so far mostly appealed to people on the right. That includes numerous extremists who use their Rumble accounts to deny the effectiveness of vaccines, play down the horrific human toll of Russia’s aggression in Ukraine and question the legitimacy of the 2020 election. Still, criticism of the often capricious and inconsistent nature of online censorship rings true beyond those with fringe beliefs.
There is a large audience to be had, and one that some who study far-right content online warn has been left unchecked to grow into a powerful political weapon for conservatives and supporters of Mr. Trump.
“It’s already succeeded — this alternate universe has already bloomed,” said Denver Riggleman, a former Republican congressman and an intelligence analyst who is working with the commission in Congress investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.
Mr. Pavlovski and Rumble representatives did not respond to interview requests.
But he has made clear in streamed remarks to Rumble creators and to others that his ambitions are far greater than increasing traffic to his website and app. With investments from like-minded critics of Big Tech like Mr. Thiel, Mr. Pavlovski has described a vision for building a “new internet” — a kind of alt-web that is entirely distinct from the dominant players in the industry.
Rumble has already built out its own cloud service infrastructure and video streaming capacity, offering it and its partners greater independence from the Amazons and Microsofts of the internet — and the assurance that they can’t be shut down if one of those providers decides to pull the plug over objectionable content. Looming large in the minds of Rumble fans is the experience of the social media network Parler, which effectively shut down once Amazon said it would no longer host the site on its computing services after the Jan. 6 attacks last year.
The promise of independence from the tech giants led Mr. Trump to have Rumble provide technology and cloud services for Truth Social, which has struggled to become fully operational on its own. In a statement announcing the partnership in December, Mr. Trump said he had picked Rumble because it’s among the service providers “who do not discriminate against political ideology.”
Rumble has also secured exclusive arrangements with popular content creators who have a following beyond conservatives and Trump supporters, such as the journalist Glenn Greenwald, who has been vocal about his beliefs that technology behemoths and the mainstream media have too much power to quash speech. Rumble highlighted its partnership with Mr. Greenwald as an example of its content-neutral approach. (As for what it considers out of bounds, Rumble says it does not tolerate anything that is overtly racist, promotes violence or breaks the law.)
But there are also the popular Rumble creators the company doesn’t talk about in news releases, like Alex Jones of Infowars, who was barred from YouTube and other mainstream platforms in 2018 and now has more than 100,000 Rumble followers.
That’s a small number compared with the millions on YouTube who followed Mr. Jones, who has spread bogus theories that the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre was staged as part of a government plot to confiscate firearms. Those who study the right-wing media ecosystem say it is difficult to tell how large the overall audience for hard-right content is, in large part because the traffic data available for individual sites includes a lot of overlap from users who frequent more than one.
“It’s an intensely engaged population,” said Yochai Benkler, a professor at Harvard Law School who is a co-author of a book about the ways conservative outlets reinforce their messages through repetition and shut down dissent. For an individual platform like Rumble, he added, the audience is likely to be larger than whatever the size is on paper.
“All of my skepticism of how many people there are bumps up against the reality” that millions more people voted for Trump than watch Fox News, he said. “So there’s something going on.”
One of Rumble’s marquee names is Dan Bongino, the pro-Trump host and former Secret Service agent who replaced Rush Limbaugh in some radio markets and streams his daily show on Rumble to 2.2 million subscribers. Mr. Bongino’s path to Rumble illustrates the inherent difficulties of policing misinformation and conspiracy theories. YouTube started cracking down on him in the fall of 2020 for violating its policies meant to stop the spread of false stories about the coronavirus.
After YouTube prevented Mr. Bongino from collecting ad revenue from the site, he announced that he was taking an equity stake in Rumble and made it his preferred video platform. “We need a home,” he said at the time. “We need somewhere to go where conservative views won’t be discriminated against.”
In the weeks and months that followed, as Mr. Trump refused to accept his loss in the election and YouTube blocked content that bolstered his false claims of widespread voter fraud, others jumped on board with Rumble, too, including One America News.
On the day after Rumble announced its OAN partnership, Mr. Pavlovski insisted that his company would never censor that kind of political speech. “Rumble will not adopt a policy like this,” he said, citing an unimpeachable inspiration for his resolve: Galileo, who was charged with heresy by the Roman Catholic Church for theorizing that the Earth revolved around the sun.
Audio produced by Adrienne Hurst .
Jeremy W. Peters covers media and its intersection with politics, law and culture. He is the author of “Insurgency: How Republicans Lost Their Party and Got Everything They Ever Wanted.” More about Jeremy W. Peters
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Key facts about rumble.
Rumble, an online video-sharing platform founded in 2013, is one of several alternative social media platforms that have created small but generally satisfied communities of news consumers in recent years. In October 2022, Pew Research Center released a study that looked closely at Rumble and six other such sites: BitChute , Gab , Gettr , Parler , Telegram and Truth Social .
Here are key facts about Rumble and its users, based on the Center’s study.
This Pew Research Center analysis provides data about the online video-sharing site Rumble. It is based on an October 2022 Center study that examined Rumble and six other alternative social media sites – BitChute, Gab, Gettr, Parler, Telegram and Truth Social – using a multi-method approach. Sites were included in the study if they had publicly accessible posts, were mentioned in news media, and had at least 500,000 unique visitors in December 2021.
