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Parallel Ports. Sociotechnical Change from the Alt-Right to Alt-Tech: Online Actions and Offline Consequences in Europe and the US



How have digital tools and networks transformed the far right's strategies and transnational prospects? This volume presents a unique critical survey of the online and offline tactics, symbols and platforms that are strategically remixed by contemporary far-right groups in Europe and the US. It features thirteen accessible essays by an international range of expert scholars, policy advisors and activists who offer informed answers to a number of urgent practical and theoretical questions: How and why has the internet emboldened extreme nationalisms? What counter-cultural approaches should civil societies develop in response?
Parallel Ports
Sociotechnical Change from the Alt-Right to Alt-Tech
Joan Donovan, Becca Lewis and Brian Friedberg
Before the insurgence of the so-called ‘Alt-Right’ into contemporary politi-
cal discussion, white supremacists have long used the internet as a means
to organize and share information. Early adopters of email and bulletin
board technology – organizations such as the Aryan Nation and the Ku
Klux Klan – saw great possibilities for using networked communication
technology to circumvent social, physical and legal restrictions on the ex-
pression of racism and antisemitism. Sites like Aryan Liberty Net (1984)
and Stormfront (1995) provided early platforms for the sharing of racist
propaganda, novel means of organization and recruitment, and new tools
to harass and intimidate vulnerable populations (Berlet 2008). The in-
creasing ubiquity of online communication has allowed white suprema-
cist groups to grow and transform, preserving the movement’s knowledge
and tactics for decades.
More than a tool for communication, social media platforms are in-
creasingly condemned for supporting the organization of a broad base of
white supremacists. One key event, The Unite the Right Rally, held on
August 2017 in Charlottesville, North Carolina, was organized by a broad
coalition of white supremacists, many of whom were highly active online.
This violent gathering led to the death of Heather Heyer and the injury of
dozens of others. Much of the subsequent criticism lodged against social
1 | According to the Associated Press Style Guide, references to the “Alt-Right
should always be in quotes. For more information, see:
2 | Southern Poverty Law Center (2015): “Stormfront: A History”, 25 March 2015
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50 Joan Donovan, Becca Lewis and Brian Friedberg
media companies concerned the failure to enforce their own ‘Terms of
Service’ contracts in the lead up to the rally. Corporations such as Goo-
gle (including Youtube), Twitter, Facebook, Cloudflare, GoDaddy, AirBnB,
Uber, Paypal, Discord, Patreon, and others reacted by ‘no platforming’ (i.e.
refusing services) known white supremacists account holders.
The event revealed a fissure across platform companies’ terms of ser-
vice and their willingness to enforce them. Platform companies showed a
commitment to ethical use by banning far-right and extremist accounts,
which was debated in the media as a form of censorship. In this case, the
actions by internet companies prompted a significant change in far-right
organizing: the Alt-Right suddenly needed the support infrastructure of
an ‘Alt-Tech’ movement. One of the organizers of the Charlottesville rally,
Tim Gionet (aka Baked Alaska on social media) told the LA Times: “We’re
getting banned from using payment-processing services, so we have no
other choice. If that’s the gamble they want to take, I guess they can, and
we’ll make our own infrastructure” (Pearce 2017). This question of infra-
structure emerges for social movements in the face of particular obstacles,
and Donovan (2018) argues that this infrastructural turn happens when a
movement’s very survival is threatened.
Therefore, while no-platforming eorts have raised public awareness
of online hate speech and racist organizing, they have also necessitated the
development of alternative platforms to prolong the life of the movement.
We argue that these so-called ‘Alt-Tech’ platforms also serve as recruit-
ment and organizing sites for the far right, allowing for direct communi-
cation and continued engagement. All of which begs the question: what
shifts in the sociotechnical organization of networked communication
have enabled extremist communities to flourish? We take up this question
by exploring how alternative sociotechnical systems have developed after
the violence in Charlottesville.
In computer science, parallel ports were an early hardware solution
for connecting peripherals, allowing for multiple streams of data to flow
simultaneously. The concept of parallel ports as a type of forking (i.e.
changes in the organizational flow of information to allow for process-
ing dierent streams of data) is embedded within the design of tech-
nical systems and the open source movement (Kelty 2008). It is also
an important frame for understanding the maturation of networked
social movements as they are both structured by and structuring their
own technological infrastructure (Donovan 2018). By porting the social
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Parallel Ports 51
movement community from one platform to another, movement leaders
are making decisions about what technological features are necessary to
sustain the movement.
