Trump backers seek online refuges after big tech backlash

Trump backers seek online refuges after big tech backlash


Online supporters of President Donald Trump are scattering to smaller social media platforms, fleeing what they say is unfair treatment by Facebook, Twitter and other big tech firms looking to squelch misinformation and threats of violence.

The efforts by those mainstream platforms, prompted by the deadly rampage at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, will likely succeed, according to social media and misinformation experts. But the crackdown could send some of Trump’s fiercest supporters retreating to dark and secret spaces on the internet where conspiracy theories and violent rhetoric run rampant.

“We’re going to see less opportunity to radicalize new people” on mainstream platforms, Kate Starbird, a leading misinformation expert at the University of Washington said Wednesday. “But for those who are already radicalized, or already down the rabbit hole with conspiracy theories, this might not make a difference if the places they go become echo chambers.”

For years, mainstream tech companies had been the target of conservative ire, with complaints that Facebook and Twitter enforce their policies with a political bias. The platforms also have been criticized for allowing harmful conspiracy theories and hate speech to thrive on their sites.

Then came an unprecedented response from the tech companies to the Capitol riot, fueled in part by false and misleading social media posts that undermined faith in the U.S. election. Twitter banned Trump’s account, as well as 70,000 accounts associated with the far-right QAnon conspiracy theory. Facebook and Instagram suspended Trump through the end of his term, and removed posts fraudulently claiming that the U.S. election was stolen. Snapchat also banned Trump, and on Wednesday, YouTube suspended his channel for at least a week.

Some conservative users had briefly found...

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