While former President Donald Trump’s new social media network, Truth Social, may end up becoming a “Big Failure” rather than the “Big Tent” it set out to be, alternate social media platforms for conservatives are on the rise.
Truth Social is not the first of its kind, but it highlights a disturbing trend. Right-wing communities as well as others are increasingly turning away from mainstream media and to alternative social media and search engines, partially due to influence from celebrities, such as Joe Rogan, promoting them, according to the New York Times.
Alternate social media platforms, meaning social media platforms outside of the mainstream, typically with little to no censorship and favored by American conservatives, such as Gab, Parler and Telegram, have seen an upswing in usage in the year since the January 6 Insurrection.
This is particularly troubling, since sites like Parler helped to enable this event in the first place. By creating echo chambers, or as Arizona State University Professor Candace Rondeaux and Ben Dalton, an open-source fellow in New America’s Future Frontlines program, call them, “hothouses,” these platforms enable users to discuss and share fringe (and potentially dangerous) political ideas. This encourages them to only become more intense as they spur each other on and remain free of moderation from “Big Tech,” who these users feel serves the American political left, not the right-wing.
For example, on a recent episode of Rogan’s podcast, he promoted the use of DuckDuckGo when he encouraged his listeners to use it to find out information about deaths from the COVID-19 vaccine and “vaccine-related injuries,” which he claimed he could not find on Google. But encouraging listeners to find facts outside of the mainstream is not unique to Rogan. Other influential conservative podcasters, such as Ben Shapiro, have even claimed that Google is “actively suppressing” results that do not conform to a leftist agenda.
Countless alternate social media platforms have popped up online in the past several years, serving various functions. From Twitter clones like Truth Social, to chat rooms like Telegram to search engines like DuckDuckGo, those on the fringes and the right who want to can access an entirely different internet, with entirely different information, than those on the mainstream and the left do.
For example, when you look up information about “Plandemic,” a viral conspiracy theory that promotes COVID-19 misinformation, or a doctor often cited due to her COVID skepticism, Dr. Judy Mikovits, on Bing or DuckDuckGo, an average of eight results out of the first ten results on those engines directly promote mis or disinformation, such as the first result being a link to Mikovits’s website. Search engines like DuckDuckGo promote conspiracy theories by making some of the top search results websites that advance those theories instead of disavowing them. This is unlike sites such as Google, which mostly has different results. Google has one result out of the first ten that promote the “Plandemic” theory, with the first result being a link to Science.com, which directly debunks it. This, to conspiracy theorists, is unacceptable, and so to DuckDuckGo they go.
So what are the options? To let dangerous people back into the mainstream without shame or to shove them into dark corners of the web where they only enable and encourage each other?
The key to the solution has to lie with mainstream search engines and hosts, such as Bing, which hosts DuckDuckGo. They must be more responsible and accountable by more strictly monitoring the content on alternate social media sites and search engines that can create their own algorithms using their tools.
It’s easy to blame mainstream social media websites and others, and some of the blame definitely does lie with them, and not doing enough before the January 6 Insurrection to put a stop to dangerous ideals and the zealous communities that have formed around them.
Google, Amazon and Apple all could have taken action such as banning Parler from having a spot in their app stores long before an insurrection was attempted and people lost their lives. When Rogan and Spotify had a controversy about Rogan’s place on the platform earlier this year, Spotify should have followed through with removing him and moderating the content on their site. It is not Spotify’s responsibility to give him a soapbox. Without access to such a mainstream platform, Rogan will still have listeners, but it will be harder for him to reach those who are not already fans. There’s no changing the past, but these companies must be better in the future.
By putting continual pressure on the above, but also by applying pressure to websites like Bing, which hosts these alternate search engines and provides them with the tools to build their algorithms and websites, while remaining generally unscathed in the eyes of the public, the conversation and situation can hopefully begin to change before more events like the January 6 Insurrection happen in the future. The damage is already done. When you have massive celebrities such as Rogan promoting the use of DuckDuckGo, they cannot just disappear overnight. Tech companies must practice heavy moderation, as well as put pressure on and continually disavow and sever ties with influencers promoting misinformation.
These platforms already exist, and the past can’t be rewritten. The internet of the left and the internet of the right are already here, and we have to work with what we have.