Alt-tech

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Alt-tech are social media platforms and Internet service providers that have become popular among the alt-right, far-right, and others who espouse extreme or fringe opinions, in the belief that these alternatives moderate content less stringently than mainstream internet service providers.[1][2][3]

The term has been used to both describe platforms created specifically to cater to extremist users with similar functionality to mainstream alternatives, as well as more broadly for mainstream platforms that have less stringent content moderation policies, attracting users who were banned or restricted from other mainstream services.[2] In the 2010s and 2020s, some prominent conservatives, banned from other social media platforms, began to post and view content along with their supporters on alt-tech platforms.[3][4][5][6] 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.[6][7][8][9][10][11][12]

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 (see e.g. shadow banning), 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.[1][6]

After the Unite the Right rally in August 2017, 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.[13] 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.[4][14][15] Ethan Zuckerman and Chand Rajendra-Nicolucci further referenced the August 2018 deplatforming of conspiracy theorist Alex Jones as a pivotal moment.[16]

In October 2018, alt-tech platform Gab received extensive public scrutiny following the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting, after it was found that the sole suspect of the attack, Robert Gregory Bowers, had posted a message on Gab indicating an immediate intent to cause harm before the shooting.[17][18] Bowers had a history of making extreme, antisemitic postings on the site.[19] After the shooting, Gab briefly went offline when it was dropped by its hosting provider and denied service by several payment processors.[20][21][22]

The popularity of alt-tech platforms surged 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.[23] It was restarted with a new host on February 15, 2021.[24]

In July 2021, an example of alt-tech hardware was announced as the "Freedom Phone"—a smartphone that promoted privacy-oriented features and an "uncensorable" app store. It was found that the device was merely a white-label version of a Chinese smartphone produced by Umidigi, with a modified Android firmware pre-loaded with apps popular among the target audience, and a rebranded version of an open source client for Google Play Store (rather than the independent app store implied in its promotional materials).[25][26]

By 2022, The New York Times and The Guardian described a crowded marketplace of alt-tech platforms.[27][28] The Times noted that alt-tech platforms claiming censorship by Twitter, such as Gettr, Parler, and Rumble have mostly advertised themselves on Twitter.[27]

In February 2022, Trump launched a Twitter alternative, Truth Social, after establishing a messaging platform outside of Twitter,[27][28] such as a discontinued Trump blog.[29] During development, Truth Social did not at first acknowledge using Mastodon's open source code, and was given an ultimatum by Mastodon,[30] quietly admitting to the use of Mastodon code later on.[30][31][32] Truth Social's launch was accompanied by substantial technical difficulties.[33][31] The platform's terms of service include an incongruous clause that users may not "disparage, tarnish, or otherwise harm, in our opinion, us and/or the Site."[31][34] According to a report from consumer rights group Public Citizen, alt tech platforms with a supposed focus on free speech include the censorship of some liberal and conservative viewpoints, as well as the routine content moderation on other platforms, creating an "echo chamber". Based on the report, Truth Social was found to shadowban users that disagree with the site's narrative as well as a swathe of other content including some conservative content. "Truth Social" has banned content mentioning liberal views on abortion and the Congressional hearings on the January 6th Capitol attack.[35][36][37]

Research into alt-tech platforms[edit]

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.[38] 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 a 2021 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[16]

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.[39]

Austrian researcher Julia Ebner has described alt-tech platforms as "ultra-libertarian".[40]

Platforms[edit]

