The Right is Building Its Own Platforms
Paris Marx is joined by Jacob Silverman to discuss how the right-wing of the tech industry are funding media platforms like Rumble to reshape the political discourse and why they’re helping Robert F. Kennedy Jr. challenge Joe Biden.
Jacob Silverman is a journalist and the co-author of Easy Money: Cryptocurrency, Casino Capitalism, and the Golden Age of Fraud. He’s also the host of The Naked Emperor on CBC Podcasts. You can check out Jacob’s Substack.
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Paris Marx: Jacob, welcome back to Tech Won’t Save Us!
Jacob Silverman: Hi, how are you?
PM: I’m well, thank you. Thanks for coming back.
JS: Thanks for having me.
PM: I’m always excited to chat with you whether it’s about crypto or the right-wing politics of the industry. You were last on to talk about Silicon Valley Bank back earlier this year, when that all imploded. But you have a new piece in The Nation looking at Rumble which is this right-wing video platform that has really been taking off in recent years. If people are not on the right, maybe they haven’t been over there — maybe they haven’t watched it, maybe they’re not super familiar with it — but it’s increasingly influential. So I thought it would be good to dig into that with you in this conversation because there’s so much around it we can talk about too. And before we talk about this specific platform, I wanted to ask you about this broader narrative that we hear that informs why it exists. The right has been saying for years, that they’re being silenced online, and that these platforms are out to get them. Is this even true and where did this notion come from?
JS: It’s interesting, I think it actually has a kernel, or angle, of truth, but it’s been very much lost in public discourse, even in mainstream publications. And of course, in the right-wing persecution complex, which really predates Trump or the alt-right, or these online forums we’re talking about. But claim towards victimization and persecution has been a staple, I think of the right-wing toolkit, and cultural landscape, and how they perceive themselves and present themselves for a long time. What I think has changed in recent years with some of these online platforms and the claims of censorship is that the right-wing in the United States — I’m just going to focus on the US — has been pretty radicalized, and the Overton window, or the standard deviation, of what a stock Republican, or right-wing political actor or voter is, has moved to the right.
And I’m sure there’s adequate scholarship backing that up, but we’ve also very much seen it happen in public. Then when I say in the article is that it’s almost like because a lot of right-wing political expression has become overtly racist — or transphobic, or homophobic, or conspiratorial in certain ways, or kind of rooted in “the Big Lie,” as they say about the election or other forms of disinformation — that is running up against the content policies of some of these platforms. Now, from another angle, you could argue that, and this is part of the conservative argument, I think, is that these content policies are too restrictive and the platforms like Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter have gotten too censorious, and too close to the government, as not really shown in the Twitter files, but we don’t need to get into that.
I think what’s happening here, though is there’s potential aspects of both. Certainly you’ve had people on the show talk about content moderation. I mean, these are crude systems. They’re very exploitative, of course, towards the human moderators. They don’t work very well; they don’t scale very well. But when you add policies against hate speech, and against transphobia, for example — or against COVID, misinformation, or disinformation, which was a choice by a lot of these platforms — and then those same kinds of expressions are standard for conservative and right-wing Americans. Then of course, they’re gonna feel censored and persecute because things that they like to say about Ivermectin cures COVID will be not allowed on a platform. And of course, there are specific arguments to be made about some of these topics like: Should COVID misinformation be so heavily policed like that?
The difference between misinfo and disinfo by some standards is misinformation is kind of accidental. Disinformation is often knowingly, or crafted by some sort of actor or state actor perhaps. So perhaps we need to police disinformation more than the average middle American who’s tweeting: Ivermectin cures COVID. Because they just think that. So those are the kinds of dynamics that I see in play. Like, I think there are problems with moderate content moderation, and policy at the policy level and at the implementation level. But I also think that you have a right-wing and MAGA set that has been mostly radicalized, and traffics in open bigotry. And that’s going to create a problem for them when platforms want to have a safe space for the bulk of their users and for advertisers.
PM: Absolutely. I think it’s so interesting that you describe it that way too because one thing that we saw in the earlier 2010s is that the right hadn’t been radicalized to such a degree. But also, the hammer of content moderation wasn’t necessarily always as strong. And especially when we move into the mid-2010s, you have more of a radicalization happening on the right. You also have the platform’s feeling like they need to up their moderation game because there’s a lot of focus on Facebook and the election and on the Brexit campaign. And the impacts that all these things had and the questions as to whether these platforms are effectively moderating what is happening on them. And even with that, yes, there’s a greater moderation that happens. But we also have the reporting from Facebook and these other companies that they’re concerned about kicking someone like Alex Jones off of the platform because it’ll really piss people off.
Then you still have Republican and right-wing people high up in these companies that are suggesting that you can’t do too much to impinge on these people’s ability to say whatever they want or kick them off the platform because then that would cause chaos and you’d have the entire right coming after you. But there was still a need to do some degree of additional content moderation to address what was happening in these spaces. And then that really seems to come to a head during the pandemic moment when you have both a further radicalization, but also a scaling up in the content moderation that’s happening in that moment.
Even I remember early in the pandemic, I had a tweet blocked or my account was suspended or something on Twitter for a short period of time, because I tweeted about Bill Gates and vaccines. Not to say that he was putting microchips in us, but because the vaccine apartheid discussions that were happening at the time, and that was just automatically flagged, and I was suspended for it. So you can see how these things were affecting people in a greater degree, as you’re talking about just targeting, going with a broad brush and trying to hit people. But then you have this reaction, and I feel like that’s also part of what motivates Musk to go after Twitter, because he is feeling like the types of things that he’s increasingly interested in, the people that he’s following are interested in, are getting caught up in these moderation systems.
