Alt-Tech: Down the Far Right Rabbit Hole

1.0 Introduction

Since 2017, the desire for a safe online space for fringe and extremist beliefs has given rise to a parallel alternative media space. During the 2010s, these loosely moderated alternative social media sites began to be collectively referred to as ‘Alt-Tech’ (short for ‘alternative tech’). [source] Branding themselves as bastions of ‘free speech’ and the ‘anti-woke agenda’, Alt-Tech has attracted prominent conservative and far-right figures from Alex Jones to Tommy Robinson. [source]

Since the mid-2010s, the far-right has been increasingly deplatformed by mainstream social media companies. Big Tech firms such as Google, Facebook and Twitter have been heavily criticised for allowing extremist groups to congregate and organise violent attacks using their sites. In 2017, the movement towards tighter social media moderation was catalysed by the violent white supremacist Unite the Right Rally which was fermented on media sites hosted by Big Tech. [source

“The term Alt-Tech refers to two things: a right-wing libertarian tech-movement and the conglomerate of social media platforms this tech movement has yielded” Judith Bessant et. al. define Alt-Tech, 2021.

[source]

2.0 The Origins of Alt-Tech

2.1 4Chan and the Early Days of Alt-Tech 

Alt-tech traces its roots back to the internet’s wild-west days, a world before the advent of social media megaliths; one where online communities could gather on unrestricted forums. In particular, modern Alt-tech platforms have sought to emulate 4Chan, a forum site created in 2003 by Christopher “Moot” Poole.

4Chan was not unlike any other early 2000s enthusiast forum, the site was a space for niche communities to share and post content. However, unlike other forums, Poole did away with usernames and avatars enabling 4Chan users to browse and post on the site anonymously. 4Chan’s anonymity and relatively relaxed rules meant the forum quickly became a safe haven for controversial views and hate speech. [source]

The front page of 4Chan, the original alt-tech social media site. Far right conspiracy theories flourished on the site before Alex Jones' info wars came along.
By reading 4Chan’s frontpage from left to right, the sites’ descent into depravity is clear for all to see. [source]

Throughout the late 2000s and early 2010s, the rise of social media giants largely relegated forums. The mass adoption of smartphones also propelled social media into the mainstream, enabling more people to communicate and share more ideas than ever before. By 2012, social media had become an integral element of the information space.

However, unlike other information or media providers, social media firms remained largely self-regulated. A lack of oversight or accountability meant that firms were typically slow to moderate their sites. Therefore, far-right and extremist groups were free to use social media sites to spread propaganda, recruit new members and organise political activism. [source] [source]

2.2 Deplatforming and Exile from the Mainstream

“2018 was the year we (sort of) cleaned up the internet” The headline of Mashables 2018 year in review.

[source]

2018 was the year of deplatforming. In 2017, the deadly “#Pizzagate” conspiracy theory had intensified pressure on social media companies to remove far-right figures from their platforms. At the forefront of the alt-right conspiracy theory scene was Alex Jones, the host of fake news show InfoWars. [source] By 2018, #Pizzagate had placed Alex Jones firmly in the cross hairs of social media firms. [source]

Info Wars host Alex Jones was deplatformed from social media platforms in 2018 for his denial of the Sandy Hook shooting and far right views.
Alex Jones is a far right radio show host and prominent conspiracy theorist. [source]

On 5 August, Apple would be the first to pull the trigger, removing all Alex Jones-affiliated content from iTunes. The tipping point for social media sites was a legal case brought forward by families of the Sandy Hook shooting. Alex Jones had repeatedly claimed the shooting was a hoax and encouraged harassment of the victims’ families through his online shows. Within 48 hours of Apple’s actions, Facebook, Twitter and Spotify followed suit, effectively removing Alex Jones from the mainstream. [source] The 2018 deplatforming of Alex Jones, the poster child of the alt-right conspiracy scene, set a precedent and sparked the mass-deplatforming of the far right.

