For supporters of Donald Trump who consider themselves “censored” by Facebook or Twitter, the choice is wide: in the United States, no less than four social networks, including three recently launched, present themselves as alternative solutions “respecting freedom of expression”. There’s Gab, Twitter’s historic, far-right far-right copycat; Truth Social, launched by Donald Trump at the beginning of the year and reserved for American users; then Parler, financed by the family of ultraconservative billionaires Mercer; and finally Gettr, created by a former adviser to Donald Trump.
Everyone surfed, from January 2021, on the closure of Donald Trump’s Twitter account and his blocking on Facebook, following the attack on the Capitol (January 6, 2021) encouraged, in part, by messages published by Mr. Trump on social media. But, despite this promising news for recruiting new users, difficulties have accumulated for almost all these sites.
First, technically. Gab, which hosts large amounts of conspiratorial or even neo-Nazi content, saw its access to Amazon Web Services cut off in 201.9 after a series of shootings committed by users of the site. The platform has since developed its own hosting system. Parler’s app, launched shortly before the assault on the Capitol, was pulled in early 2021 from Apple and Google’s online stores, before also losing its contract with Amazon.
Truth Social, launched with great fanfare but with delay by Donald Trump at the beginning of 2022, was inaccessible for several days, obviously due to an ill-prepared launch to suddenly welcome a large number of users. Only Gettr, launched more gradually, seems to have so far escaped blockages and crashes – even if, in February, disgruntled ex-employees revealed that the company had fired its entire technical team by surprise.
Back and forth on moderation
Amazon’s cuts are directly linked to the philosophy displayed by these platforms, one of the main arguments of which is a much more tolerant moderation than that practiced by Facebook or Instagram. All set certain limits on the content they accept, but Gab, in particular, readily tolerates illegal content in Europe and responds very little to requests to remove content. After being blocked from the Apple Store, Parler had to backtrack and implement more moderation tools, contrary to its initial promise.
These social networks, mainly designed for supporters of Donald Trump, also suffer from structural problems. For their very militant users, they form an echo chamber in which they preach to converts – unlike “mainstream” social networks, on which they can hope to convince other Internet users to join their political side. The so-called “Metcalfe’s” law, which postulates that the usefulness of a network is proportional to its number of users, also limits the expansion of networks that are not intended for everyone: for lack of a mass criticism from friends or family members on these alternative networks, most of their users continue to use bigger platforms as their primary accounts.
In the past, these alternative platforms have been able to attract “big name” conservatives, but struggle to retain them. On Parler, for example, almost all of the “stars” on the platform, such as star presenter Sean Hannity, simply repost their Twitter messages there automatically.
Not to mention the competition, direct or indirect, in which these four networks engage, certainly different, but which all seek to seduce the same population of conservative Americans. Parler and Gab have been in open conflict for more than a year; Gettr relies, for its development, on foreign countries, particularly on France. All four are also in direct competition with other networks with a large user base, in particular Telegram, an unmoderated application where ultra-conservative groups around the world have a strong presence.