The survey portion of the study was conducted May 16-22, 2022, among 10,188 U.S. adults. Everyone who completed the survey is a member of Pew Research Center’s American Trends Panel (ATP), an online survey panel that is recruited through national, random sampling of residential addresses. This way nearly all U.S. adults have a chance of selection. The survey is weighted to be representative of the U.S. adult population by gender, race, ethnicity, partisan affiliation, education and other categories. Read more about the ATP’s methodology here . Respondents were asked about their familiarity with each of the seven social media sites studied. Those who reported having heard of these sites were also asked whether they use the sites and get news there, how they feel about them, and more.
The margin of sampling error for the full sample of 10,188 respondents is plus or minus 1.6 percentage points; the margin of sampling error for the 587 alternative social media news consumers is plus or minus 7.0 percentage points; and the margin of sampling error for the 266 Rumble news consumers is plus or minus 9.8 percentage points.
The audit of alternative social media sites was initially conducted in April 2022. To conduct the analysis, a team of researchers were trained on a set of variables that examined features of each site like its privacy and moderation policies. Researchers reexamined each site in August-September 2022 (Rumble was also rechecked in December 2022) and updated findings with any changes.
The account content analysis examines a sample of 200 prominent accounts on each of the seven sites included in this analysis, for a total of 1,400 examined accounts. Prominent accounts were sampled from the 5% of accounts with the highest number of followers on each site. A team of trained researchers analyzed these 1,400 sampled accounts to determine who runs the account, their political orientation, values, and other characteristics. For more details on how accounts were identified and sampled, read the methodology .
The content analysis of posts examines the topics discussed and sources cited in 585,470 posts published in June 2022 by the 1,400 sampled accounts (only 1,147 of these accounts posted at least once that month). Researchers used a set of unique keywords to identify posts about five distinct topics – abortion; guns, gun control and shootings; the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol; LGBTQ issues; and vaccines. Researchers looked at unique two- and three-word phrases that were commonly used in posts on each topic. Researchers then examined the unique domains linked to in these posts to identify the types of sources these accounts were using.
Here are the questions used in the study, detailed tables and the methodology .
Pew Research Center is a subsidiary of The Pew Charitable Trusts, its primary funder. This is the latest report in Pew Research Center’s ongoing investigation of the state of news, information and journalism in the digital age, a research program funded by The Pew Charitable Trusts, with generous support from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.
- While 20% of U.S. adults say they have heard of Rumble , only 2% regularly get news there . Overall, just 6% of Americans regularly get news from at least one of the seven sites studied, and no single site is used for news by more than 2% of U.S. adults. In comparison, many more Americans use more established social media sites for news , including Facebook (31%), YouTube (25%) and Twitter (14%).
- Roughly three-quarters of those who regularly get news from Rumble (76%) identify as Republicans or lean toward the Republican Party, while 22% identify as Democrats or lean Democratic. In contrast, those who get news on at least one of three more established social media sites studied by the Center – Facebook, Twitter and YouTube – are more likely to be Democrats than Republicans.
- Many of Rumble’s news consumers report having positive experiences. Around nine-in-ten of the adults who regularly get news on Rumble (88%) say they expect the news and information there to be mostly accurate , while 10% expect it to be mostly inaccurate. A large share of Rumble news consumers (69%) say the news they got there helped them better understand current events, while 12% say it made them more confused about current events.
Two-thirds of those who regularly get news on Rumble (67%) say they are very or somewhat satisfied with the experience, while 12% are very or somewhat dissatisfied. Additionally, 69% of these news consumers say discussions on Rumble are mostly friendy , while 11% see mostly unfriendly discussions and 13% say they see about an equal mix of the two.
- While Rumble explicitly states that it supports free speech and opposes censorship, it has policies that allow the platform to moderate user content at least to some extent. Rumble’s website states that it is different from other Big Tech sites that “continue to embrace ‘ cancel culture .’” And in December 2021, Rumble challenged New York’s online hate speech law, which requires sites to “provide and maintain a clear and easily accessible mechanism for individual users to report incidents of hateful conduct.” Still, Rumble does place some restrictions on content. A review of Rumble’s proposed moderation policies from June 2022 shows that they prohibit obscenity, stalking and discrimination.
- Most of Rumble’s prominent accounts are run by individuals, not organizations, and about a quarter have been banned or demonetized on other social media sites. The Center’s study examined 200 prominent accounts on Rumble, selected from those with the most followers. As of June 2022, about eight-in-ten accounts (78%) were individuals while 21% were organizations. About a fifth of these prominent Rumble accounts (22%) have been banned or demonetized on other platforms.
- Many prominent Rumble accounts maintain social media profiles on more established sites. Just over half of prominent accounts on Rumble (55%) promote accounts on other sites, including more established sites like Facebook, Twitter or YouTube, as well as other alternative social media sites examined in the Center’s broader study. While 44% of prominent Rumble accounts promote their accounts on more established social media sites, only 16% do so on the other alternative social media sites studied.
- Guns, abortion and LGBTQ issues were among the subjects that prominent Rumble accounts focused on in June 2022. A review of posts from these 200 prominent Rumble accounts found that about half posted about guns and gun rights (49%) or abortion (48%), 44% posted about LGBTQ issues, and 42% posted about the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. These posts came amid widespread discussion of major events and issues that were regularly covered in the news at the time.
Note: Here are the questions used in the study, detailed tables and the methodology .
Read more about alternative social media sites:
- Truth Social
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Key facts about Telegram
Key facts about truth social, key facts about parler, the role of alternative social media in the news and information environment, social media use in 2021, most popular.
About Pew Research Center Pew Research Center is a nonpartisan fact tank that informs the public about the issues, attitudes and trends shaping the world. It conducts public opinion polling, demographic research, media content analysis and other empirical social science research. Pew Research Center does not take policy positions. It is a subsidiary of The Pew Charitable Trusts .
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