JS: Oh, very much. So I think that dynamic and I think pegging it — I mean, they’re different inflection points or sort of important milestones. 2016 election, certainly, I mean, a lot changed after that, and across tech. Beginning of COVID is worth noting, as you said, because you had both radicalization a lot of people had towards state authority, and anything from curfews to businesses being shut down, and things like that, and vaccine mandates. But also, people really are worth figuring this stuff out online or trying to and getting their information online. And meanwhile, you do have some authorities who weren’t always reliable. I can’t honestly tell you what mistakes the CDC made. First, they’d said, you don’t need to mass and then they did. I know there’s some things like that.
I know that public health authorities made some mistakes, and especially in messaging, probably some good faith ones, and probably some bad faith ones too. But I was not someone who was obsessing over that kind of thing, I guess. I was pretty focused on COVID protocols and things like that. But it’s understandable, I guess, is what I’m trying to say that some of these people who are very invested in what’s happening with COVID. I guess I would describe myself as like a COVID normie, in terms of my media consumption. During the height of COVID, I tried to read the Times and abide by best practices and wear masks and things like that. But I wasn’t like lab leak Ivermectin.
Or even just the natural questioning of authority and power, and what’s going on here that anyone should be asking, not just in a conspiratorial sense. That was not one of my focuses, but for people who were very engaged in that kind of stuff online, even in the way of talking about vaccine apartheid, which is, of course, an important issue. They were easily caught up in these systems. And it’s not like you can call Twitter and say: Hey, what’s up? I wrote an article a couple years ago for the New Republic, I mean, it’s a little lighter in nature, but it was about Revolutionary War reenactment groups, specifically. They call themselves, “the something, something militia from Pennsylvania,” or whatever. And because of the post-January 6th crackdown, on militia content on Facebook, they all start getting booted off Facebook. And they’re like: Look, we just like to dress up in costumes and hold old muskets. It’s incredibly endearing, it’s a Ren Fair, or DND level of nerdery. Like: Oh, this is so sweet.
It was a definite community of these folks, these different reenactment groups who sometimes meet up ,and they were totally reliant on Facebook. And a couple of them, I was able to get their accounts restored, because I email the PR department of the company. Though, now, you can’t even do that with Twitter. So this speaks also to the systems that these companies have built. Which is maybe if you have a sad story and go viral, or you talk to a sympathetic journalist who can email Facebook or Twitter PR and say: Why is this Revolutionary War group banned, you might get somewhere. But I hear from people all the time, still. A gamer who talks to me about games and politics a little bit on Twitter, in Georgia, he texted me the other day, he’s like: Hey, I got banned from Twitter. I have no idea why and like no recourse. This speaks to how these systems can scale, how maybe these public squares are too big, or at least too big for these kinds of companies as currently constructed to handle or manage. Certainly, everything got far worse once Musk took the helm.
PM: Absolutely. These are kind of what we’re talking about are platforms that people are much more familiar with. The Facebook’s, the Twitter’s of the world, that a lot of people use. But there’s also been a move to create specific platforms, for specific communities. And of course, the right has been very engaged in this especially since 2016, and the Trump era, and all this stuff. And of course, the article that you wrote for The Nation was about Rumble, in particular. I feel like people have heard of Parler and Gab, but I feel like Rumble is one that maybe fewer people have actually encountered. It’s not one that I’m most familiar with, even though I’ve heard of it a number of times, because I know people like Glenn Greenwald are on there. But what is this platform? How does that actually work and where did it come from?
JS: Yeah, so there’s been this alt-tech movement, as it’s sometimes called, for years now really. And some of it, again, is rooted in very understandable principles of who wants to get more business to Amazon or to Google Cloud or whatever. But also, there are political principles behind it, like: We want our own infrastructure. We don’t want to be censored. We don’t want to rely on liberal companies whose policies we don’t like, things like that. Rumble started about 10 years ago, I believe, in Canada.
PM: It’s always Canada, man.
JS: It’s this guy, Chris Pavlovski, and he has a co-founder and some other people around him. He was a young Canadian entrepreneur, I believe, he’s still in his mid-30s. And he was a serial entrepreneur, you can see videos of him speaking at tech conferences and doing the, This is how I failed on this, and that.” There’s a story that he tells about going to India to do some Fintech startup and it failed, because he knew nothing about India or Fintech. I mean, he tries to approach it lightly, but you kind of feel for whoever in India that might have gotten roped into that. But it’s all supposed to be part of his startup journey, and ultimately, he started an IT outsourcing company called Cosmic Development. As far as I can tell, they do all kinds of things from content moderation, app development, or websites.
Chris, I believe, was born in Canada, but his parents are members of the Macedonian-diaspora. He’s very involved in that world and in a cultural and business organization for people from Macedonia. And you can see he’s gone to conferences there and stuff like that. So he eventually set up offices for his company in Macedonia, and I think there’s one in Serbia as well for Cosmic Development. I honestly couldn’t tell you numbers about how well it’s done, but it’s been a going concern for more than decade and that preceded Rumble. So what happens is he and a couple of the guys from Cosmic start Rumble as this video platform in the early 20 teens. The idea at the time seemed to be they were going to give a little more power to creators, and offer them a bit better revenue sharing — add sharing revenue — than YouTube was offering.
And that was the main sell for a while, it wasn’t ideological. It was about free speech, which some folks argue isn’t ideological. But it had none of the political character we’re talking about now, really. As far as I can tell it puttered along. It had some interaction with his other business with Cosmic, it provided moderation services, and I think still might, for Rumble. So I think there’s a way in which he’s benefited — and he said this in some of his public talks — from having basically this other business, parts of which are based overseas, and maybe that saves on labor. And there’s been some synergy there, I guess you could say. Then, really, Rumble is pretty quiet until about 2019 or so when MAGA world starts discovering it. Some of the early people to join were were a Devin Nunes.
PM: And tell us who Devin Nunes is.