We use the figure of parallel ports here to analyze the development of
alternative platforms. We ask: is the ‘forking’ of the Alt-Right’s techno-
logical development driven by a need for stabilization? Or, is it the case
that the alternative technology developed in the wake of Charlottesville
is something fundamentally dierent? In this article, we describe the de-
velopment of a social media platform called Gab to show how technology
was used by the Alt-Right to align with other online movements. While
there are points of anity where these movements have overlapped, we
describe how the design and widespread adoption of Gab, a small online
social media platform, rose in prominence after the riot in Charlottes-
ville. Gab sought to bridge these movements not only to expand its user
base but also because technology is a movement unto itself. Technological
change is often intertwined with social movements learning to use the
technology and innovating at the margins of utility (Mattoni 2013; Don-
ovan 2016). As such, mapping technological change and the adoption of
new technologies by social movements is a critical site for understanding
sociotechnical systems designs and their challenges.
TAC T iCAl innoVATion ACRoss The AlT-RighT
And AlT-TeCh
Doug McAdam (1983) explains the process of social movements’ deve-
lopment and decline through a theory of tactical innovation. In order to
develop and to reach their goals, social movements must understand the
broader political context in which they are positioned and devise tactics
accordingly. Violent and disruptive tactics have a higher success rate than
more institutionalized routes (Piven/Cloward 1991), but to achieve success
these disruptive tactics must change often (McAdam 1983; Piven/Cloward
1991). The transformation of tactics either leads to legitimate power or the
insurgents must develop new forms of disruptive protest (McAdam 1983).
In order to study social movements in this way, McAdam develops
three concepts that emphasize the relationship between movements and
counter-movements: tactical innovation, tactical adaptation, and tactical
interaction. Tactical innovation refers to “the creativity of insurgents in
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52 Joan Donovan, Becca Lewis and Brian Friedberg
devising new tactical forms,” i.e. an initial action. Tactical adaptation is
“the ability of opponents to neutralize these moves through eective tacti-
cal counter,” i.e. the responding action. Tactical interaction is the process
through which these actions are understood and oset, much like a chess
match (McAdam 1983: 736).
But, how does a social movement choose its tactics and decide on a
course of action? The political opportunity structure is key to understan-
ding how a movement’s chosen tactics are limited to the legitimate and
illegitimate means available to meet a desired goal. Holly J. McCammon
(2003) illustrates how political defeats, factionalism, and the limitation of
particular resources led in some cases to tactical stasis and in other cases
provided an impetus for tactical innovation. As well, a movement’s orga-
nizational readiness, its ability to mobilize resources and communicate
tactics, often shapes what tactics they have in their repertoire.
Kim Voss and Rachel Sherman (2000), Melissa J. Wilde (2004), and
Marshall Ganz (2000) have called attention to tactical innovation as it re-
lates to the biography of a movement’s leaders. While some measure of
charisma must always be present for leadership to be eective, successful
leaders often have aliations with other movements, coupled with strong
alliances both inside and outside the movement, and the ability to inno-
vate to reach their desired outcomes.
In the case of the Unite the Right rally, we see the field of political op-
portunities opened wide for white supremacists in the lead up to and fol-
lowing Trump’s 2016 election. Not only was the national media receptive
to their messaging and dedicated a large amount of resources to covering
their movement, but Je Sessions became the Attorney General, whose
agenda was highly focused on other racialized issues, such as tracking
the gang MS-13 across borders and labelling Black Lives Matter as ‘Black
Identity Extremists.’ Within Charlottesville itself, the political gains of the
Black Lives Matter movement included renaming Lee Park as Justice Park
and removing the large statue of Robert E. Lee.
The Alt-Right, led by Richard Spencer and other charismatic figures
popular on social media, chose Lee Park to stage the Unite the Right rally
to protest the removal of the statue. This would also draw in counter-pro-
testers who wanted to protect their earlier wins. Here, Spencer’s choice
to rally in Charlottesville was a tactical innovation that sought to produce
a confrontation with local activists in order to gain media attention. In
May 2017, prior to the Unite the Right rally in August, Spencer and others
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Parallel Ports 53
held a torch-lit protest in the same park. This protest got significant media
coverage, despite the event itself being rather low-energy with only a few
dozen people in attendance. By organizing events Spencer brought in new
recruits and created alliances with new groups, mainly militias, who want-
ed to share the media attention.
Online recruitment for the Unite the Right rally depended largely on
sharing digital fliers and memes. Spencer enrolled speakers from several
other white supremacist organizations who raised funds so their mem-
bers could attend. The mass rally was the most significant call to action
across the US white supremacist movement in years. The organization of
the event relied heavily on the belief that for the movement to grow and
continue to influence politics, members had to show up in person. While
communication about the event online occurred on every prominent so-
cial media platform, certain sites were key conduits of information, such
as 8chan, discord chats,, and the Daily Stormer (a white na-
tionalist message board) along with podcasts such as the Daily Shoah,
Alt-Right Radio, and Youtube channels by Baked Alaska and others. The
event itself was organized to bolster the leadership of several charismatic
figures. The goal was to rebrand the image of the white nationalist move-
ment as one with a youthful and rebellious vision. If they were too timid
to face potential violence or could not aord to travel, others were asked to
participate online.
