Trump Supporters Flock to ‘Free Speech’ Platforms After Facebook Ban

Photo: Nathan Howard/Getty Images

Trump supporters are flocking to a trinity of alternative social platforms — Parler, MeWe, and Rumble — to protest the presidential election results, following Joe Biden’s victory this weekend, and the banning of a massive “Stop the Steal” Facebook group last week. As major platforms enforce policies around misinformation and election meddling, smaller so-called free speech sites are experiencing a renewed interest from conservatives who feel targeted by Facebook and Twitter’s moderation efforts.

The most popular of these sites is Parler (pronounced “par-lay”), which functions similarly to Twitter and is currently the top free download on the App Store and Google Play. Former members of the largest “Stop the Steal” Facebook group — which had more than 300,000 members when it was removed from the platform for delegitimizing election processes and potentially inciting physical violence — have publicly encouraged their peers to migrate to Parler.

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The platform bans ‘fisticuffs’ but allows ‘buttock’

On Parler, an account named “Stop the Steal,” created on Thursday, has since amassed more than 100,000 followers.

“Try to get as many as you can to join us here,” this group’s owner wrote on their newly created Parler account. “We are using Facebook as a platform to bring the crowd.”

“TAKE THIS MOVEMENT TO PARLER‼️” wrote one member of a Houston-based “Stop the Steal” Facebook group. “And tell everyone you know to join! It’s a free speech platform that will hopefully rival Fakebook eventually!”

On Parler, an account created on Thursday called “Stop the Steal” has amassed more than 100,000 followers and frequently posts false information about the election. Unlike Facebook and Twitter, which began labeling election misinformation last week, Parler has no specific guidelines regarding the obstruction of civil processes. As a result, it’s become a hotbed for baseless claims about voter fraud. (Parler’s promoted hashtags include #STOPTHESTEAL, #MAILINBALLOTS, and #HUNTERBIDENLAPTOP.) Trump supporters have also been motivated to join Parler by conservative pundits like radio host Mark Levin, who are encouraging people to abandon Facebook for the more obscure social media site over accusations of “Big Tech censorship.”

OneZero reached out to Parler asking how many users have joined the site since Thursday, but did not immediately hear back. “We are moving a few things around under the hood to increase our capacity as new traffic comes in,” wrote Parler Support, suggesting a significant surge in member sign-ups.

Another app suddenly gaining popularity in the App Store is MeWe, a platform similar to Facebook whose lax approach to moderation has previously allowed militia groups and conspiracy theorists to congregate on its site. For former Facebook users, MeWe is perhaps the most similar alternative (Parler does not support groups), though the largest of its “Stop the Steal” groups has only accumulated 4,000 followers.

“I am down for civil war to start over in usa,” wrote one member of a “Stop the Steal” group in a private chat (accessible only to group members) today.

“The only thing I wont have is my body armor that’s ok I will just be a better shot at sniper distance,” replied another member in the chat.

Both Parler and MeWe have community guidelines that broadly discourage threats of violence. (And as OneZero reported, previous iterations of Parler’s rules were, in some ways, more restrictive than Twitter’s guidelines.) For instance, Parler forbids “an explicit or implicit encouragement to use violence,” and “serious expression[s] of an intent to commit an act of unlawful violence to a particular individual or group of individuals.” MeWe does not allow content that is “hateful, threatening, harmful, [or] incites violence.” Neither has published explicit rules regarding the election.

“False or inflammatory content of any kind on social media is concerning, and so we take a systemic approach to the problem,” a MeWe spokesperson told OneZero in an email. “MeWe’s approach is a bit like ‘nipping it in the bud’ so to speak. As MeWe has no advertising, no targeting, no newsfeed manipulation, and no way to “boost” anything (i.e. no way to boost any opinion whatsoever), therefore exposure of MeWe members to both real or false information is naturally limited.”

Supplying these sites with pro-Trump election content is Rumble, a lesser-known video site popular amongst conservative icons Dan Bongino (who purchased an “ownership stake” in Parler and co-owns Rumble), Devin Nunes, Diamond and Silk, and others. Unlike Parler and MeWe, however, Rumble didn’t claim to be a free-speech haven at its onset, BuzzFeed News reported. Rather, the viral video platform became a conservative favorite this year after Bongino acquired an equity stake in the company, and began promoting his own popular show there after claiming he’d been demonetized on YouTube.

Rumble’s top videos currently include a clip of Rudy Giuliani claiming that famous heavyweight boxer Joe Frazier (who is deceased) voted in the election, a stream from conservative talk show host Joe Pagliarulo contesting the victory of President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, and footage of a “Stop the Steal” rally outside of an Arizona vote processing office.

It remains to be seen whether Parler, MeWe, and Rumble will sustain their popularity in the long term.

Notably, Twitter alternative Gab has been left out of the exodus, despite courting conservative figures such as President Trump for years. While there is “Stop the Steal” content on Gab, including a group of more than 11,000 users, members of banned or threatened Facebook groups that OneZero viewed do not appear to have recommended at the same frequency of Parler and MeWe. (That could stem from the fact that Gab was banned by the App Store in 2016, and by Google Play 2017, limiting its reach.)

Rumble did not immediately respond to OneZero’s request for comment.