JS: Sure, Devin Nunes is a former congressman who is very a loyal MAGA-st who got involved with some of the dirty tricks of trying to unmask, supposed a spying on the Trump campaign and stuff like that. He doesn’t have the best reputation, but then he moved on to be, and he still is, the CEO of Trump Media, the company that’s trying to merge with SPAC in South Florida, and go public and whose deadline is approaching, I believe. So there are some connections here actually between the Rumble world and the Trump Media world. And actually, this didn’t make it into the article, or it might be unparenthetical, but there’s this guy, Vladimir Novachki. Who is another Macedonian, who is a friend of Pavlovsky and works for Cosmic Development as a C-suite executive, I believe, CTO. And he has a similar position at Trump Media, and he’s barely mentioned, actually and that’s one reason why it didn’t really make it into the article very much.
First of all, no one at Rumble would answer my emails, and Novachki didn’t answer my messages. But it seems like Cosmic Development and Rumble helped fill out some of the tech infrastructure that people were looking for to create a MAGA media network. And that’s how I see what happened, which is that around 2020 actual investment started flowing in. So you have Peter Thiel, J.D. Vance, and this guy, Darren Blanton, who’s not as well known. But Blanton runs something called Cold Ventures in Texas, it’s a VC firm. The guy is obsessed with horses, I joke sometimes that he’s a horse semen connoisseur. He breed horses for racing and buys horse semen at incredible prices. So that’s why as VC firms called Cold ventures, but he’s this billionaire in Dallas. More importantly, he’s close to Bannon.
But some of this is chronicled in the January 6th investigation. It is written about and Bloomberg and elsewhere. But basically, Flynn, this former Navy SEAL guy, who was a supposed computer wizard, and Blanton tried to run this online advertising campaign to discourage black people from voting at all, or to vote Trump. And he was paid by the Trump campaign several hundred thousand dollars to do that, there are records of that. So these are the lead investors Thiel, now Senator J.D. Vance, and this guy, Darren Blanton. Other people come in later, but that’s when, I think, you really start seeing the shift is in 2020. An open question for me, and one I frankly wasn’t able to solve, but would still like to. Devin Nunes doesn’t talk to reporters, really.
He was on the board of when Guo Wengui, well he has bunch of different names, but the Chinese spy/businessman/grifter, who was just charged in New York with fraud who is Bannon’s close associate. They were both on the board of his media company Bannon and Darren Blanton. And as some people know, Bannon was, for one of his arrests, was arrested on the yacht of Guo Wengui. So there are a lot of connections here with dark money, dirty tricks, MAGA world, and the billionaires who find this stuff. Blanton is linked to — and this is there’s a long piece in Bloomberg that encourage people to read — this voter suppression operation that targeted black voters very well funded by Blanton, might have to throw it in an allegedly or two here.
But I would like to know how that money first came in. How did Peter Thiel and company decide on Rumble? Like: Okay, we’re gonna take this kind of middling startup that no one really knows about, that’s just this Canadian video startup that shows skateboarding videos and stuff. And we’re gonna pour millions into this thing, hundreds of millions of dollars, and make it a real attempt at a video platform competitor to YouTube and others. So that’s something ,I’m not really sure, but you can see those connections there that someone like Nunes came in early and then Rand Paul and eventually over the next couple years, it started getting folded into all these Republican personalities, media strategies.
PM: It’s fascinating to hear you explain all that and I imagine that meme of the guy at the board, drawing the links between all the different — you know what, what I’m talking about — I imagine you just doing that, like drawing all these connections between the Rumble and MAGA world and like all this goddess stuff.
JS: There’s a lady named Wendy Siegelman, who’s on Twitter who’s done some of that too. I was actually I looking at something that she did, because I think she was the one who found the that guy, Vladimir Novachki.Because in one of the filings — it’s either for the Trump Media or for the SPAC they’re merging with I’m sorry, I don’t quite remember offhand. — they list two key employees. It’s the General Counsel of Trump Media or something like that, and this guy Novachki, who’s the CTO, which you think is important, but this is a designation in an SEC filing. Thjere really is something happening here in terms of a coming together of money and talent and politics and cooperation between various companies. And also worth noting, in both cases, using SPACs. The Trump company is such a mess and is under multiple government investigations, that I don’t know the SPAC will ever happen.
They basically have to have approval to merge with this shell company and go public. That’s what Rumble did last year, snd so Rumble went public at a, I think, about a $2 billion market cap and they’ve sort of fluctuate up and down. But the insiders were instantly made very richly at least on paper. The people they’ve been hiring, I don’t know, actually, if they’ve given stock options, or stock grants to talent. I asked Glenn Greenwald once on Twitter, he denied that he was getting any stock. I didn’t ask whether there is an LLC that you benefit from that’s getting sock or something like that? But he said no. But we know that all the executives, including people from MAGA world, who now work at the company. Pavlovsky is still the CEO, he still has some of his buddies there. But you have the top lawyer, and the company’s secretary, and other people, are people who worked in the Trump White House and stuff like that.
All those people were given millions of dollars worth of compensation, and they are in a lockup period, I believe. It’ll be interesting to see what happens because I believe in September, at least for the CEO, Pavlovsky, who is right now a billionaire on paper, his lockup period ends, and so it’ll be interesting to see what happens. He’ll want to sell, but how much will he and will he try to slow play to not tank the price? There’s a short-selling firm that I mentioned in the article that released a report basically calling bullshit on Rumble and saying that their ad network sucks, their numbers are faked. They’re not making any money. I mean, some of those things are verifiably true, like the not making any money part. So it’s risen very quickly because they went public, they raised hundreds of millions of dollars, they raised around a PIPE financing which is another bit of private equity. Chocolate syrup on top of your SPAC, or sundae or whatever.
