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The Technology 202: YouTube alternative Rumble highlights conservatives’ move to more hands-off social networks


Rumble chief executive Chris Pavlovski tells me in an interview the company has seen a surge in new users since Election Day. He anticipates the company will close out the month with about 80 million unique users, up from about 60 million in October and 40 million midsummer. The company’s app has been installed about 375,000 times in the last seven days, according estimates from data firm Sensor Tower. That’s a 12 percent increase over the number of installs the company was seeing in the seven days leading up to the 2020 election, the firm says. 

Rumble has decided to take a far more hands-off approach to content moderation than others. 

Pavlovski describes his approach to content moderation as similar to the larger tech companies “ten years ago.” Rumble’s terms of service prohibit certain forms of obscene content, such as pornography, nudity or child exploitation, as well as videos that show the assembly of weapons. But the company is taking a hands-off approach to falsehoods even about sensitive issues such as the election or the novel coronavirus. 

“We don’t get involved in political debates or opinions, Pavolvski said. “We’re an open platform.” 

Other tech companies have significantly stepped up their efforts to limit the spread of misinformation, particularly about the coronavirus as health officials have warned of an “infodemic”  where misinformation spreading on social media undermines attempts to contain the virus. But Rumble wouldn’t take action against such false information. “We don’t get involved in scientific opinions; we don’t have the expertise to do that and we don’t want to do that,” Pavolvski said. 

Rumble has existed since 2013 – long before the most recent controversies over Silicon Valley’s handling of controversial or false content. Pavolvski emphasized that all political views are welcome on the platform. 

Rumble’s rise highlights a growing ecosystem of smaller social media services that are becoming a haven for Republicans fed up with Silicon Valley.

Conservatives have long accused tech companies of being biased against them — often based on specious evidence. But the recent crackdown by companies on President Trump’s false claims of election victory and suggestions without evidence of election fraud has exacerbated the issue. 

Much of Rumble’s referral traffic is coming from Parler, a Twitter clone favored by conservatives that has seen a surge in usage since the election. Pavlovski said more traffic is coming from Parler than Facebook and Twitter. Parler has seen an even greater explosion in growth than Rumble since the election. It has been installed approximately 3.8 million times in the last seven days, according to Sensor Tower. That’s about 53 times the amount it was being installed in the seven days prior to the general election. 

Researchers said the growth of these apps could contribute to a fractured ecosystem, where people see unfettered misinformation about the election process. 

“There are real dangers around a fractured misinformation system, especially as it relates to organizing against our electoral integrity,” Shannon McGregor, a professor at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and senior researcher at the Center for Information, Technology, and Public Life, told the New York Times. 

Yet it’s unclear if many of these influencers are permanently or completely leaving major social media platforms, such as Twitter. Many calling for a shift to Parler are still posting on those services. 

Researchers also have warned the alternative social media companies are rife with misinformation. 

“A lot of people are just discovering Parler for the first time, but it’s been around for a while in terms of being an echo chamber for both right-wing news, but also for misinformation,” Joan Donovan, an expert in online extremism and disinformation and research director of the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard University, told CNN. 

The backlash highlights the delicate position in which Big Tech finds itself.

Conservatives flocking to these new services say the major companies have gone too far in labeling or otherwise limiting the spread of false election content on their services. But many liberals and misinformation experts believe they haven’t gone far enough in stopping the spread of baseless election fraud claims.

YouTube, particularly, has faced backlash for not removing video pushing claims of election fraud without evidence. In some instances, they’ve blocked such videos from pulling in advertising money, and otherwise limited their distribution on the platform. But such videos remain viewable. 

Twitter, meanwhile, has been notably aggressive recently in labeling false claims from Trump and his allies about election fraud. However some believe the company should go farther, and have called for Trump to be deactivated from the platform. 

This debate is expected to be in the spotlight this week as Twitter chief executive Jack Dorsey and Facebook head Mark Zuckerberg testify before Congress. The hearing was called in response to the steps the companies took to limit the spread of a New York Post article about alleged emails belonging to Hunter Biden. (The Washington Post has not substantiated the emails.) But it’s likely lawmakers will delve into more recent events. 

Republicans said in a news release that the hearing would “provide a valuable opportunity to review the companies’ handling of the 2020 election.”

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SpaceX’s most recent launch marks a huge win for private space companies.

SpaceX’s Dragon capsule recently became the first privately owned and operated spacecraft certified by NASA for human spaceflight. SpaceX and NASA  already have a second mission scheduled for March. 

The launch marks the next step in private space companies’ partnerships with NASA. It’s less clear what that relationship will look like under a Biden administration. The agency probably will have a renewed focus on Earth science and combating climate change, Christian reports.

Biden congratulated SpaceX and NASA on the launch.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re Elon Musk or Jim Bridenstine,” Norm Knight, NASA’s deputy manager for flight operations, told a news conference Friday evening. “If you have not met those protocols, or if any of those protocols have been compromised, then we’re not going to let you near the crew.” 

Elon Musk sparked controversy for questioning the efficacy of coronavirus tests.

 The Tesla founder confirmed in a tweet on Saturday he appears to have a “moderate” case of the infection.

Musk expressed skepticism of his test results, alleging that “something extremely bogus is going on” when a rapid-response test turned back positive and negative results. 

But experts warned that rapid response tests aren’t the same as PCR exams, a more thorough kind of testing. Harvard immunologist Michael Mina:

Other medical experts chided Musk as irresponsible for casting doubt on the recent rise of coronavirus cases across the country.

Musk was an ardent critic of efforts of government stay-at-home orders earlier this year, openly flouting local orders to shut down Tesla’s Fremont, Calif., plant, as The Technology 202 previously reported

The U.S. government has extended the deadline for a sale of TikTok. 

ByteDance, the Chinese parent company of the popular video app, now has until Nov. 27 to reach a deal that meets the approval of the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, Rachel Lerman reports. The interagency committee determined earlier this year that the company’s Chinese ownership posed a national security risk, and ByteDance would have to divest if the app wanted to continue U.S. operations. Trump threatened to ban the app by executive order, but the effort has been tied up in the courts. 

The U.S. government claims TikTok could be compelled to share U.S. user data with the Chinese government, a claim it denies. TikTok has been in talks to launch a new company with investments from American companies Oracle and Walmart. The deal appeared to have the president’s blessing but negotiations stalled. 

If ByteDance doesn’t reach a new deal by the deadline, the Treasury Department could sue the company. However, it’s unclear whether it would.

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Daybook

  • The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing with Twitter chief executive Jack Dorsey about news and censorship at 10 a.m.
  • The Aspen Institute’s Tech Executive Leadership Initiative Launch Event will take place Wednesday 7 pm ET.

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