The simultaneous use of multiple platform companies’ products
coupled with lesser known communication tools as their movement’s in-
frastructure ensured that if one line of communication were shut down
the event could still carry on. Online video streams from far-right public
protests are often closely followed in discussion threads as they happen,
so it was not surprising that when a major act of violence occurred in
Charlottesville, online participants jumped at the opportunity to impact
the course of events by manipulating media narratives in an attempt to get
journalists to blame their political opponents.
For movements with their roots on the internet, it is imperative that
tactical innovation occurs in real time, where oine events feed into on-
line dialogues that shape a movement’s followers’ ability to communicate
with one another. That is to say, infrastructure is integral to the socio-tech-
nical design of a movement like the Alt-Right. While charismatic leaders
are instrumental in providing ideological frames and being spokespeo-
ple to the media, day-to-day participation in networked social movements
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54 Joan Donovan, Becca Lewis and Brian Friedberg
is largely monotonous. 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. As platforms began to
remove far-right accounts and content, the Alt-Right adopted a developer’s
mindset and fashioned solutions out of existing code and resources. In
the next section, we describe these steps taken by the Alt-Right to align
with an Alt-Tech community in the wake of no platforming after Charlot-
TAC T iCAl innoVATion As A Re sPonse
To no Pl ATF oRming
The Unite the Right rally was a horrifically violent event. In the lead up
to it, much of the online discussion revolved around open-carry permits,
where some posted pictures of themselves posing with homemade weap-
ons, handguns, and rifles. In some online forums and chat services, the
coming event was described as a ‘civil war’ and ‘battle with Antifa’. For
those counter-organizing in Charlottesville, residents repeatedly attended
City Council meetings asking for the permit to be revoked because there
was going to be violence.
Emboldened by previous symbolic victories of harassment campaigns
such as Gamergate (Losh 2017) and far-right intervention in the 2016 pres-
idential election (Daniels 2018), leaders of the Alt-Right and other white
nationalist groups openly promoted Unite the Right on public forums,
anonymous imageboards, social media and Youtube. Gamergate was a
large-scale online coalition of anonymous trolls, right wing pundits and
social reactionaries who united to attack prominent women in the video
game industry in 2014. For the Alt-Right, coordinated amplification of the
call for many far-right factions to coalesce under a single banner would
not have been possible without strategic use of public-facing media and
simultaneous backchannel coordination and communication. The tactics
for coordination owe much to Gamergate, relying on similar social and
technical networks for organization and amplification (Losh 2017; Mas-
sanari 2015).
After the violence of Charlottesville, many platforms that took lighter
approaches to content moderation were forced to confront the growing
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Parallel Ports 55
threat of large-scale white supremacist organizing on their platforms.
Symbolic targets, such as removing blue check marks on Twitter and the
removal of Facebook pages, were chosen to give the impression that plat-
forms were both willing and able to respond to this threat. Some, like
Spencer, called for platforms to be regulated like other public utilities
in the USA, where net neutrality applies to speeds aorded by internet
service providers but not the content itself. In the USA, platforms are
allowed to choke/censor/moderate content in the interest of the online
community, which is key to market retention. In other countries, such as
Germany, racist content is restricted by tighter government regulations,
placing legal burden of removal on social media platforms and hosting
sites. There are, however, easy technological circumvention techniques
that allow for access, such as the use of the TOR browser or VPNs that
mask location.
Others, in response, called for alternative platforms to arise and fill the
communication and amplification void left by large-scale banning, or for
right-wing operatives to double-down on pre-existing platforms with lax
approaches to censorship or mission statements aligned with free-speech
absolutism. This was a critical shift in the far-right’s ability to stay or-
ganized as platform companies reacted to their violence. By shifting the
focus from Alt-Right to Alt-Tech, a new wave of organizing continued
online while oine events faltered or were completely overwhelmed by
counter-protesters (Neuman 2017). One such influential platform, Gab,
found its niche in the fall of 2017. While there were many other platforms
competing for attention and users at this time – Voat, Bitchute, and Minds
– Gab stood out as one that adopted a public stance on the issues of free
speech, technological design, and white nationalism. We focused our
study on the public communications of Gab founder, Andrew Torba, and
analyzed the design of Gab to illustrate how the platform capitalized on
this crisis within the far-right movement to simultaneously populate their
platform and provide infrastructure to the floundering social movement.
During an interview with far-right media personality Alex Jones, An-
drew Torba, founder of, encouraged the claim that, “This is a war
we need to fight on Facebook, Google, Twitter everywhere – we gotta drive
people to, to to Drudge Report.” Gab is a small so-
cial media platform that combines elements of Twitter, Reddit and Face-
3 | Source:, 5:15.