I’m not sure if those investors are all known, but they raised another $300 million doing that, so they have all this cash, or maybe it’s $100 million, but then they had $300 total, but they have hundreds of millions of dollars in cash. But they’ve already pledged to spend more than $100 million on talent, they say. And they’re losing 2-30, maybe more, million per year. So they’re not making money. And they can easily burn through that pretty quickly plus the stock, once people start selling in the fall, who knows. So that’s sort of what I’m thinking about looking ahead is they’ve signed up a lot of people and a lot of conservative and MAGA people, who had big audiences, but you got to be able to keep the lights on and sustain this thing beyond just when the executives cash out.
PM: Definitely. I think that’s a good pivot for us to move from what’s happening behind the scenes, on the money side of things, to what’s happening in front of the camera. Because as you describe, this is a platform that really takes it’s right-wing turn around 2019, and into 2020. As there’s this desire on the right to have their own platforms. But you also have this money flowing in from a number of different investors, as you’ve been discussing people like Thiel and others. So what is the nature of the type of people and the type of content that is being hosted on this platform? Because I feel like one of the things that stands out to me is that it seems like, at least in the beginning, it was a lot more kind of focused on, explicitly right-wing talent and what is going on there. But it seems like over time, they’ve tried to expand into this group of people who say that they’re on the left, but actually repeat a lot of righ-wing talking points and conspiracy theories in order to grow the tent of this growing extreme right movement. So what do we see on the platform?
JS: Well, I think that’s right. I wrote an article in the fall about David Sacks, Elon Musk buddy and advisor, and very much a part of this, actually.I mean, he was one of the largest outside shareholders besides some of these big funds that invest in everything, like Vanguard, in Rumble. And then recently, they bought his podcast site called Callin, which I wrote about in the fall. It never really got a huge audience or it got more attention than audience perhaps, but it almost felt like Rumble and Sacks’s allies, like Thiel were doing him a solid. And he joined the Rumble board, and they took his money-losing podcast startup off his hands. But it had a similar idea and sensibility in some ways. It was this new right of both sensitive to MAGA, but also trying to attract disaffected leftists, or even people who claim affiliation with the left, but maybe, are arguably not left in practice.
So Rumble is very explicitly given multimillion dollar deals to a lot of right-wingers, at least according to CNN, they gave something like $9 million to Andrew Tate and people like Donald Trump Jr. and Kimberly Guilfoyle, and Steven Crowder, who I opened my piece talking about. Really some of the most popular streamers and MAGA people. Another person who I mentioned earlier, Dan Bongino, say what you want about him, but big Fox News personality now. He’s an investor, his stake in Rumbles worth a couple 100 million, at least on paper. He was one of the early investors actually from the MAGA world, almost proceeded Thiel. And he has his show on there. A lot of people are just sort of syndicating, but some people are getting a lot of money from this pot of hundreds of millions of dollars that they plan to spend.
Then they will tell you: Hey, we have entertainment. We have people who claim to be leftists — nd they do have some people like that or people who are more heterodox — Glenn Greenwald is obviously the most prominent journalists on there. You have Russell Brand, and I mean, we can go into what they’re doing and what kind of political purpose they might be serving or what their material reflects, and I do mention that a little bit in the article. Frankly, Glenn Greenwald is often a subject unto himself and I didn’t want it to be a Glenn Greenwald article, but I think it is notable, as I mentioned in my article, that this is the guy who broke the Snowden story and is Mr. anti-security state and Mr. anti-corporate media. Rumble cannot be more corporate. It has venture capital from Peter Thiel, it went public via SPAC, which was the shadiest corporate vehicle du jour for the last few years during the era of low interest rates.
Everyone who works there is pretty much is MAGA or MAGA aligned. I mean, they talk about free speech a lot. But as I argue in the article, when you look at their content policies, I mean, they equate Antifa with the KKK, they ban anything about Antifa. They have pretty restrictive content policies, actually. So the Free Speech stuff, I argue, is kind of a canard and the pretense of neutrality behind the scrim of just free speech, I also think is wrong. I mean, it’s not necessarily the most important thing, but one of my arguments here, really, is: Look at the money, look at the talent, look at what they’re promoting, and pretty much everywhere it has to do with Republican or Trumpist politics. And I think that’s pretty undeniable.
So anyway, just to put a cap on the Greenwald thing. Now you agree with the guy who represents certain things, going to work for a very corporate media company, doing a cable news style show, which I thought he hated. And then funded by Thiel, whose company Palantir tried to, I believe, ruin Greenwald’s career and create a rift between him and WikiLeaks, more than 10 years ago. This is well known and Greenwald has written about it. And he’ll say: Well, I don’t work for Peter Thiel or things like that. But that’s the situation plus, the Chief Legal Counsel is this guy, Michael Ellis. Michael Ellis worked from Devin Nunesa and is from the Kash Patel, Ezra Cohen-Watnick, Devin Nunes world who if you know those names, these are all the guys who, actually, Felix Biederman was talking about them recently on Chapo. The guys were kicked off the National Security Council and stuff because they’re all just a little too shady or had their security clearances revoked or whatever else.
But they are aspiring dirty tricksters. Well, for a while Michael Ellis at least worked for the National Security Council. He also worked for Republicans on the Senate Intelligence Committee, and helped write a report about the Snowden revelations and how to mitigate them. I mean, to me, it’s just mind boggling. I’m also indebted to @gumby4christ from Twitter for bringing this to my attention initially, actually. But this guy is the lawyer at the company. They’ve had legal troubles, they decided to go dark in France rather than submit to some moderation or censorship, and Greenwald likes to tout that, good for them, sure. But if say Glenn Greenwald actually reported a new story that challenged power, or challenged Peter Thiel, or the security state or anything else, like the guy defending him and his work on a corporate and legal level would be this former NSA — he also worked with NSA briefly before the Biden ministration basically forced him out But it would be this former NSA,NSC intelligence official,
It cannot be stranger, but those are the new bizarre alliances that are happening. And whether it’s changing politics or also a certain degree of denial, perhaps, that maybe they have enough in common on being anti-war or anti security state. Maybe that’s true, but I don’t fully buy it. And I think when you look at what’s actually being preached every day, it’s not diversity of viewpoint, pro-free speech, it’s pretty bog standard MAGA politics from a lot of these people. I should also say that some of the other things that they have. They have extreme sports, they have gamer streaming, they have some music, they signed some hip-hop artists. They have people who kind of cut against type and might not be conventional liberals or or conventional conservatives. But these feel just a little sprinkling of ideological talent diversity, in what is largely an enterprise geared towards putting people like Steven Crowder, or Glenn Greenwald, interviewing Marjorie Taylor-Greene for an hour in front of a lot of people.
