Alt-Tech and the Great Secession
Gab, Parler and now Trump’s Truth Social may never rival Big Tech, but the movement they’re fostering is dangerous
If you know anything about the history of alt-tech, you may have greeted yesterday’s launch of Donald Trump’s Truth Social, a Twitter alternative, with a giant yawn. Who cares if there’s one more social network trying to appeal to conservatives and the far-right by promising to allow all forms of speech? After all, none of the many platforms launched as alternatives to the Big Tech mainstays have gained much traction.
InfoGalactic, the “planetary knowledge core” launched as a rightwing alternative to Wikipedia in 2016, gets about 300,000 visits a month, compared to more than 5 billion for Wikipedia. Voat, which launched in 2014 and positioned itself as a censorship-free social news aggregator akin to Reddit, shut down at the end of 2020. Hatreon, GoyFunder and Wesearchr, crowdfunding platforms that each sought to displace GoFundMe, have all gone out of business. Rumble, which was founded in 2013 as an alternative to YouTube, made a mere $7 million in ad revenue in the first nine months of 2021; YouTube made $9 billion in just one quarter.
Parler and Gab, the two biggest hubs for people who have gotten kicked off the mainstream social networks for hate speech, haven’t exactly knocked Twitter or Facebook off their pedestals. On Parler, for example, Mark Levin, a far-right talk radio host who revels in conspiracy theories about the election, claims that Democrats hate America and hate the police, and calls on his audience to “crush” them, is a big fish in a small pond with 5 million followers. For comparison, Joe Biden gained 5 million Twitter followers in just the first 24 hours after he was sworn in as president. And getting onto these platforms isn’t that easy. Parler, which is has been propped up by investments from Rebekah Mercer, a conservative donor who is a close ally of Steve Bannon, was removed for a while from the Google and Apple app stores after the Capitol riot last January. Gab was never even accepted onto those two key platforms for mobile app users.
That said, if it weren’t for Trump’s election defeat and the failed January 6 insurrection, Parler and Gab might already be in history’s…