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56 Joan Donovan, Becca Lewis and Brian Friedberg
book (Sovryn 2017). Launched in 2016, Gab saw a rise in users in late
2017, after a summer of far-right public actions across the US. Designed
to supplement or replace the regular social media habits of its users, Gab’s
designers consolidated the features of larger platform services for a user
base vocally dissatisfied with other social media services.
In the summer and fall of 2017, Gab positioned itself to take on users
abandoning Twitter as a fork in three overlapping movements: the free
speech movement, the open technology movement, and the Alt-Right. In
the US, freedom of speech as a public value is commonly invoked as a
defense of vile and vicious speech. This is how liberal and progressive
groups, such as the American Civil Liberties Union, got caught up defen-
ding the rights of neo-Nazis in Charlottesville (Goldstein 2017). Instead of
exclusively pushing far-right propaganda, Gab saw itself as a defender of
vile speech and movement infrastructure; both a place for organizing and
technological development. By asking not only for users to join, but also
technologists, free speech fundamentalists, and far right provocateurs,
Torba’s Gab was bringing together dierent factions of online movements
across parallel ports.
The Poli TiCAl ideology dRiVing AlT-TeCh
Two days before the Unite the Right rally, Gab announced the ‘Alt-Tech
Alliance.’ They wrote:
“The Free Speech Tech Alliance is a passionate group of brave engineers, product
managers, investors and others who are tired of the status quo in the technology
industry. We are the defenders of free speech, individual liberty, and truth.”4
However, on August 17, 2017 after the fallout from Charlottesville, Gab
was removed from the Apple play store because, as Apple told Ars Technica:
“In order to be on the Play Store, social networking apps need to demonstrate a
sufficient level of moderation, including for content that encourages violence and
4 | Gab (2017): “Announcing the Free Speech Tech Alliance”, 10 August 2017
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Parallel Ports 57
advocates hate against groups of people. This is a long-standing rule and clearly
stated in our developer policies. Developers always have the opportunity to ap-
peal a suspension and may have their apps reinstated if they‘ve addressed the
policy violations and are compliant with our Developer Program Policies” (quoted
in Lee 2017).
Torba used this decision as an opportunity to raise capital using a crowd
campaign and redoubled his eorts at recruitment (Kircher 2017).
In press and marketing campaigns for his platform, Torba pushes the
bounds of platform accountability by calling out other social media plat-
forms for censorship. Taking a stance of American-centric free speech
absolutism, Torba and sta refuse to monitor or moderate hateful content,
despite Gab’s community guidelines strongly advising international users
to adhere to their particular nation’s speech laws. These policies create a
haven for users banned from Youtube, Twitter, and Facebook. A lifelong
conservative dissatisfied with his previous experiences in Silicon Valley
startups, Torba has publicly embraced the controversy and began circu-
lating white nationalist talking points in an attempt to draw in new users
(Brustein 2017; Hess 2016). On Gab, Twitter, Youtube and Medium, Tor-
ba frequently aligns himself with conservative and far-right causes. Im-
mediately following Charlottesville, Gab became an important hub for the
far right, where they coordinated trolling brigades to attack journalists
and others on Twitter. In a Medium post entitled We Are At War For A
Free And Open Internet, Torba walked back his claims about his platform’s
positions on free speech and hate speech while publicly defending his de-
cision to remove a notorious neo-nazi hacker, Weev, for violation of their
domain registrar’s terms of service. Asia Registry, the domain registry for
Gab, threatened to take the site oine if they did not remove antisemitic
5 | For more information on Gab’s Community Guidelines, see
6 | Gab (2018): “EXPOSED: Anti-White ‘Hate Speech’ on Twitter By CNN, Buzz-
feed, NY T, and LA Times Reporters”, Medium (blog), 4 August 2018 ( h t t ps : //
7 | Gab (2017): “We Are At War For A Free And Open Internet”, 4 September 2017
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58 Joan Donovan, Becca Lewis and Brian Friedberg
posts by Weev (Hayden 2017). In an eort to reclaim their reputation, a
new ‘censor-proof social media protocol’ IPO was launched to expand in-
vestment opportunities in the Gab ‘family’ of projects, and to keep Gab in
the tech press.
Gab’s marketing, as a centralized platform for the far right, relies on
the fear of social isolation coupled with a willingness to involve the plat-
form’s services in political debate. In 2017, emboldened by large-scale ral-
lies in California, Tennessee, and Virginia, far-right groups escalated their
ongoing attacks against both the mainstream media and racialized groups
using targeted harassment on platforms. Known white supremacists op-
erated openly on Twitter, with only the most violent content subject to
removal. In response to public pressure and critical reporting on the con-
tinual harassment and spreading of extremist propaganda, Twitter issued
an updated Hateful Content policy on December 18, 2017. Aimed at curb-
ing hate speech and harassment, the policy would more aggressively ban
users for violent and egregious behavior observed both on and o the plat-
form. Twitter’s announcement regarding tighter control of hate speech on
their platform was preemptively decried as a form of ‘censorship’ amongst
far-right communities. For several weeks leading up to Twitter’s Terms of
Service update, conservative and far-right networks employed the hashtag
#Twit te rPurge.
