The Sarasota County Commission voted in October to award an $825,000 incentive grant to the conservative leaning online media platform Rumble.
The grant from the county’s Economic Development Corporation would be used by the company to establish its U.S. headquarters in Longboat Key.
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Since then, a vocal group of residents has been petitioning the commission to rescind the grant, mainly because the platform airs RT, the Russian state news channel.
Earlier this week, Rumble announced that its user base hit a new record of 41 million monthly users in the first quarter of 2022, including 44.3 million in March.
This comes as millions of people continue to migrate away from dominant social media apps like Facebook and YouTube since the 2020 election.
WUSF’s Cathy Carter recently spoke with New York Times political reporter Jeremy Peters, who recently wrote about Rumble and its ambitions.
Jeremy, how did you come to report about Rumble?
I think a big question after Facebook, Google, and many of the large social media platforms started kicking users off for spreading misinformation and conspiracy theories about vaccines and about nonexistent examples of voter fraud was, where were all of these people going? We know that they weren’t going away. We knew that they weren’t going to suddenly stop believing what they believe just because they didn’t have a voice through a place like Facebook. And the answer is, a lot of them were going to Rumble because it has a very loosely enforced speech policy. Rumble was a place where they could pretty much say whatever they wanted where almost anything goes.
In this article, you report that Rumble has tens of millions of dollars in financing from pretty much right-of -center entrepreneurs?
Part of the reason Rumble has been able to attract investment from conservative players like Peter Thiel, who was a major backer of President Trump’s first campaign, is Rumble has stated its goal of creating, effectively, an entirely new kind of internet. People who share views that would come under scrutiny by content moderators and algorithms at the larger major social media firms feel free to express themselves and they know that they won’t be kicked off. And that’s appealing to a lot of folks, especially those who are supporters of President Trump and his false claims that the election was stolen from him in 2020.
And as you report, Rumble now draws 44 million monthly visitors, which is actually larger than some other top conservative sites like Breitbart and Newsmax.
To give you an idea of just how large that is, that’s almost as big as Fox News Dot Com’s audience. So, it’s significant and has been growing at a pretty rapid clip over the last year. What Rumble doesn’t like to talk about is where that traffic growth is coming from. And in our reporting, we showed that there is a pretty straight and direct line from the kind of misinformation you saw put out here by hosts like Dan Bongino and outlets like One America News, OAN, and their de-platforming from Facebook and YouTube and the growth that Rumble experienced. I mean, it’s pretty explosive since the major tech and social media companies began their crackdown.
As you report, with this large audience to be had, some who study far right content online say that if left unchecked, this could grow into a really powerful political weapon.
Well, I think generally Democrats and even Republicans who think that this type of misinformation about the election, about Donald Trump, about COVID, that it’s going to proliferate unseen and that they will be caught off guard in the event of another type of January 6 style uprising. These types of platforms that are off of the mainstream grid, so to speak; that has some pretty scary implications.
And although Rumble has a smaller footprint than Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, their audience is intensely engaged. And in many ways, as one former Republican Congressman told you, this alternative universe has already bloomed. So, what is your major takeaway?
I would say this: This campaign from the Right — although it’s not exclusively from the Right, it’s mostly among people sympathetic to the former President — is that it’s bigger than Rumble. There are other social media networks like GETTR, which was started by a former Trump aide. There’s President Trump’s own social network. These types of outfits are just going to keep growing and that’s because the people behind them really do see a very large market. This is very much a project in its infancy, and I would not be at all surprised if by the end of this year, it is something that has taken off in a much greater way.
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