PM: That’s really interesting. And you say that one of the things that might bring them together is anti-war, or anti-surveillance or whatever. But I imagine a big part of it too, is anti-woke, whatever, that word is going to mean.
JS: Yeah, and all the Culture Wars stuff. I mean, there’s so much transphobia on there, it’s troubling. It’s become very normalized, I guess. I mean, it’s standard stuff on the right, of course, but, I don’t know, you go on a site like that even from YouTube, or Twitter or even Elon’s Twitter where it can be pretty bad. And you just realize: This is just so normal for them, in some ways. It’s become such a part. I don’t even really like saying cultural war, because this is people’s lives and their medical care and stuff. But these kinds of issues have become so natural for them, snd basically unquestioned, and a lot of the people who are like Greenwald or others, Russell Brand, who do the anti-woke stuff, essentially, pay lip service to a lot of pretty upsetting, transphobic stuff. They certainly don’t care over at Rumble. I mean, they recently had a big live stream with Andrew Tate, but they don’t seem to care. I’ve emailed them saying: Do you care that one of your biggest talents is on house arrest for human trafficking, and rape and organized crime, and they don’t respond.
They bragged on Twitter about the size of his audience, and that they were able to do it without Amazon Web Services, like it was a technical achievement for them and reflected their independence. That’s what happens with this anti-woke stuff is that every criticism almost gets subsumed under it. So you’re either trying to censor or you’re being woke, but sometimes you’re like: No, I’m talking about a violent person. Or the fact that, I write in the article, their most polished offering is this thing called “Power Slap.” It’s from Dana White, the UFC guy. It’s grossly entertaining if you can watch a fighting sport or something, but then after five minutes, it gets pretty disgusting because a guy stands and they get one chance to slap their opponent as hard as they can. People are frequently knocked out, the guy just has to stand there and take it, and then there’s commentary and all this stuff, and competition.
So if the guy can stand up, he gets a slap the other guy back and it’s horrible. And they live in a house together, it’s the whole reality TV script, but these are people who you feel like they kind of scraped off the sidewalk. Some of ghese people really talk, and some stories of trauma, it’s just rough. And this is one their featured products and shit that they pay for. It’s hosted by Dana White, who himself was filmed slapping his wife — I’ve seen the video at a New Year’s party in Mexico, I believe, the beginning of this year beginning of last year. There’s a lot of people who just straight up are abusers who are the on air talent. I mean, Dana White is the host of the show. And that seems to go along with the fact that it’s almost like: LOL, nothing matters. Or just trolling meets anti-wokeism.
They’ll never take those kinds of critique seriously, like: Well, what about the abusers or what about the transphobia? Some things are really ugly, and not just provocative or trolling, or challenging, the status quo. But because the anti-woke is philosophy can be so broad or just generalized, it doesn’t matter. And that’s what I really see on Rumble is they’ll never apologize for Andrew Tate, they’ll brag about their technical acumen. And that’s as far as, I think, they’ll ever really go until, I don’t know what happens. But I’m sure he’ll go to jail, and they’ll still broadcast him.
PM: Absolutely, and the anti-woke language and just what they’re doing in general is a way to justify and normalize and incredibly extreme right-wing politics, white nationalism, all the other kinds of stuff that the right is increasingly pushing and trying to make people go toward, or believe in. I was wondering as well, though, you’re talking about how Rumble has had this success. Obviously, it has all this money from all this investment, it has become a very important platform, not just for the MAGA right. But anyone who kind of wants to succeed on the right, the idea is that you need to have some sort of connection to Rumble, whether you’re hosting a show on it, or you’re going on the various shows that are on the network and have some relationship to this platform.
We obviously saw other attempts to create right-wing platforms in the past few years, things like Parler or Gab or even Truth Social, that still continues to exist out there. But none of these platforms, I would argue, have been very successful in making a real mark on the general conversation and becoming a platform where it felt like people really had to go. People pay attention to Donald Trump’s truths, over on Truth Social just to see what he’s saying. But no one really cares about the platform otherwise, and like Parler and Gab have kind of descended. So why did they not really work or take off? And why does it seem like Rumble is getting a lot more notoriety and attention where they did not?
JS: Well, there’s an interesting thing that happened to Parler, and they were supposed to be bought by the artist formerly known as Kanye, which was never going to really happen. But then they were bought by some kind of nameless tech concern, and they did kind of a logical thing. The new owner shut down the social network, and they kept the data and the tiny cloud business —which I only know if it’s a real thing — and basically, took it for parts, and they posted something on Parler.com. It said something to the effect of: Conservative Twitter clone is not really possible in this day and age. And one thing I put it in my article is I would argue is that’s Twitter now, or X, as we now have to call it. And Elon is trying to do that and you can see the effects. It’s breaking, it’s hemorrhaging users and advertisers, and all that stuff, and it’s just becoming an unpleasant place to be.