Gab has experienced diculties raising funds as they are both unwill-
ing and incapable of supporting or acquiring advertisers. Alt-Tech plat-
forms, like Gab, are limited in their ability to interact with financial and
advertising systems available to larger established platforms, like Twitter.
On other platforms, advertisers threaten and withdraw support when it is
discovered their marketing materials are paired with content promoting
hate (Solon 2017). The influence of advertisers on a platform’s standards
for monetization and hosting limits bad actors who seek a means of am-
plifying their messages. Alongside the inability to secure advertising re-
venue, Gab’s mobile app has been continually rejected from the Apple and
Google mobile stores, limiting their audience. There are no third party
applications that can work with Gab’s architecture, which is limited by a
8 | For more information on fundraising see:
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Parallel Ports 59
private and reportedly fragile API. We now turn to discussing the techno-
logical features of Gab to illustrate how the ability to consolidate so many
of the features popular on other platforms, like Twitter, Youtube, Face-
book, and Reddit, shows the promise of such tactical innovation to provide
a all-in-one social media experience, but ultimately that the public uptake
of a technology depends largely on the charisma of leadership and the
values of its community of users.
The TeChnologiCAl inFR As TRUCTURe
sUPPoRTing AlT-TeCh
Gab became a central hub for the Alt-Right movement following the Unite
the Right rally as Torba positioned his technology as the only unmo-
derated space online. Since then, Gab has continued to develop social
movement community, integrating new features as Twitter, Facebook,
and Youtube’s Terms of Service pose problems for infrastructural stabili-
ty. Keeping with their goal of being a one-stop community platform, Gab
oers users an experience designed to recreate Twitter, Facebook, and
Reddit in a ‘censorship-free’ environment – it mimics many functions of
its main rival Twitter, the social connectivity of Facebook, and the news
aggregation and voting system of Reddit. These are not merely inferences;
Gab’s creators and community posit the platform as a viable alternative
for users unsatisfied (or permanently banned) from these major social
media sites. Gab is therefore a prime example of how the greater Alt-
Tech space integrates and modifies the pre-existing models of interaction
their user base has come to expect from their social media experiences
elsewhere. Here, Gab is not one platform among many, but is a hub that
brings together many nodes – including white supremacist, misogynist,
and ‘free speech’ communities – under the banner of Alt-Tech.
While largely replicating and consolidating features found elsewhere,
Gab has a few unique tools or early innovations. Gab includes the ability to
9 | For more information on Gab’s API:
10 | Gab (2017): “Announcing the Free Speech Tech Alliance”, 10 August 2017
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60 Joan Donovan, Becca Lewis and Brian Friedberg
filter keywords and followers, predating Twitter’s ability to remove certain
terms entirely from a feed, as well as muting individual users who may
be engaged in harassment. However, Gab does not feature a block system
on ideological grounds. The introduction of ‘Pro memberships’ expands
dedicated users’ power to control their experience, as well as introducing
features to incentivize creators to use Gab as their primary broadcast plat-
Moreover, international news of white nationalists being banned from
hosting services or detained while travelling has bolstered use of Gab in
countries outside the US. As a result, Gab provides a place for discussion
and coordination of translocal ideologies called ‘networked nationalisms’,
“a belief that national borders are strengthened by the international coop-
eration of far-right politicians and ‘Identitarian’ movements to preserve
the white race and culture” (Donovan et al. 2018). While ‘strong borders’
are often invoked by white nationalists in order to establish ties between
Europe and the USA, the use of online platforms has digitized this rhe-
toric in the form of popular memes. These memes, such as the ‘no more
brother wars’ series, propagate on Gab and help other users to identify
with each other as a form of solidarity.
Alt-Tech Alliance. By DeviantArt user SwyTheQ.
11 | Source:
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Parallel Ports 61
While being begrudgingly accepted by right-wing pundits, journal-
ists, and content creators, Gab has yet to find its ‘cool’ among younger
users. Gab’s logo itself is a transparent appropriation of Pepe, a cartoon
frog meme associated with the culture of the image board 4chan, the Alt-
Right and the online campaign for Donald Trump. Breitbart and Infowars
writers have amplified hostile attitudes to major tech firms in their re-
porting, helping to bolster Gab’s reputation. Resultingly, Gab has become
an echo chamber for the most disgusting content oered online, where
antisemitism, misogyny, anti-LGBTQ, and racist epithets circulate expo-
nentially. While technologically Gab can be glitchy and unstable, it has
integrated some of the most popular features oered by other social media
platforms. However, few journalists comment on the innovative incorpo-
ration of technological features because Torba’s public expressions of his
political ideology overshadows every discussion of its design.
