President Donald Trump’s online supporters are scattered across small social media platforms, fleeing what they say is inappropriate behavior by Facebook, Twitter, and other large tech firms, given the threats and threats of violence.
According to social media and misinformation experts, the efforts by those mainstream platforms will be successful due to the deadly stampede at the US Capitol on 6 January. But this crack may send some avid supporters of Trump retreating to dark and secret places on the Internet where conspiracy theories and violent rhetoric run.
“We’re going to see fewer opportunities to radicalize new people”, Kate Starbird, a leading misinformation expert at the University of Washington, said Wednesday. “But for those who are already fanatics, or are already down the rabbit hole with conspiracy theories, it doesn’t matter if they go they become echo chambers.”
For years, mainstream tech companies were the targets of conservative ire, with complaints that Facebook and Twitter implement their policies with political bias. The platforms have been criticized for allowing harmful conspiracy theories and hate speech to flourish on their sites.
Then there was an unprecedented backlash from tech companies to the capital riot, fueled by false and misleading social media posts that undermined confidence in the US election. Twitter banned Trump’s account, as well as removed 70,000 accounts linked to the far-right QAnon conspiracy theory. Facebook and Instagram suspended Trump at the end of his term and fraudulently deleted posts, claiming the US election was stolen. Snapchat also banned Trump and on Wednesday YouTube suspended its channel for at least a week.
Some conservative users had taken refuge at the parlor for a short time, going dark Monday only to see a conservative alternative to Facebook when Amazon stopped providing hosting services. Parler sued Amazon over the ban; Amazon responded by arguing the platform’s “unwillingness” to delete the post threatened public safety.
The crack prompted many conservative posters to consider more obscure alternative platforms such as Gab, which have marketed themselves to Trump supporters. Gab CEO Andrew Torba, who describes himself as a “Christian entrepreneur and American populist,” posted on Wednesday that 1.7 million users signed up in the last four days.
“This is where we make our final stand for our sacred birthright authority given by God and confirmed by our founding fathers,” read a comment shared by Torba.
Other platforms attracting Trump supporters include Signal and Telegram, the messaging service already used by differently-minded individuals and groups around the world, as well as lesser-known platforms such as Rumble, Meow and ClotHub There is also a growing list.
Telegram announced on Wednesday that it had more than 500 million users, with more than 25 million signatures since Sunday.
Many Trump social media stars who have disappeared from mainstream platforms have launched their own channels on the service, which have become thousands of followers in just a few days. A channel that claims to be run by conservative attorney L. Lynn Wood Jr., who lambasted Twitter with false claims about the election and called the parlor to kill Vice President Mike Pence, has since 100,000 since his first message More customers were received. Posted on Monday. QAnon and far-flung channels have also increased their membership to thousands this week.
Jared Holt, a disinfection researcher at the Washington-based Think Atlantic Council, said many of these smaller sites were already shying away from Twitter, YouTube and Facebook for extremists and haters.
“In the worst case scenario, I can imagine that there could be massive radicalization here, if people’s droms show up on platforms that have been the basis to fill up for extremist movements,” Holt said. said.
These platforms still only have a fraction of the audience Facebook or Twitter have, meaning it will be harder for conspiracy theorists and extremists to spread their message.
Regarding the breakdown of the platform, Starbird said, “There are trade offs, there is less misinformation being spread to the general public, but there is also the risk of focusing misinformation on smaller sites with some rules and nothing more.
It is also possible that the likes of Signal, Telegram and WhatsApp can make the most of secure, encrypted messaging services, making it difficult for researchers, journalists and government officials to monitor threat signals. James Ludess, a former congressional defense analyst and dissolution expert who runs the Pell Center for International Relations and Public Policy at Salve Regina University.
“They’re still here,” Luddes said. “If we knock all these people into the dark shadow of the Internet, they will continue to communicate, but the authorities will have a hard time tracking this.”
Meanwhile, plans for armed protests in state capitals continue on fringe websites linked to the anti-government Bugloo movement. Something about such protests exists on social media, Holt said, and an internal FBI bulletin this week Such events warned of extremist threats.
The organizers said “there is still intention to move forward,” Holt said. “It is unclear what we can expect as far as voting for it is concerned.”