Media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube have cracked down on the spread of misinformation and far-right conspiracy theories after the 2020 election. Many conservatives believe these platforms are censoring their views. Therefore, millions have embraced an alternative social media platform called Rumble. Rumble is a video-sharing platform with a reputation known as “conservative YouTube” (Mell-Taylor). In addition, the platform is popular due to their loosely enforced speech policy, where almost anything goes. Rumble has attracted a massive audience with about 44 million monthly visitors, drawing more attention than other top conservative media outlets (Carter).
The Rumble CEO, Chris Pavlovski, envisions Rumble to be an alternative approach to the internet. He states, “We just want to be a platform, and I believe that’s why we’ve seen so much growth.” In addition, he believes their platform emphasizes “fairness” rather than regulating and taking a specific stance on content. Yet their content reflects a major conservative bias. Almost all prominent conservative politicians, celebrities, and commentators can be found on Rumble, such as Steven Crowder, Ben Shapiro, Senator Rand Paul, Alex Jones, and Donald Trump (Mell-Taylor).
Rise of Rumble
The rise of Rumble and similar alternative media sites is attributed to big money expanding and funding the platform. Peter Thiel, a major supporter of Donald Trump’s first campaign, and Darren Blanton are significant funders of Rumble (Carter, 2022). Persily argues that fake news is driven by profit which can create a harmful domino effect. The more outrageous the story, the more money they accumulate, the more prevalent the fake stories become, and then lines start to become unclear of what is real and what is fake, which ultimately leads voters into making choices that can harm democracy (Persily). In addition, elite money in politics, for example the Koch brothers, have the power to leverage politics and pull the GOP further to the right, which steers clear from the preferences of the median voter (Skocpol and Hertel-Fernandez). As long as Rumble is funded by far-right investors, the content will reflect their policy agenda and beliefs. Similar platforms like Twitch allow broadcasters to stream and simultaneously accept donations. In comparison to Twitter, far-right figures spread propaganda to establish an audience, then direct the audience to a new location so they can collect money (Russonello). Overall, there is a greater financial incentive which helps explain the rise of Rumble and other similar platforms.
Communication on Rumble
Is Rumble a home for weaponized communication? Mercieca considers weaponized communication to be a tool that dangerous demagogues use to gain compliance and avoid accountability. Examples of weaponized communication would be spreading conspiracy theories, propaganda, misinformation, hate speech, taking information out of context, intentionally ignoring contradictory information, etc. (Mercieca). Popular topics on Rumble consist of anti-vaccine videos and conspiracies. For example, a video titled “33 Doctors say DON’T TAKE THE VACCINE” was thoroughly debunked and removed from most social media platforms but remains on Rumble. Other popular topics remain on Rumble such as the “Deep State” conspiracy theories, questioning the legitimacy of the 2020 election, the Illuminati, etc. (Mell-Taylor). Mercieca believes a prime example of a figure who uses weaponized communication is Alex Jones (Mercieca). As a matter of fact, Jones happens to be a prominent figure on Rumble with over 100,000 followers (Peters). In addition, Gutmann argues, the two defining features of extremist rhetoric is it caters towards single-mindedness and expresses certainty over issues, without any reasonable test of truth or debate (Gutmann). Since Rumble lacks accountability and fact-checking, misinformation and conspiracy theories rapidly proliferate through the platform. Therefore, Rumble evidently offers a breeding ground for weaponized communication and extremist rhetoric.
Appeal of Rumble
Gutmann defines part of the lure of extremist rhetoric as passionately agreeing with a value or cause, without regarding reasoning or evidence. In addition, the rhetoric is extreme because it gains attention, it is entertaining, and compelling (Gutmann). Popular figures on Rumble are able to tap into the value system through their rhetoric and provide a narrative that confirms how their audience may feel (Hochschild). Therefore, this explains why Rumble is so appealing, it effectively mobilizes and reaffirms what their audience wants to be true.
Many conservatives perceive these new alternative media platforms to be a victory for their First Amendment right of free speech. In addition, they claim Rumble does not promote overt discriminatory language, so it is not harmful. However, it is more indirect, and may not always come across as an obvious red flag. As Gutmann says the lure of extreme rhetoric does not always pose a clear and direct threat to democracy or someone’s well being (Gutmann). In addition, Mercieca says weaponized communication mechanisms are not always easily detected. Mercieca also references Levitsky and Ziblatt who believe weaponized communication threatens democratic government because it can overwhelm the news cycle, distort reality, distort meaning, and distort public sentiment (Mercieca). Rumble allows conservative figures to achieve these four warning signs which provides a greater gateway for dangerous demagogues to emerge. These mechanisms prevent critical interrogation of their words and actions.