Our analysis shows that technology is not politically neutral. Instead, the
leadership of the platform company, alongside the profile of the user base
and the content they circulate have a significant impact on how platforms
are perceived by the public. Gab provides a limit-case for analyzing how
the Alt-Tech movement continues to be wedded to the values espoused by
the developers. Instead of assessing the technology on the qualities of its
design, its designers’ politics are built in and can alienate potential new
users. By cloning features common to larger platforms and consolidat-
ing them into a single user experience, Gab’s platform is both political
and infrastructural. In The Politics of Platforms, Tarleton Gillespie writes
that platforms, “like the television networks and trade publishers before
them, [...] are increasingly facing questions about their responsibilities:
to their users, to key constituencies who depend on the public discourse
they host, and to broader notions of the public interest” (Gillespie 2010:
348). He goes on: “Unlike Hollywood and the television networks, who
could be painted as the big bad industries, online content seems an open
world, where anyone can post, anything can be said” (ibid.: 353). The day
has come where Youtube, Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, and Google have now
become media giants, like Hollywood. As such, the social reckoning for
platform corporations requires attention to key communities, audiences,
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62 Joan Donovan, Becca Lewis and Brian Friedberg
and public interests. Alt-Tech platforms, like Gab, now serve as a warning
that without moderation policies, users will share noxious content, which
becomes a liability for indexing quality and for promoting the platform’s
features. Moreover, all communities have rules, both online and o. Re-
sponsibility lies not only in the design, but in the enforcement of a plat-
form’s Terms of Service, much like a code of conduct.
And so, we return to our main question: is technological development
within the Alt-Right driven by a need for stabilization? The answer here
is: sometimes. While movement leaders, like Richard Spencer and Tim
Gionet (Baked Alaska), understand why Gab is important for organizing a
social movement community online, they also recognize the need for stay-
ing on more established platforms, like Youtube and Twitter. Both called
for new regulation to make net neutrality a feature of platforms that allow
for unmoderated sharing of user generated content. Critically, while Gab
would stabilize the internal life of the movement, it would not be ideal for
reaching out to new audiences, recruiting new members, and capturing
media attention; all of which are central for prolonging the life of move-
ments (Donovan 2018). For networked social movements, having a pres-
ence on all available platforms ensures stability when counter-movements
tactically adapt and create obstacles, like in the event of ‘no platforming.’
Is it the case that the alternative technology developed in the wake
of the violence in Charlottesville is something fundamentally innovative?
While we identified that Gab both clones and consolidates features from
other platforms, it does not significantly change how online movements
connect, collaborate, or organize. In fact, the engagement on this small
platform has become so vitriolic that it may do more to destroy the allianc-
es across these movements than to build them. While Torba’s public proc-
lamations heralded the platform as the only place online where speech
goes unmoderated, he had to remove some racist posts because online
infrastructure does not stand outside of the information ecosystem. Pres-
sure to change one’s platform can come from the public, journalists, or
from other infrastructure companies. No single user or platform can act
in isolation given the architecture of the internet. That is to say, while
platforms may be organized as parallel ports, which can function inde-
pendently of one another, they must be plugged into other internet ser-
vices such as service providers, domain registrars, and cloud services. As
a result, the terms of service for companies that are deep in the stack may
become the ultimate arbiters of what content gets to stay online.
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Parallel Ports 63
In conclusion, because hundreds of movements coexist online and
use internet infrastructure to recruit and get organized, the charisma of
movement leaders and the political values of the movement will deter-
mine how their social movement community tactically innovates both
online and oine. The violence in Charlottesville both gained the Alt-
Right widespread media attention, but also propelled online companies to
‘no platform’ white nationalists. The use of violence by social movements
often has similar eects, whereby movements that resort to violence of-
ten become heavily surveilled by formal authorities, such as the police.
However, in this case, sanctions came from platform companies who were
implicated in the communication and coordination of the Alt-Right, which
suggests that technology makers are a movement unto themselves. As
such, the burgeoning Alt-Tech movement as well as the online free speech
movement will have to choose their political alliances more carefully if
they are to succeed in recruiting and retaining members that do not also
support far right perspectives. Platforms, as sociotechnical infrastructure,
will adapt to new forms and norms of conduct, but the values that support
design must also support a diversity of tactics and users.
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... Many of these platforms, including Gab, 4chan, and Parler, are very popular among fringe communities, especially far-right groups, with hateful and extremist content [59][60][61][62][63]. According to [61], Gab is predominantly used for the dissemination and discussion of news and world events, it has a significant rate of hate speech, much higher than Twitter, and it attracts alt-right users, conspiracy theorists, and other trolls. ...
