Crackdowns by social-media giants push the president and his followers further toward niche platforms.
Big Tech is cracking down on Donald Trump, which gives him all the more reason to retreat from its platforms into his own digital ecosystem.
The president’s reelection campaign and some of his followers had already been joining and promoting alternative social media sites, much as the president pressures Fox News when it displeases him by calling attention to its upstart conservative rival, One America News Network.
That was before the most recent wave of crackdowns on Trump and his supporters by social-media firms seeking to remove content that is deemed offensive, inaccurate or both.
On Monday, the social media platform Reddit shuttered “The Donald,” a forum for Trump supporters, as part of a larger clampdown against groups that had violated rules against harassment and hate speech. Separately, Twitch, a video streaming platform owned by Amazon, suspended the Trump campaign’s channel for rules violations.
In recent weeks, as Twitter has begun applying disclaimers to some of Trump’s tweets for violating its policies, Trump’s campaign and many of its online supporters have taken a greater interest in the nascent social media platform Parler. The Twitter-like site markets itself as free-speech friendly and has attracted a small, right-leaning user base. The likes of Eric Trump and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz have both joined the platform this month, and on June 18, Trump’s campaign manager Brad Parscale tweeted, “Hey @twitter, your days are numbered,” along with a link to Parler.
Calls for a crackdown first gained widespread traction after an August 2017 white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, turned deadly. National outrage prompted social media platforms, payment processors and web hosts to crack down on white nationalism, a move that was largely successful in reducing the visibility and influence of many of the alt-right’s most notorious figures, such as Richard Spencer.
The tightening vice has prompted some on the far right to create or migrate to online platforms more amenable to their politics. In addition to Parler, there is Gab, which bills itself as an anti-censorship alternative to Twitter; Discord, a forum for private chat groups that is popular on the far right; and Urbit, a decentralized computing experiment started by programmer Curtis Yarvin, whose anti-democratic, “neoreactionary” internet writings have influenced a number of Trump’s populist allies, including, reportedly, Steve Bannon.
Tech companies’ efforts to rein in right-wing populism also present a dilemma to Trump. Threatening to abandon the platforms may give him leverage to fight back against restrictions, but the platforms still allow him to directly reach tens of millions of people, making it unlikely he would leave them altogether.
Instead, well before the latest round of clashes, the president and his supporters had been taking small steps away from the big social platforms, experimenting with smaller, more controlled digital environments. POLITICO first reported on the Trump campaign’s interest in Parler last year. The campaign has also made an app for supporters with its own social component a centerpiece of its reelection strategy.
That drift away from the big platforms now looks primed to accelerate.
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