2.3 Explosion of Alt-Tech Platforms

The Big Tech movement to deplatform and restrict extremist content in 2018 drove a far right mass migration to Alt-Tech sites. Prominent Alt-Right figures began to frame Alt-Tech as a “protected space” for controversial ideas, safe from the Big Tech “purge”. [source] More importantly, Alt-Tech themselves exploited the far-right’s ideological “perception of persecution” and “weaponized victimhood” in their marketing. [source]

In 2017, Andrew Torba established Gab as an alternative “news media platform” to the likes of Facebook and Twitter which he decried as the “left-leaning Big Social monopoly”. [source] Although Gab did not explicitly market itself as a far-right space, the site’s relaxed moderation drew in users who felt rejected by the mainstream media space.

“With few possibilities to meet in public without opposition, the Alt-Right has relied on creating an abundance of online media, forums and opportunities for engagement that require internet infrastructure for the survival of their movement” Donovan et. al., 2018.

[source]

Since 2017, the success of Gab has encouraged a series of other Alt-Tech platforms. In 2018, John Matze Jr. established Parler as a conservative Alt-Tech social media site. Despite marketing the site as a free speech-focused unbiased alternative to Twitter, Parler users criticised the site’s restrictive moderation. [source]

3.3 The Capitol Insurrection

2021 could be considered the second great year of deplatforming. The 5 January Capitol Insurrection prompted Twitter to suspend Donald Trump’s twitter account as well as many of his close allies.  Amazon Web Services also suspended their hosting of Parler. [source] The shutdown of Donald Trump who is viewed by groups like QAnon as a saviour figure, only added fuel to the far-rights persecution complex. Once again in 2021, a large number of far-right or alt-right figures were deplatformed driving a second notable migration to Alt-Tech sites.

Although Alt-Tech has attracted a significant proportion of the far-right, the alternative media landscape is miniscule in comparison to Big Tech. For example, in 2022 Gab had 100,000 active users compared to Facebook over 3 billion. It is also important to remember that the alt-right is a fringe movement within the far-right which is of itself a radical sect of broader conservatism. [source]

Nonetheless, a 2019 report on Britain First revealed that despite migrating to a smaller platform the group’s engagement increased. The study found that the lack of moderation on alt-tech platform gab had encouraged the normalisation of hate speech. The lack of self-censorship by far right groups such as Britain first therefore drove engagement by the alt-right. [source]

3.0 The Alt-Tech Ecosystem

Since 2017, Alt-tech has cloned nearly every facet of the internet, expanding beyond social media to create a self supporting far right media landscape. Notably, alt-right figures have established alternative revenue streams having been deplatformed by mainstream crowdfunding sites such as Patreon.

Microblogging Sites (Facebook Alternatives)

  • Gab 
  • Gettre
  • Parler
  • Truth Social

Video Platforms Sites (Youtube Alternatives)

  • BitChute
  • Odysee
  • DLive
  • DTube
  • Rumble

Crowdfunding Sites (Patreon/Kickstarter Alternatives)

  • Hatereon
  • GiveSendGo
  • GoyFundMe

Alternative News Sites

  • Voat
  • The Daily Stormer
  • VDare
  • Zero Hedge

Wiki Encyclopedia Sites (Wikipedia Alternatives)

  • Infogalactic
  • Metapedia

Other non-ideological Alt-tech sites with prominent alt-right userbases

  • Telegram
  • X (Formerly Twitter)

4.0 Conclusion

Alt-tech has carved out a niche online in the online landscape, providing safe space for those who feel excluded by mainstream media and Big Tech. While Alt-tech has claimed to be a champion of free-speech, sites such as Gab have devolved into echo chambers rife with conspiracy theories and misinformation. In this unrestricted online space users have been radicalised and motivated to carry out real world violence.

Going forward, Alt-Tech’s survival is a delicate balancing act. Alt-Tech’s great appeal is its relaxed moderation which allows users, disillusioned with mainstream media, to freely express their opinions. The relaxed moderation also however draws in the far-right and other controversial groups. Extremism not only damages the reputation of Alt-Tech sites but it also invites potential shutdowns from app stores and governments.

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