But there is something to that idea that, and from the cultural perspective and the social perspective, I don’t know people while they’re in their own bubbles, they still want to at least see some people unlike them. It’s not very fun, even for the right-wingers, to just be surrounded by other angry right-wingers or QAnon conspirators. They want to troll us and journalists and stuff like that, and there are other practical things. I can go off on the role of media and some of the stuff all day, but journalists are a catalyst for bringing attention to a platform, kind of taking things that are trending on a platform, like Twitter, and putting it into the news cycle and reporting on it. There is that symbiotic relationship a bit.
So on these other platforms, you basically just have small audiences of mostly like minded right-wingers, sometimes very extreme, and no one really from left of center, or the mainstream or the media establishment. I think Gab is a disgusting place because it’s run by a Christian nationalist who’s openly anti-Semitic. But it’s an interesting case study, I’ve written about it for the New Republic, because he really believes in this alt-tech stuff, Andrew Torba, and is really trying to create a full technical infrastructure that can really survive as an alternative to AWS and PayPal, and everything. I mean, he still a ways to go, but he’s committed to that. And I read his newsletter just because I want to know what this guy is up to.
He has this very strong Christian nationalist — tech secessionist, alternative economy type vision — where we need the separate Christian economy, parallel economy. What I think we find is like: Yeah, you can try that. It’s difficult, and you’re gonna have your parallel thing. But these other companies, they need that mainstream crossover ability. Gettr got hacked, it was run by Jason Miller, who then went to go work for Trump again. Truth Social is associated with Trump’s failing media company, and Parler was shut down. What Rumble has to its; advantage, I think, is that it has this huge infusion of money. It has some relatively mainstream conservatives and MAGA people on it, and it has video which is a little more flexible and entertaining and monetizable than text. One problem is their ad network is terrible, actually, their ad tech.
This didn’t make it into the article because it was rigorously fact checked, and I did not have a screenshot of this, but you have to take my word for it. That when I was first going on Rumble a lot in the spring, there were lots of ads for Ivermectin, but I never took a screenshot. But it’s exactly what you think it’s these terrible low grade ads for Ivermectin — for gold and silver, Sean Hannity telling you to buy silver — and it’s often the same ad over and over again for days. So they’re making so little money that I don’t see how they can really build up the kind of infrastructure they’re talking about. I’m not sure how much they have. They have a Cosmic Development connection stuff, but I’m not sure how much their cloud really exists beyond Truth Social. That’s the ambition, I’d say, and somewhere in the middle of the collapsing Twitter and the somewhat rising Rumble will meet, and then maybe collapse again together.
PM: “X Rumble,” will be the new platform. I think that’s interesting, though, because it suggests that maybe part of the reason that Rumble is doing well, and is really in the conversation right now is not so much that it’s this huge, massive thing. But just because it has a lot of money, so it can survive while losing a ton of money, at least for now. But if that money dries up, then it might not have the same experience. And it’s possible because the right has these billionaires who have a ton of cash, who can just fund these things, and make them influential, even if there’s not a serious business model at their foundation.
JS: Yeah, that’s true. You got to ask him,: Are there right-wingers — right-wing billionaires, whether Thiel or other people — who see this as in their long-term interests, to have money losing online media venture with some potential reach. And I mean, that’s how a lot of right-wing, very ideologically motivated media, has survived. Certainly a lot of small magazines. I mean, Weekly Standard, or some of these other small magazines were eventually chucked because the owners get bored of losing money, but those are all kind of political projects and losing money as part of the bargain. One other thing that’s worth mentioning is Rumble is the official streaming partner of the Republican Party presidential primary debate, that I believe is next month in August.
It’s just interesting to see how that’s presented and handled. I assume it’ll be on cable news or network TV also. But like I said, when you’re doing that kind of alignment and bragging about it, and echoing the language of Andrew Tate and the matrix and all this crap, it’s clear what’s going on here. But sometimes logging on to Rumble feels like logging on to Gab or something else where you’re just like: Hey, I want a few cute animal videos, or a music video mixed in with Steven Crowder yelling about how his wife shouldn’t be allowed to divorce him or something like that. It certainly runs on these dominant currents of anger and reactionary feeling. I think you even see that in Glenn Greenwald, who is a journalist and does reporting and interviews people and stuff like that.
I mean, I disagree with some of the things he says in his methods, but he runs on reactionary anger towards the democratic and liberal establishment and status quo, and I think that’s pretty recognizable. So that is not really a fun scene or tone to be constantly surrounded by it certainly has its place, but it’s a really loud bar playing bad EDM or something. It’s someone yelling in your face all the time. And maybe if you’re an angry bigot, you do want to watch three hours of Dan Bongino and Steven Crowder per day, but I don’t know. One other thing I’ll add is that the numbers haven’t been that great.
Crowder had millions of viewers on YouTube, I think he had some suspension problems. He supposedly had a $50 million offer from the Daily Wire and turned it down. Who knows if that was all made up, and then he went to Rumble. And the numbers aren’t very good, it’s hundreds of thousands of viewers. And Rumble has been accused of faking its audience numbers, or using a lot of fake traffic for malware driven traffic, it was in this short seller report from Culpo Research. So again, he cares as long as they can keep paying him. But it’s in Rumbles interest to make this somehow more self sustaining, or at least not have to go hand in hand every six months to Thiel and Sacks, and whoever else might pour some money.
PM: Yeah, that’s a big drop in reach and viewership to go from millions to hundreds of thousands.
JS: And some of these guys are gonna care about that, of course, or most of them because they want to reach the widest number of people. We saw that also with Tucker Carlson, he went from Fox to Twitter and his numbers went way down. I mean, Fox is horrible, I think all cable news should be thrown in the fire, but there’s a reason why a lot people still watch these channels, and mass media still has some reach. And there’s a mistake sometimes that even people like Elon Musk, or these executives, make who are way too online, just like the rest of us. And think that the old people in their easy chairs who get Fox News on all day are gonna go on Twitter and find Tucker’s show, they’re just not.