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

Type Alt-tech company Citations Status
Microblogging Gab [1][3][6][41][42]
Gettr [43][44][42]
Parler [1][4][41][45]
Truth Social [44][42]
Online video platform BitChute [1][41][46]
DLive [23][47]
DTube [46]
Odysee [48][49]
PewTube [3][6] Defunct
Rumble [23][45]
Triller [45]
Crowdfunding GiveSendGo [50][51]
GoyFundMe [3] Defunct
Hatreon [6][16] Defunct
SubscribeStar [52][53]
WeSearchr [5] Defunct
Social networking service MeWe [23][45]
Minds [41][54]
Slug [55]
Thinkspot [56][57][58][59]
WrongThink [3]
News aggregator Patriots.win [60]
Voat [5][45] Defunct
Wiki encyclopedia Infogalactic [3][5]
Metapedia [61][62][63][64][65][66]
Imageboard 8kun [1][54]
Online dating service WASP Love [3]
Pastebin JustPaste.it [54]
Domain name registrar and
web hosting
Epik [7][67]
Civic engagement platform CloutHub [23]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f g 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. Archived from the original on September 4, 2020. Retrieved September 5, 2020. (freely available version)
  2. ^ a b c Andrews, Frank; Pym, Ambrose (February 24, 2021). "The Websites Sustaining Britain's Far-Right Influencers". Bellingcat. Archived from the original on February 24, 2021. 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. ^ 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.
  5. ^ 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.
  6. ^ 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.
  7. ^ a b Squire, Megan (July 23, 2019). "Can Alt-Tech Help the Far Right Build an Alternate Internet?". Fair Observer. Retrieved September 4, 2020.
  8. ^ 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.
  9. ^ "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.
  10. ^ 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.
  11. ^ 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.
  12. ^ 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.
  13. ^ 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.
  14. ^ 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.
  15. ^ Hamilton, Isobel Asher (February 26, 2019). "Facebook has banned far-right activist Tommy Robinson for spreading Islamophobia". Business Insider. Retrieved September 4, 2020.
  16. ^ 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. Archived from the original on January 11, 2021. Retrieved January 16, 2021.
  17. ^ Hutchinson, Bill; Levine, Mike; Weinstein, Janet; Seyler, Matt (October 28, 2018). "'Screw the optics, I'm going in': Alleged shooter posts on social media before attack". ABC News. Archived from the original on July 22, 2019. Retrieved July 3, 2019.
  18. ^ Trautwein, Catherine; Thompson, A. C. (November 16, 2018). "Brothers Whom Authorities Linked to Pittsburgh Shooting Suspect Had Flyer Supporting Neo-Nazi Group, Officials Say". ProPublica. Archived from the original on November 28, 2018. Retrieved August 28, 2019.
  19. ^ Pagliery, Jose; Toropin, Konstantin (October 30, 2018). "Social network Gab, a home for anti-Semitic speech, produced some of its own". CNN. Archived from the original on October 31, 2018. Retrieved November 13, 2018.
  20. ^ Molina, Brett (October 29, 2018). "Gab, the social network used by accused Pittsburgh synagogue shooter, goes offline". USA Today. Archived from the original on October 29, 2018. Retrieved October 30, 2018.
  21. ^ Linton, Caroline (November 3, 2018). "Gab gets new domain host, expects to be back online Sunday". CBS News. Archived from the original on November 5, 2018. Retrieved November 5, 2018.
  22. ^ Baker, Mike (November 4, 2018). "Seattle-area company helps fringe site Gab return in wake of Pittsburgh synagogue shooting". The Seattle Times. Archived from the original on May 5, 2019. Retrieved May 5, 2019.
  23. ^ a b c d e 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.
  24. ^ Allyn, Bobby; Treisman, Rachel (February 15, 2021). "After Weeks Of Being Offline, Parler Finds A New Web Host". NPR.org. Retrieved November 22, 2022.
  25. ^ Amadeo, Ron (July 20, 2021). "The MAGA-targeted "Freedom Phone" has a breathtaking amount of red flags". Ars Technica. Retrieved July 20, 2021.
  26. ^ Sommer, Will (July 15, 2021). "MAGA World's 'Freedom Phone' Actually Budget Chinese Phone". The Daily Beast. Retrieved August 28, 2021.
  27. ^ a b c Goldstein, Matthew; Mac, Ryan (February 18, 2022). "Trump's Truth Social Is Poised to Join a Crowded Field". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved February 23, 2022.
  28. ^ a b "Trump Truth Social app will be fully operational by end of March, Nunes says". The Guardian. February 20, 2022. Retrieved February 23, 2022.
  29. ^ Breuninger, Kevin (June 2, 2021). "Trump blog page shuts down for good". CNBC. Retrieved February 23, 2022.
  30. ^ a b "Mastodon issues 30-day ultimatum to Trump's social network over misuse of its code". TechCrunch. Retrieved February 23, 2022.
  31. ^ a b c "Trump's Truth Social's disastrous launch raises doubts about its long-term viability". Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved February 23, 2022.