As Lipset believes, education is so vital because it can broaden one’s outlook and makes a person more likely to believe in democratic practices. In addition, high levels of education promote tolerance and increase democratic values (Lipset). Miller and Conover also believe education offers critical thinking in order to discern information (Miller and Conover). Therefore, education is truly the key to help avoid becoming a victim of misinformation and conspiracy theories.
The 2016 election was a testament of the digital dominance of misinformation and conspiracy theories (Persily). Rumble provides a platform with mainly far-right conservative figures and lacks vital fact-checking and speech regulations. This opens a gateway for misinformation and conspiracy theories to spread and threatens the health of American democracy. In addition, these platforms create harmful echo chambers reinforcing their beliefs and sheltering them from information that could change their views (Persily). Chris Pavlovski’s commitment to “fairness” is ultimately just a guise of a platform that avoids accountability and allows hate to escalate. If Rumble continues to be unchecked and uncontrolled it can become a serious political weapon.
Carter, Cathy. “Conservatives Find a New Home on Rumble, a Social Media Site Establishing a Footprint in Sarasota.” WFSU News, 9 Apr. 2022, news.wfsu.org/state-news/2022-04-09/conservatives-find-a-new-home-on-rumble-a-social-media-site-establishing-a-footprint-in-sarasota.
Gutmann, Amy. “The Lure & Dangers of Extremist Rhetoric.” Daedalus, vol. 136, no. 4, Oct. 2007, pp. 70–78, https://doi.org/10.1162/daed.2007.136.4.70.
Hochschild, Arlie Russell. Strangers in Their Own Land : Anger and Mourning on the American Right. The New Press, 2018.
Lipset, Seymour Martin. “Some Social Requisites of Democracy: Economic Development and Political Legitimacy.” The American Political Science Review, vol. 53, no. 1, [American Political Science Association, Cambridge University Press], 1959, pp. 69–105, https://doi.org/10.2307/1951731.
Mell-Taylor, Alex. “Rumble Is Still Where the Right Goes to Play.” Medium, 4 Oct. 2021, aninjusticemag.com/rumble-is-still-where-the-right-goes-to-play-d3fe7df98875.
Mercieca, Jennifer R. “Dangerous Demagogues and Weaponized Communication.” Rhetoric Society Quarterly, vol. 49, no. 3, May 2019, pp. 264–79, https://doi.org/10.1080/02773945.2019.1610640.
Miller, Patrick R., and Pamela Johnston Conover. “Red and Blue States of Mind.” Political Research Quarterly, vol. 68, no. 2, Mar. 2015, pp. 225–39, https://doi.org/10.1177/1065912915577208.
Persily, Nathaniel. “Can Democracy Survive the Internet?” Journal of Democracy, vol. 28, no. 2, 2017, pp. 63–76, https://doi.org/10.1353/jod.2017.0025.
Peters, Jeremy W. “Rumble, the Right’s Go-to Video Site, Has Much Bigger Ambitions.” The New York Times, 28 Mar. 2022, www.nytimes.com/2022/03/28/business/media/rumble-social-media-conservatives-videos.html.
Russonello, Giovanni. “Twitch, Where Far-Right Influencers Feel at Home.” The New York Times, 27 Apr. 2021, www.nytimes.com/2021/04/27/us/politics/twitch-trump-extremism.html.
Skocpol, Theda, and Alexander Hertel-Fernandez. “The Koch Network and Republican Party Extremism.” Perspectives on Politics, vol. 14, no. 3, Aug. 2016, pp. 681–99, https://doi.org/10.1017/s1537592716001122.
Hi Lizzy, loved the commentary! I especially find it interesting how the idea of “fairness” you touched on ties into avoiding accountability and, eventually, potential violent dangers in democracy (as seen already in the January 6th riots).
Thanks for breaking down Rumble, I had heard about it but never actually took the time to do some research on it. The two most important points that stuck with me were 1) profit motives and 2) Rumble’s appeal as an echo-chamber. As always, following the money gives insights into the topic at hand. Your points on how investors, elites, and corporations manipulate people all for the sake of profit makes a lot of sense and is important to mention. With regard to the appeal of Rumble, I am glad you touched on its role as an echo-chamber. In other words, one of the reasons why Rumble is appealing to conservatives is because they get to hear what they already believe and will have be able to have their opinions constantly reaffirmed. This already happens on a somewhat smaller scale in practically all other internet platforms. Algorithms customize what is recommended to you, increasing the likelihood that you see what you want ideologically. In general, people also actively search for opinions they agree with as well. The difference is that disinformation will no longer be shut down on places like Rumble. As such, it is one of the view viable echo-chambers left for far-right individuals. On another note, Rumble reminds me a lot of “Conservapedia”, the conservative wikipedia. Yes, this is a real thing, check our their page on Joe Biden: https://www.conservapedia.com/Joseph_Biden