Alt-tech

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Alt-tech is a group of websites, social media platforms, and Internet service providers which have become popular among the alt-right, far-right, and others who espouse extreme or fringe opinions, due to the conception that the alternative hosts provide less stringent content moderation than mainstream internet service providers.[1][2][3]

Some alt-tech services have less stringent content moderation policies which have attracted users who were banned or restricted from more mainstream services, while some alt-tech services have been created specifically to cater to extremist users.[4] In the 2010s, some conservatives banned from other social media platforms, and their supporters, began to post and view content on alt-tech platforms.[3][5][6][7] Several alt-tech platforms describe themselves as protectors of free speech and individual liberty, which some researchers and journalists have described as a cover for far-right userbases and antisemitism on such platforms.[7][8][9][10][11][12][13]

History[edit]

Alt-tech websites were first described as such in the 2010s; they have seen an increase in popularity in the later part of that decade, as well as the early 2020s. This has been attributed, in part, to "deplatforming", bans, and restrictions of activity imposed by companies such as Facebook and Twitter (sometimes described pejoratively as "Big Tech"). One prominent example is right-wing groups' claims that these companies censor their views.[7][1]

After the August 2017 Charlottesville "Unite the Right" rally, Internet companies such as Google, Facebook, and Twitter were criticized for failing to adhere to their own terms of service, and reacted with policies aimed toward deplatforming white supremacists.[14] Hope Not Hate researcher Joe Mulhall identified the deplatforming of Britain First, in 2018, and Tommy Robinson, in 2019, as two major events that spurred British social media users to join alternative platforms.[5][15][16] Ethan Zuckerman and Chand Rajendra-Nicolucci further referenced the August 2018 deplatforming of conspiracy theorist Alex Jones as a pivotal moment.[17]

Alt-tech platforms experienced another surge in popularity in January 2021, when United States president Donald Trump, and many of his prominent followers, were suspended from Twitter and other platforms; Parler, a website with a large proportion of Trump supporters among its userbase, was taken offline when Amazon Web Services suspended their hosting several days after the January 6 storming of the United States Capitol,[18] though it was restarted with a new host a month later.

Deen Freelon and colleagues, publishing in Science in September 2020, wrote that some alt-tech websites are specifically dedicated to serving right-wing communities, naming 4chan (founded in 2003), 8chan (2013), Gab (2016), BitChute (2017) and Parler (2018) as examples. They noted that others were more ideologically neutral, such as Discord and Telegram.[1] Discord later worked to remove right-wing extremists from its userbase, and became a more mainstream platform.[19] Joe Mulhall, a senior researcher for the UK anti-racism organization Hope Not Hate, also distinguishes groups of alt-tech platforms: he says that some of them, such as DLive and Telegram, are "co-opted platforms" which have become widely popular among the far-right because of their minimal moderation; others including BitChute, Gab, and Parler are "bespoke platforms" which were created by people who themselves have "far-right leanings".[2] Ethan Zuckerman and Chand Rajendra-Nicolucci, in contrast, described alt-tech services in explicitly political terms in an article for the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University:

We use the alt-tech term to refer to platforms that offer a promise of uncensored speech, which exist specifically to give a space for far-right, nationalist, racist, or extremist points of view, and which harbor a broad sense of grievance that speech has been "censored" for failure to be "politically correct." Many, but not all of these alt-tech sites are far-right communities.

— Ethan Zuckerman and Chand Rajendra-Nicolucci[17]

Researchers have also found that alt-tech platforms can also be used by far-right extremists for mobilization and recruitment purposes, which is more dangerous than just spreading their viewpoints.[20]

In July 2021, alt-tech made its first foray into hardware with the announcement of the "Freedom Phone". The Daily Beast described the "Freedom Phone" as "rebranding of a budget phone called the 'Umidigi A9 Pro' made by the Chinese tech company Umidigi."[21] Gizmodo stated "a black box also makes it a potential security (and thus also privacy) nightmare"[22] and Ars Technica reported that it had a "breathtaking amount of red flags."[23]

Platforms[edit]

Some websites and platforms that have been described as alt-tech include:

Type Alt-tech company Citations Defunct?
Microblogging Gab [1][3][7][24]
Parler [1][5][24][25]
Online video platform BitChute [1][24][26]
BrandNewTube [27]
DLive [18]
DTube [26]
Odysee (LBRY) [28][29]
PewTube [3][7] Defunct
Rumble [18][25]
Triller [25]
Crowdfunding GoyFundMe [3] Defunct
Hatreon [7][17] Defunct
SubscribeStar [30][31]
WeSearchr [6] Defunct
Social networking service MeWe [18][25]
Minds [24][32]
Slug [33]
Thinkspot [34][35][36][37]
WrongThink [3]
News aggregator Patriots.win [38]
Voat [6][25] Defunct
Wiki encyclopedia Infogalactic [3][6]
Imageboard 4chan [1]
8kun [1][32]
Instant messaging Signal [18]
Telegram [18][39]
Online dating service WASP Love [3]
Pastebin JustPaste.it [32]
Domain name registrar and
web hosting
Epik [8][40]
Civic engagement platform CloutHub [18]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Freelon, Deen; Marwick, Alice; Kreiss, Daniel (September 4, 2020). "False equivalencies: Online activism from left to right". Science. 369 (6508): 1197–1201. Bibcode:2020Sci...369.1197F. doi:10.1126/science.abb2428. ISSN 0036-8075. PMID 32883863. S2CID 221471947. (freely available version)
  2. ^ a b Andrews, Frank; Pym, Ambrose (February 24, 2021). "The Websites Sustaining Britain's Far-Right Influencers". Bellingcat. Retrieved February 25, 2021.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h Roose, Kevin (December 11, 2017). "The Alt-Right Created a Parallel Internet. It's an Unholy Mess". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved September 4, 2020.
  4. ^ Andrews, Frank; Pym, Ambrose (February 24, 2021). "The Websites Sustaining Britain's Far-Right Influencers". Bellingcat. Retrieved February 25, 2021.
  5. ^ a b c Cogley, Michael (July 6, 2020). "'Alt-tech' attracts growing number of extremists in Britain". The Daily Telegraph. ISSN 0307-1235. Retrieved September 4, 2020.
  6. ^ a b c d Ellis, Emma Grey (September 27, 2017). "Red Pilled: My Bizarre Week Using the Alt-Right's Vision of the Internet". Wired. ISSN 1059-1028. Retrieved September 4, 2020.
  7. ^ a b c d e f Malter, Jordan (November 10, 2017). "Alt-Tech platforms: A haven for fringe views online". CNN Money. Retrieved September 4, 2020.
  8. ^ a b Squire, Megan (July 23, 2019). "Can Alt-Tech Help the Far Right Build an Alternate Internet?". Fair Observer. Retrieved September 4, 2020.
  9. ^ Silverman, Dwight (November 12, 2020). "5 things to know about Parler, the right-wing-friendly social network". The Houston Chronicle. Archived from the original on November 14, 2020. Retrieved November 12, 2020.
  10. ^ "Parler: Where the Mainstream Mingles with the Extreme". Anti-Defamation League. November 12, 2020. Archived from the original on November 14, 2020. Retrieved November 14, 2020.
  11. ^ Saul, Isaac (July 18, 2019). "This Twitter Alternative Was Supposed To Be Nicer, But Bigots Love It Already". The Forward. Archived from the original on June 30, 2020. Retrieved August 4, 2020.
  12. ^ Zannettou, Savvas; Bradlyn, Barry; De Cristofaro, Emiliano; et al. (March 13, 2018). "What is Gab? A Bastion of Free Speech or an Alt-Right Echo Chamber?" (PDF). Companion Proceedings of the Web Conference 2018. WWW '18. Lyon, France: 1007–1014. arXiv:1802.05287. doi:10.1145/3184558.3191531. ISBN 978-1-4503-5640-4. S2CID 13853370 – via ACM Digital Library.
  13. ^ Katz, Rita (October 29, 2018). "Inside the Online Cesspool of Anti-Semitism That Housed Robert Bowers". Politico Magazine. Archived from the original on May 2, 2020. Retrieved December 24, 2018.
  14. ^ Fielitz, Maik; Thurston, Nick (December 31, 2018). Post-digital cultures of the far right : online actions and offline consequences in Europe and the US. Bielefeld [Germany]. ISBN 978-3-8394-4670-6. OCLC 1082971164.
  15. ^ Field, Matthew (March 14, 2018). "Facebook bans pages of Britain First and leaders Paul Golding and Jayda Fransen". The Daily Telegraph. ISSN 0307-1235. Retrieved September 4, 2020.
  16. ^ Hamilton, Isobel Asher (February 26, 2019). "Facebook has banned far-right activist Tommy Robinson for spreading Islamophobia". Business Insider. Retrieved September 4, 2020.
  17. ^ a b c Zuckerman, Ethan; Rajendra-Nicolucci, Chand (January 11, 2021). "Deplatforming Our Way to the Alt-Tech Ecosystem". Knight First Amendment Institute. Columbia University. Retrieved January 16, 2021.