  32. ^ Kan, Michael (December 1, 2021). "Trump's Social Media Site Quietly Admits It's Based on Mastodon". PCMag.
  33. ^ Danner, Chas (February 21, 2022). "Trump's Social-Network App Launches Without a Social Network". Intelligencer. Retrieved February 23, 2022.
  34. ^ Bort, Ryan (October 21, 2021). "Trump's New Free Speech App Prohibits Users From Making Fun of It". Rolling Stone. Retrieved February 23, 2022.
  35. ^ Leonard, Kimberly. "Trump's purported free speech social media platform Truth Social is hiding user posts, threatening to create a 'curated echo chamber,' research group finds". Business Insider. Retrieved August 3, 2022.
  36. ^ "Truth Can't Handle the Truth". Public Citizen. Retrieved August 3, 2022.
  37. ^ Spangler, Todd (June 10, 2022). "Trump's Truth Social Is Banning Users Who Post About Jan. 6 Hearings, According to Reports". Variety. Retrieved August 3, 2022.
  38. ^ 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.
  39. ^ 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.
  40. ^ Ebner, Julia (September 5, 2019). "Replatforming Unreality". Journal of Design and Science (6). doi:10.21428/7808da6b.e585ddcb (inactive December 31, 2022).{{cite journal}}: CS1 maint: DOI inactive as of December 2022 (link)
  41. ^ 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.
  42. ^ a b c Wilson, Jason (November 4, 2022). "Conspiracy Theories About Pelosi Attack Spread Unchecked on 'Alt-tech' Sites, Conservative Media". Southern Poverty Law Center. Retrieved November 27, 2022.
  43. ^ "A year after Trump purge, 'alt-tech' offers far-right refuge". AP NEWS. February 5, 2022. Retrieved January 12, 2023.
  44. ^ a b "Trump's Truth Social Is Poised to Join a Crowded Field". New York Times. February 18, 2022.
  45. ^ a b c d e Cohen, Jason (January 15, 2021). "How Mainstream Social Media Data Collection Compares With Alt-Tech Rivals". PC Magazine. Archived from the original on January 15, 2021. Retrieved January 19, 2021.
  46. ^ 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.
  47. ^ Wilson, Jason; Squire, Megan (December 19, 2021). "Revealed: Startup Creates Streaming Platform for Extremists on Big-Tech Infrastructure". Southern Poverty Law Center. Retrieved November 27, 2022.
  48. ^ "Odysee aims to build a more freewheeling, independent video platform". Tech Crunch. Archived from the original on December 7, 2020.
  49. ^ "Rumble, MeWe, Minds: welcome to alt-tech, far-right social networks". Numerama. March 19, 2021. Archived from the original on March 19, 2021.
  50. ^ Bergengruen, Vera; Wilson, Chris (March 3, 2022). "Crowdfunding Site For Right-Wing Causes Generates Windfall". Time. Retrieved November 27, 2022.
  51. ^ Dalton, Ben (May 17, 2022). "The Evolution of the Tech and Fundraising Platforms for Extremists Kicked Off the Regular Internet". Slate. Retrieved November 27, 2022.
  52. ^ 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.
  53. ^ 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.
  54. ^ a b c Ebner, Julia (February 10, 2020). "Swiping right into the alt-right online dating world". Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved January 9, 2021.
  55. ^ 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.
  56. ^ 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.
  57. ^ 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.
  58. ^ 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.
  59. ^ 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.
  60. ^ Cuthbertson, Anthony (January 13, 2021). "Where do Trump and his fans go after being banned from most of the internet?". The Independent. Archived from the original on January 12, 2021. Retrieved January 16, 2021.
  61. ^ Adam G. Klein (June 2010). A Space for Hate: The White Power Movement's Adaptation Into Cyberspace. pp. 93, 104–105. ISBN 978-1-936117-07-9.
  62. ^ Perrine Signoret (June 27, 2017). "Infogalactic, Metapedia, Conservapedia: l'extrême droite aussi a ses "Wikipédia"". LExpansion.com (in French). Retrieved November 13, 2019.
  63. ^ Haines, Lester (July 23, 2007). "Conservapedia too pinko? Try Metapedia - Aryans battle 'Cultural Marxism'". Theregister.co.uk. Situation Publishing. Archived from the original on June 28, 2011. Retrieved March 9, 2011.
  64. ^ Schweyer, Cléo (July 15, 2009). "L'extrême droite s'offre une seconde jeunesse sur le web". cafebabel.fr (in French). Babel International. Archived from the original on July 20, 2011. Retrieved March 9, 2011.
  65. ^ "Metapedia" als nationales Pendant zu "Wikipedia" Archived 15 May 2013 at the Wayback Machine (i.e "Metapedia" as a nationalist counterpart to "Wikipedia") from: "Report by the NRW Office for the Protection of the Constitution for the year 2008" by the Ministry of Interior of North Rhine-Westphalia. pp. 59f. (in German)
  66. ^ Sobel Fitts, Alexis (June 21, 2017). "Welcome to the Wikipedia of the Alt-Right | Backchannel". Wired. ISSN 1059-1028. Retrieved April 8, 2021.
  67. ^ 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.