PM: No, definitely I completely agree. And talking about that political angle of it, how Rumble is hosting this Republican debate, and how these candidates want to be on the platform, need to be on the platform. There’s another relevant angle to this to where it’s not just the Republican Party, but we have this guy — his name is Robert F. Kennedy, Jr, I believe — who’s running in the Democratic primary, but was getting a lot of attention from the right. And from the tech right, in particular, who seems to be funding him and seems to be very excited about his candidacy.
He has also, of course, been on Rumble and been on some of these shows, and all this sort of stuff. Getting into this circle of, not just the right wingers on that platform, but the people who say that they’re on the left, but they’re into all these anti-vax conspiracy theories and stuff like that. So what do you make of the RFK Jr. candidacy? And how this plays into this broader shift that we’re seeing happening in the politics, but not just how it affects the right-wing, but how it’s trying to bleed its way into liberalism and the left as well?
JS: Well, I think there are some realignments going on politically and have been for years now. And some kind of genuine of people thinking differently and more heterodox beliefs and some out of convenience or bad faith or whatever else like, and I think the RFK Jr. situation falls more in the bad faith category. I mean, I think from his perspective — look, he’s sort of anti-Ukraine war, and anti-NATO, but he’s Mr. Israel, which is, personally as a lefty Jew, very annoying, because the other day, he was basically saying that Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who I don’t even like, was an anti-Semite. And I’m like: She’s Jewish, or was insufficiently supportive of Israel. But, she’s just a standard Democrat on Israel, and she’s Jewish. So, are those things the same? Or are those positions of convenience, in a way and like using Rabbi Shmuley Boteach who’s a celebrity rabbi of a really low-grade, Michael Jett. I always call him Michael Jackson’s former Rabbi. He’s the guy, when you don’t go to the Anti-Defamation League to apologize for being anti-Semitic. You go to Rabbi Shmuley or something like when they’re not available, and do the public appearance and everything.
And I wrote something for Slate about this. But I think RFK Jr. I think it’s mutual opportunism, him and his right-wing tech backers. David Sacks, it’s hard for me to believe that he actually wants RFK Jr. to fully succeed or be president. He is the most prominent DeSantis supporter in tech; he introduced him his presidential campaign and is a big donor, and especially now that Ken Griffin might be turning away from DeSantis, he might be the biggest donor left or one of them. So, it seems like there are a couple of things which they agree on, or they at least like RFK, Jr, as an agent of chaos, who will question the establishment on COVID Some Ukraine stuff. And then who knows, just say a lot of other batshit crazy stuff and make problems for Biden and the Democrats. I think it’s pretty clear. They would like Biden, who’s a doddering old man to go on stage and be possibly shown up by an HGH fueled RFK JR, who has just done 20 push ups backstage.
I’m just cynical, of course. And the problem is we do a version of this a lot, because our electoral system is horrible, and there’s no room for third-party candidates or challenging incumbents, and we have a pretty bad incumbent in Biden. The economy is doing okay for some people, but he’s certainly not a very inspiring figure and very old. Actuarially, he’s unlikely to survive a second term. But again, you’re not allowed to question it. Everyone gets called as a Russian tool or something like that, or but in this case, I think it’s pretty easy to point to, you don’t have to do the Russia crap, which I hate. You can just point to that David Sacks hosted a fundraiser for RFK Jr. Why do you think he did that? And I think it’s pretty clear.
Also this kind of right wing sensibility or sort of the MAGA adjacent realignments, that Sacks is part of very much they love refugees from liberalism. It’s part of their whole narrative is: Oh, San Francisco destroyed itself. We left, and we went to Austin in Miami and stuff or we tried to save it. The Democrats failed at cities, we need to recall these liberal DAs, which Sacks puts a lot of money into. And even Musk has said this kind of thing. Not very eloquently, but you know, he supposedly used to be a Democrat, and now the Democrats are too intolerant to callate Jason Calacanis, who’s, you know, is sort of their, their hanger on says this stuff: Put me in the game coach. I had to.
PM: Calacanis will say anything like to suck up to them.
JS: Of course. So they love people like RFK, Jr, who seems rejected by the liberal establishment, which he is. But I would argue that he has one or two good ideas and a lot of bad ones.
PM: Because he’s a crank!
JS: Yeah, he is a crank! I’m sorry, in the old-dashioned sense. And read the NBC article by Brandy Zadrozny when she went for a walk with him, and she’s used to writing about conspiracy theorists in a reasonable way. He believes some pretty wacko stuff, and this guy is not going to give you universal health care, or stop American militarism. He’s going to be an impediment towards probably most democratic political goals, if that’s your thing. It’s not what tech billionaires want. They want him to be that impediment. And that’s why they’re funding him. And that’s why a site like Rumble takes them in because it’s the similar edge. And they’re like: Look, we’re the defenders of free speech. He got suspended or an interview taken off of YouTube, I think it happened more than once, because of some of his COVID stuff. I honestly have pretty mixed feelings about COVID moderation, and some it does feel like censorship are unnecessary. I did talk earlier about disinfo versus misinfo and stuff like that. It does create this victimization complex for people.
And you do have to balance kind of competing interests also, which is something that the right never recognizes, which is that there are public health concerns. There are real concerns about this kind of stuff. Sometimes those might conflict with free speech, which is an enormously important and central value. But sometimes rights do interlock, if not conflict, or at least requires some kind of negotiating and complex thinking. And that’s, I think, what we’re missing. So there you have RFK, Jr. ushered along by new Rumble board member, David Sacks. RFK, Jr. signs up was Rumble. I don’t know if they paid him. But they did a press release, they brought his show on. And he is one of their featured attractions now. And you can see how that kind of political movement works. It’s kind of what Sacks was doing with Colin, but just with smaller, frankly, media personalities, and not someone running for president.
