I took a deep dive into Rumble – and the issues go far further than Russell Brand

Fox News and MSNBC are in an unholy alliance to build a “uniparty” state.

The GOP is ruled by “Banana Republicommunists.”

Undocumented migrants are training in US camps to learn how to be terrorists.

And a global, deep state conspiracy is responsible for… Russell Brand losing monetisation on his YouTube channel.

These are a few of the non-facts I learned spending some time with the videos and comments on Rumble, a YouTube competitor that has boldly framed itself as the only truly neutral media platform.

The site indeed has a more relaxed approach to content moderation, but this has allowed a paranoid, right-wing, sometimes violent culture to develop among its users, one that’s bleeding into the offline world. But fixing the problem isn’t as simple as removing bad actors.

The video-sharing service came to many people’s attention last month, when Brand, a performer and vlogger who regularly broadcasts on the site, used it to passionately rally his supporters (and seek their paid subcriptions) not long after being accused by four women, including one who was 16 years old at the time of the alleged incident, of rape or sexual assault. (Brand denies all wrongdoing. In a separate Rumble video, he said his past relations have all been consensual.)

Russell Brand addresses followers in a 25 September broadcast on YouTube and Rumble

(Russell Brand/YouTube/Rumble)

In a series of recent videos which only obliquely reference the allegations, Brand claimed a “cartel” of the “globalist elite” and the “centralist state” had conspired to censor him and his fellow creators, a sign of “collusion between big tech and government and an apparent concerted effort by legacy media and now the state and big tech to silence independent media voices.”

As evidence, he pointed to the anti-fake news media coalition the Trusted News Initiative and a letter British MP Dame Caroline Dinenage wrote asking social media platforms including Rumble, X, Facebook and TikTok if they would follow YouTube’s lead as well as what these platforms do to “ensure that creators are not able to use the platform to undermine the welfare of victims of inappropriate and potentially illegal behaviour.” (YouTube, a private entity to which the US First Amendment does not apply, said on 19 September it demonetised Brand’s channel because he violated their “Creator Responsibility policy,” which allows punishments for “off-platform behaviour” if it “harms our users, employees or ecosystem.”)

The actor’s other Rumble videos feature a similarly feverish tone, from an interview with an academic who claims Google’s search algorithms shifted six million votes to Joe Biden, to monologues from Brand about how there doesn’t “seem to be any moral centre in any of our establishment institutions, whether that’s the media, the government, the corporate world, or the judiciary.”

This is the general vibe on Rumble, a mixture of overheated arguments, intellectualised self-interest, and conspiratorial thinking, where everyone is in it together against you. The only person left to trust happens to be the content creator, and would you mind liking and subscribing and using my discount code, link in bio?

In between standard-issue videos of cute puppies, gaming, and guys talking about sports, you can find any kind of ugly right-wing thinking you’re after if you keep following the recommended videos and trails of comments.

The hosts of ‘Revenge of the Cis’ discuss their theory that women don’t know left from right

(Revenge of the Cis/Rumble)

On the Revenge of the Cis show, after an ad from a “mathematical genius” claiming to have found a secret to winning the lottery, I watched as the semi-ironic podcast bro hosts mocked Black police officers and claimed “women don’t know the different between their left and their right.”

On LFA TV, host Jeremy Herrell took a real recent news story, about an “emotionally disturbed” man who allegedly bit the finger off a New York police officer, and spun it into a blood and soil-style call for violence against immigrants.

“They’re going to take your homes,” he said. “Better load up. Now you’ll probably face jail time if you put a bullet between one of these biter’s heads, but it’s worth saving your home and your family, isn’t it?”

LFA TV host Jeremy Herrell calls for Americans to ‘load up’ and shoot migrants

(LFA TV/Rumble)

Commenters on various videos, meanwhile, joined in the frenzied atmosphere, writing about the dangers of “uniparty globalists” and how you don’t actually have to pay taxes.

Rumble told The Independent in an email it “has strict moderation policies banning the incitement of violence, illegal content, racism, antisemitism, promoting terrorist groups (designated by the US and Canadian governments), and violating copyright, as well as many other restrictions.” Rumble did not reply when shown specific examples of content on the site that appeared to violate these rules and asked for a response. Prior to the publication of this article, Rumble’s CEO shared a screenshot on Twitter/X of The Independent’s request for comment and claimed, “They are trying so hard to create a bullshit narrative because they hate that independent creators are kicking their ***.”

On a macro level, Rumble may not matter all that much. A Pew survey found last year only about 20 per cent of Americans have heard of it, and 2 per cent regularly get their news from it.

But what happens on the more bizarro corners of the internet rarely stays put; these days, it’s often a central force in US politics.

For instance, 2000 Mules a widely seen (and thoroughly debunked) documentary claiming a shadowy network of “mules” commiting illegal voter fraud helped Biden win the 2020 election, aired on Rumble, helping fuel talking points in Donald Trump’s continued campaign of election denial.

Died Suddenly, a documentary suggesting Covid vaccines are a plot from Bill Gates and the global elite to depopulate the world, a film which has been roundly condemned as innacurate by public health experts and fact-checkers, has been viewed on Rumble nearly 20 million times.

Meanwhile, a right-wing troll with a large following on Rumble – a man dubbed “Catturd” – has found the ear of Elon Musk, Trump, and Tucker Carlson.

Catturd – who gained prominence online for views like mocking gender pronouns, claiming the FBI interfered in the 2016 and 2020 elections, and suggesting Pfizer sponsored “Satanic performances at the Grammys” – is a regular presence on the video site.

Choosing a random episode of Catturd’s show on Rumble, I watched as he claimed that the major news networks had “blacked out” coverage of the Biden impeachment hearings, which was patently false and easy to check.

My point is not to argue that we need to nuke Rumble or weed out every last sketchy claim and vulgar comment on the internet. If that was even possible, it would suggest a kind of universal speech moderation done by oligarchic private tech companies, a solution just as frightening as the underlying problem. Plus, with right-leaning financiers like senator JD Vance and Silicon Valley’s Peter Thiel backing Rumble, it’s easy to imagine that even if the site did shutter, a new conservative haven would pop up to replace it. Deplatforming can secure the partial victory of stopping people from earning money off hate and violence, but it rarely makes their appeal suddenly vanish from society at large. If people want to get a view out there, there’s little that can be done to absolutely stop them so long as they aren’t doing something overtly criminal.

Nor am I arguing against the value of independent voices or critical perspectives. They are a vital part of a functioning media ecosystem and democracy itself. The more the merrier.

Rather, the support for the kind of conspiratorial thinking and hateful views that can be found on Rumble speaks to an off-platform, civic, and maybe even epistemological crisis in the US. If people believe everything they hear on the site, we have far bigger problems than the ramblings of the guy from Forgetting Sarah Marshall, or the venue he uses to broadcast them.

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I took a deep dive into Rumble – and the issues go far further than Russell Brand