On Saturday, Donald Trump traveled to Ohio to hold his first rally since leaving the White House. He ranted about Joe Biden and spread his usual conspiracy theories about the 2020 election, and if you weren’t there to see it—fittingly, there’s a dispute over how big the crowd was—livestreaming was an option. While the former president is still banned by YouTube as well as every major social-networking platform for helping to incite the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, on Saturday his team set up a new verified Donald Trump account on Rumble, a video platform favored by right-wing users like Dan Bongino and Dinesh D’Souza.
A long-running critic of social media’s supposed (and unsubstantiated) censorship of conservatives, Trump has been sniffing around for other social media outlets since last summer when he was reportedly in talks to join Parler, a Twitter clone that’s made some headway on the right, though the deal apparently never went through. Earlier this year, he tried to post on a makeshift microblogging platform that was attached to his website, though he gave up on the venture after less than a month because few people were reading it. Now it seems he’s found a home on Rumble, at least for his video content, though he’s only posted footage of the Ohio rally thus far. Trump currently has 348,000 subscribers on the site, a far cry from the 2.75 million subscribers he has on his currently frozen YouTube channel.
It turns out, however, that some people have a problem with a right-wing, “free speech” social network signing up Donald Trump: the other right-wing social networks.
After the Ohio rally, John Matze, the co-founder and former CEO of Parler, questioned whether Rumble gave Trump equity in the company to entice him to make an account and accused the site of being too reliant on Big Tech by using Google ads and analytics. Andrew Torba, founder of another Twitter clone called Gab that has an extreme far-right user base, accused Rumble of compromising on free speech principles by adding a clause banning antisemitism to its terms of service. “On the day President Trump joined Rumble they changed their terms of service to ban ‘hate speech’ with an explicit ban on ‘anti-Semitic’ messages, also known as any and all criticism of Israel and/or Jewish people,” Torba wrote on Gab. “No mention of banning Anti-White hatred which is still allowed.” Gab’s terms of service do not refer to hate speech at all and only ban porn, doxing, and illegal content. Based on snapshots from the Wayback Machine, it does appear that Rumble added specific prohibitions against antisemitic messages and content to its terms of service sometime on Thursday. Back in March, however, Rumble CEO Chris Pavlovski told me that the platform does not allow racism or antisemitism, so the update doesn’t necessarily signal a major shift for the site’s moderation policies. (Pavlovski did not respond to a request for comment this week.)
It may seem peculiar that Torba is so fixated on Rumble’s fairly standard rules around hate speech toward Jewish people, particularly given the extent to which antisemitism pervades Gab. The alleged gunman in the 2018 Tree of Life synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh infamously had a history of posting hateful content about Jewish people on Gab before the massacre. It wasn’t until after the shooting that Gab took the account down. And as Mother Jones’ Ali Breland reported, Torba also has a history of courting prominent antisemites for his site.
In this case, it appears Torba’s preference that social networks make room for antisemites has blended with some professional jealousy. Earlier this month, Torba participated in an interview with the extremist conspiracy theory outlet TruNews and claimed that Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner wanted Gab to remove antisemitic users and content from the site before Trump joined. “He called them Jew-haters, I called them Jew criticizers,” Torba said of Kushner. “It’s a free-speech platform, so as long as you’re not saying anything illegal, as long as you’re not making threats of violence, you’re allowed to speak your mind and have an opinion about things, and I was not going to compromise on that position.” There’s been no independent confirmation that such a negotiation actually happened. Outlets like CNN and Bloomberg have reported that Kushner stepped in to stop Trump from joining Parler and Gab. However, these reports made no mention of Kushner specifying moderation of antisemitic content as a prerequisite for Trump setting up an account on those platforms.
Torba started Gab in 2016 in response to allegations that Facebook was limiting the visibility of right-wing politicians. He’s characterized the creation of Gab as a principled stand against the censorship of conservatives and “social justice bullying.” Rumble, on the other hand, wasn’t founded with a political mission in mind, but more or less fell into the right-wing alternative-platform game. Canadian tech entrepreneur Chris Pavlovski created the video site in 2013 with the intent of providing small-time creators with opportunities to monetize their content, which he felt was harder to do on YouTube. The platform mostly just hosted videos of cute animals and kids until 2020, when right-wingers began flocking to the site to upload anti-vaccine and election conspiracy theory content. Perhaps sensing the opportunity, Pavlovski has recently become more outspoken in accusing Big Tech of censorship and now actively courts prominent conservatives and intellectual dark web figures to join Rumble. It’s a strategy Rumble may very well double down on: According to the site’s metrics, the Trump livestream is nearing 1 million views.