PM: Absolutely. One thing I’m seeing repeated a lot on Twitter lately is that just a lot of people seem to have absolutely lost their minds in the past few years, and just fall for all the craziest, conspiracy theory bullshit. And it fees that obviously, the right has been radicalized in a really significant way, since the Trump years in particular. And we’ve seen that kind of continue during the COVID period with the anti-vax stuff, and all the other kind of conspiracy theories that have been built on top of that, but it seems like you have the Greenwald’s, I guess, to a lesser degree Greenwald, but the Russell Brand’s, of course, who is on Rumble and used to kind of identify as a leftist I believe he still does, but he’s pushing all these wacky conspiracy theories now.
JS: Or just complimenting Ron DeSantis to his face, and unnecessarily. He’s interviewed people by now, he was just saying: Oh, it’s clear talking to you, you’re a very thoughtful and talented political actor base. That’s a paraphrase. But he’s basically there’s something that’s changed. I didn’t mean interrupt. But I mean, I think I argue that and I like to write about this at some point. But I think Elon Musk has been radicalized in sort of the the sense of radicalization that we sometimes talk about. I don’t think he’s about to become violent or something. But, I mean, that’s very clear. He was always I think he always was sympathetic to some of those views, but he’s embraced various forms of white supremacy and conspiratorial thinking and racist theories about crime and all kinds of stuff.
PM: I think it’s a good point. You’ve had this radicalization on the right. You have these people who used to identify as the left and increasingly still say that they are on the left, even though they say these incredibly right-wing and conspiratorial things. I guess you can look at Bill Maher, as well who has kind of become an anti-woke Crusader, and used to be someone who identified as being on the left. And then you have someone like RFK Jr. who seems to be bringing this type of politics more into the political stage. Obviously, you have the right wingers who say all this stuff, but to bring it more into the Democratic Party, and to keep infecting it in that way. I guess the broader question is just: What do you think is happening here? And what does this say about where the political system is going? But also, what tech is doing to try to push this type of politics into the mainstream?
JS: Well, it’s a problem, in part because the range of acceptable debate and political representation is very narrow. And it would be easier to be angry about RFK Jr. or authentically righteous about him, in one’s anger. If there were better alternatives, or the Democrats had policy or political responses to a guy like this, and they don’t. And I don’t mean to suppress his ideas. I mean to respond to some of the actual grievances or alienation that he does occasionally speak to, I mean, someone who’s much better at that, of course, is Cornel West, and there’s no way to really fold Cornel West into a larger Democratic Party, a big tent or or realigned one, and perhaps to the rights credit.
As they are trying to do some forms of realignment, you know, there are people who also their ex-MAGA people and people who are disillusioned by the Trump years, and I’ve talked to folks like that, including people who worked for Trump and stuff. But there is arguably, through these dynamics — that you and I are both were just describing — this effort to invite these refugees from liberalism, as I call them, and people who have been absorbed by anti-woke culture or COVID radicalization, a lot of that stuff is finding a home on the right. The left doesn’t have a response, but the left also doesn’t have a lot of political power. They have some media or independent media, but liberals certainly have no response, and the broader ways to respond to this are give people a health care — real material relief. So they don’t find refuge in conspiracy theories or so that their relatives don’t drop dead and from lack of health care, or whatever else.
Obviously, that should be the basis of our politics. And instead, we end up fighting, some of these are very online battles, or the stuff that gets subsumed under the cultural war mantle, which I would like to see separate out, like I said earlier, like I think like trans rights should not just be called a cultural war or something like that. But it’s different than maybe like a book ban or something like that, which is still very objectionable but it’s just a different kind of thing to me. But that’s what I see on the left. We also need to say that these are quasi monopolies or monopsonies, or whatever you want to call them in tech. It’s not good that YouTube is so ascendant. I like YouTube as a product. I watch a lot of stuff on there and I don’t feel myself censored, but it’s not good that it’s the only place and same with Facebook and all the others but there’s sort of a satisfaction or laziness outside of anyone not named like Lina Khan, or the antitrust new Brandeisians. You need to have some alternatives, or you need to get Evgeny Morozov on the phone and have him design a new tech industry for you. Because right now the right-wingers are trying to do it, however, self-servingly and clumsily.
But I do think that the one core critique that they do have a point on is that there is a gradual fusion of Silicon Valley and the security state. I think that’s hard to deny. It doesn’t mean — as some of the Twitter Files reporting claim — that the FBI says: Hey, Yoel Roth, ban this guy. I don’t think it’s something that really went down that way. But you know, the personnel the money, that communication, we know there’s a revolving door with all that stuff. I’ve been joking a little bit on Twitter lately. It’s kind of Eric Schmidt’s world vision. This is almost something people talked about more 10 years ago when he was more of a public figure, but we’re all kind of living in that world. And that is concerning. And that does speak to the future of our media and our social media platforms and censorship and content moderation. And there’s a weird way in which the Republicans are almost attuned to that, but they have all the wrong ideas and all the wrong interpretations and all these insane conspiracies.
PM: Absolutely. The right has has the power and the resources to actually experiment with this alternative kind of tech ecosystem in a way that the left doesn’t, really, how it’s going to fund creating the these sorts of things. But then as you described as well, there’s a lot of problems in the system as it exists. We see the tech industry shifting toward the government, as the government embraces this position where China is the big enemy. And the tech industry sees how it can very much benefit from that by becoming part of the larger security state. There are all these connections and alignments that are happening.
As we’ve talked about through this conversation, the right has an influential ability to get people to listen to its message because of how it shapes the broader platforms that we all use, but also builds its own. And it has a lot more resources at its disposal to be able to do these things. Jacob, I think that this has been a fascinating conversation. That is a good place to leave it, to have people reflect on these issues that we’re all dealing with. But thanks again, so much for coming on the show.
JS: Oh, always glad to enjoy it. Thank you!