  18. ^ a b c d e f g Wilson, Jason (January 13, 2021). "Rightwingers flock to 'alt tech' networks as mainstream sites ban Trump". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved January 16, 2021.
  19. ^ Brown, Abram. "Discord Was Once The Alt-Right's Favorite Chat App. Now It's Gone Mainstream And Scored A New $3.5 Billion Valuation". Forbes. Retrieved May 18, 2021.
  20. ^ Donovan, Joan; Lewis, Becca; Friedberg, Brian (December 31, 2018). "Parallel Ports: Sociotechnical Change from the Alt-Right to Alt-Tech". In Fielitz, Maik; Thurston, Nick (eds.). Post-Digital Cultures of the Far Right: Online Actions and Offline Consequences in Europe and the US. Bielefeld, Germany: Transcript Verlag. pp. 49–66. doi:10.14361/9783839446706-004. ISBN 978-3-8394-4670-6.
  21. ^ Sommer, Will (July 15, 2021). "MAGA World's 'Freedom Phone' Actually Budget Chinese Phone". The Daily Beast. Retrieved August 28, 2021.
  22. ^ "MAGA-Branded 'Freedom Phone' Is a Black Box That Should Be Avoided at All Costs". Gizmodo. Retrieved August 28, 2021.
  23. ^ Amadeo, Ron (July 20, 2021). "The MAGA-targeted "Freedom Phone" has a breathtaking amount of red flags". Ars Technica. Retrieved August 28, 2021.
  24. ^ a b c d Smith, Adam (June 24, 2020). "What is the right-wing Parler app that MPs and celebrities are joining?". The Independent. Archived from the original on June 30, 2020. Retrieved September 4, 2020.
  25. ^ a b c d e Cohen, Jason (January 15, 2021). "How Mainstream Social Media Data Collection Compares With Alt-Tech Rivals". PC Magazine. Retrieved January 19, 2021.
  26. ^ a b Bellemare, Andrea; Nicholson, Katie; Ho, Jason. "How a debunked COVID-19 video kept spreading after Facebook and YouTube took it down". CBC News. Retrieved January 15, 2021.
  27. ^ Zitser, Joshua. "Following Trump's YouTube ban, it is feared his supporters are migrating to a 'Wild West' of video-sharing, mingling with far-right and neo-Nazi terror groups". Business Insider. Retrieved October 23, 2021.
  28. ^ "Odysee aims to build a more freewheeling, independent video platform". Tech Crunch.
  29. ^ "Rumble, MeWe, Minds: welcome to alt-tech, far-right social networks". Numerama. March 19, 2021.
  30. ^ Coulter, Martin (December 15, 2018). "PayPal shuts Russian crowdfunder's account after alt-right influx". Financial Times. Archived from the original on December 15, 2018. Retrieved March 8, 2019.
  31. ^ Sommer, Will (December 18, 2018). "Stars of 'Intellectual Dark Web' Scramble to Save Their Cash Cows". The Daily Beast. Archived from the original on December 18, 2018. Retrieved March 25, 2021.
  32. ^ a b c Ebner, Julia (February 10, 2020). "Swiping right into the alt-right online dating world". Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved January 9, 2021.
  33. ^ Baele, Stephane J.; Brace, Lewys; Coan, Travis G. (2021). "Variations on a Theme? Comparing 4chan, 8kun, and Other chans' Far-Right "/pol" Boards". Perspectives on Terrorism. 15 (1): 65–80. ISSN 2334-3745. JSTOR 26984798 – via JSTOR.
  34. ^ Martinez, Ignacio (June 13, 2019). "Jordan Peterson is releasing a 'free speech' alternative to Patreon called Thinkspot". The Daily Dot. Archived from the original on April 17, 2020. Retrieved April 17, 2020.
  35. ^ Kassel, Matthew (July 24, 2019). "Jordan Peterson's Starting A 'Free Speech Hub' — And Extremists Are Intrigued". The Forward. Archived from the original on July 25, 2019. Retrieved April 17, 2020.
  36. ^ Semley, John (December 4, 2019). "What is Jordan Peterson's new anti-censorship website like?". The Guardian. Archived from the original on December 26, 2019. Retrieved April 19, 2020.
  37. ^ Goggin, Benjamin (December 17, 2018). "Top Patreon creators, of the 'Intellectual Dark Web,' say they're launching an alternate crowdfunding platform not 'susceptible to arbitrary censorship'". Business Insider. Archived from the original on March 27, 2019. Retrieved June 2, 2020.
  38. ^ Cuthbertson, Anthony (January 13, 2021). "Where do Trump and his fans go after being banned from most of the internet?". The Independent. Retrieved January 16, 2021.
  39. ^ Green, Yasmin (January 9, 2021). "Conspiracy theories are about to go viral in new, murkier ways". Wired UK. Retrieved January 22, 2021.
  40. ^ Makuch, Ben (May 8, 2019). "The Far Right Has Found a Web Host Savior". Vice. Archived from the original on August 22, 2019. Retrieved May 10, 2019.