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The overwhelming amount of information and misinformation on social media platforms has created a new role that these platforms are inclined to take on, that of the Internet custodian. Mainstream platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, are under tremendous public and political pressure to combat disinformation and remove harmful content. Meanwhile, smaller platforms, such as BitChute and Odysee, have emerged and provide fertile ground for disinformation as a result of their low content-moderation policy. In this study, we analyze the phenomenon of removed content migration from YouTube to BitChute and Odysee. In particular, starting from a list of COVID-related videos removed from YouTube due to violating its misinformation policy, we find that ∼15% (1114 videos) of them migrated to the two low content-moderation platforms under study. This amounts to 4096 videos on BitChute and 1810 on Odysee. We present an analysis of this video dataset, revealing characteristics of misinformation dissemination similar to those on YouTube and other mainstream social media platforms. The BitChute–Odysee COVID-related dataset is publicly available for research purposes on misinformation analysis.
The article explores Bitchute, a video-hosting platform associated with the Far/Alt Right, with the aim of understanding how it reconfigures political communication and the digital public sphere. Methodologically, the article employs the walkthrough method and non-participant observation to identify the main features and functionalities offered to users. These include a set of values that prioritise creators, an algorithmic organisation that keeps users engaged with a single creator channel rather than with the same topic across channels; and embedded buttons for tips and pledges for creators enabling them to directly monetise their content. The content posted on Bitchute tends to coalesce around politicised cultural issues. It is noteworthy that although Bitchute hosts some advertising, it does not use data for microtargeting and in general makes limited use of user data. We interpret these findings as suggesting that Bitchute constitutes a media infrastructure that encourages, incentivises and sustains microcelebrities of the Far/Alt Right, who act as ideology entrepreneurs. Bitchute can therefore be seen as an infrastructure for the multiplication/sustenance of ideological entrepreneurs/political influencers who vie for the attention and money of far-right publics. If we can speak of a structural transformation of the public sphere associated with Alt Tech, our discussion of Bitchute suggests that this takes the form of a political media infrastructure that enables the continued existence and consolidation of a new type of political actor, the ideology entrepreneur.
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The continued public presence of far‐right groups, particularly alt‐right gangs (e.g., Proud Boys) participating in mass demonstrations and protests across the United States has made it clear that these groups and their behavior remain a concern. The overall lack of knowledge among policy makers, law enforcement, and community residents on how to deal with alt‐right gang members has limited their ability to intervene and prevent violence. The misconception that alt‐right gangs are domestic terrorist organizations, primarily driven by racist ideology, ignores just how unrefined and rudimentary the beliefs that connect members together actually are. The reliance on ideology has limited the inclusion of alt‐right gangs in conventional gang studies and has directly impacted gang scholars' ability to understand group dynamics among these far‐right gangs. This has in turned skewed also how law enforcement is trained to identify and deal with alt‐right gangs. This manuscript overviews the need to rectify the historical apathy of traditional gang scholars and law enforcement in dealing with far‐right/alt‐right gangs. We conclude with a discussion on how the mainstreaming of alt‐right groups over the last few years has accelerated and the growing need to explicitly treat these groups as street gangs.
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On the face of it, contemporary “alt-tech” platforms appear more moderate than legacy hate havens. Yet it's also clear that virulent hate in the form of misogyny, white supremacy, and xenophobia has not disappeared. Probing this tension, this article conceptualizes two forms of hate: Surface “Hate” (moderate content that is highly visible and easily accessible) and Sublevel Hate (explicit content that is more marginal and less discernible). These terms are illustrated by examining several viral videos on Rumble. This twinned mechanism explains how alt-tech platforms can be both accessible and extreme at the same time. Stratified hate is strategic, heightening the appeal and durability of online communities. Recognizing this dangerous dynamic is key for interventions seeking to counter it.
As people access news via digital platforms, existing literature provides foundations for institutional approaches to news organizations’ platform dependency. Yet, platform dependency also exists on a spectrum: size, business model, and market position impact how each news organization strategizes its reliance on digital platforms. I draw on in-depth interviews with 22 South Korean news professionals to delve into different survival strategies in dealing with South Korea’s biggest search portal and news aggregator, Naver. Findings reveal that contrary to the common belief, journalists in legacy news organizations experience more pressure and compromise journalistic values with clickbait headlines. They deem their relationship with the platform more in hierarchical and inevitable terms while journalists from new, emerging organizations are relatively freer from the competition for clicks and strive for more quality journalism. However, the difference stems from the Naver platform’s news organization ranking system and its tiered visibility structure that systematically creates the difference in audience reach and news distribution.
The subreddit r/WatchRedditDie was founded in 2015 after reddit started implementing anti-harassment policies, and positions itself as a “fire alarm for reddit” meant to voyeuristically watch reddit’s impending (symbolic) death. As conversations around platform governance, moderation, and the role of platforms in controlling hate speech become more complex, r/WatchRedditDie and its affiliated subreddits are dedicated in maintaining a version of reddit tolerant of any and all speech, excluding other more vulnerable users from fully participating on the platform. r/WatchReditDie users advocate for no interference in their activities on the platform—meaning that although they rely on the reddit infrastructure to sustain their community, they aim to self-govern to uphold a libertarian and often manipulated interpretation of free expression. Responding to reddit’s evolving policies, they find community with one another by positioning the platform itself as their main antagonist. Through the social worlds framework, I examine the r/WatchRedditDie community’s responses to platform change, bringing up new questions about the possibility of shared governance between platform and user, as well as participatory culture’s promises and perils.
The events surrounding the 2020 U.S. election and the January 6 insurrection have challenged scholarly understanding of concepts like collective action, radicalization, and mobilization. In this article, we argue that online far-right radicalization is better understood as a form of distributed cognition, in which the groups’ online environment incentivizes certain patterns of behavior over others. Namely, these platforms organize their users in ways that facilitate a nefarious form of collective intelligence, which is amplified and strengthened by systems of algorithmic curation. In short, these platforms reflect and facilitate undemocratic cognition, fueled by affective networks, contributing to events like the January 6 insurrection and far-right extremism more broadly. To demonstrate, we apply this framing to a case study (the “Stop the Steal” movement) to illustrate how this framework can make sense of radicalization and mobilization influenced by undemocratic cognition.
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Antisemitism on Social Media is a book for all who want to understand this phenomenon. Researchers interested in the matter will find innovative methodologies (CrowdTangle or Voyant Tools mixed with discourse analysis) and new concepts (tertiary antisemitism, antisemitic escalation) that should become standard in research on antisemitism on social media. It is also an invitation to students and up-and-coming and established scholars to study this phenomenon further. This interdisciplinary volume addresses how social media with its technology and business model has revolutionized the dissemination of antisemitism and how this impacts not only victims of antisemitic hate speech but also society at large. The book gives insight into case studies on different platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, TikTok, YouTube, and Telegram. It also demonstrates how social media is weaponized through the dissemination of antisemitic content by political actors from the right, the left, and the extreme fringe, and critically assesses existing counter-strategies. People working for social media companies, policy makers, practitioners, and journalists will benefit from the questions raised, the findings, and the recommendations. Educators who teach courses on antisemitism, hate speech, extremism, conspiracies, and Holocaust denial but also those who teach future leaders in computer technology will find this volume an important resource.
Deplatforming refers to the permanent ban of controversial public figures with large followings on social media sites. In recent years, platforms like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube have deplatformed many influencers to curb the spread of offensive speech. We present a case study of three high-profile influencers who were deplatformed on Twitter---Alex Jones, Milo Yiannopoulos, and Owen Benjamin. Working with over 49M tweets, we found that deplatforming significantly reduced the number of conversations about all three individuals on Twitter. Further, analyzing the Twitter-wide activity of these influencers' supporters, we show that the overall activity and toxicity levels of supporters declined after deplatforming. We contribute a methodological framework to systematically examine the effectiveness of moderation interventions and discuss broader implications of using deplatforming as a moderation strategy.
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This article analyzes deplatformization as an implied governance strategy by major tech companies to detoxify the platform ecosystem of radical content while consolidating their power as designers, operators, and governors of that same ecosystem. Deplatformization is different from deplatforming: it entails a systemic effort to push back encroaching radical right-wing platforms to the fringes of the ecosystem by denying them the infrastructural services needed to function online. We identify several deplatformization strategies, using Gab as an example of a platform that survived its relegation and which subsequently tried to build an alternative at the edge of the mainstream ecosystem. Evaluating deplatformization in terms of governance, the question that arises is who is responsible for cleansing the ecosystem: corporations, states, civil society actors, or all three combined? Understanding the implied governance of deplatformization is imperative to assess the higher stakes in future debates concerning Internet governability.
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Networked social movements (NSMs) are hybrid forms of social organization that rely on the platforms of the Internet to connect multiple individuals and groups to address a social justice issue. I mapped the communication infrastructure of the Occupy Movement from July 2011 to June 2013 to demonstrate how changes in protesters’ forms of communication reflected transformations in the organization of the movement and its capacity to mobilize participants. Through ethnography, I show how internal and external pressures—the high density of connections through social media, a desire to coordinate across locations, and police raids on encampments—led to the development of a virtual organization, called InterOccupy. InterOccupy is a communication platform owned and operated by participants in the Occupy Movement. InterOccupy took infrastructure building as a political strategy to ensure the movement endured beyond the police raids on the encampments. I conclude that NSMs create virtual organizations when there are routine and insurmountable failures in the communication milieu, where the future of the movement is at stake. My research follows the Occupy Movement ethnographically to understand what happens after the keyword.
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This article considers how the social-news and community site has become a hub for anti-feminist activism. Examining two recent cases of what are defined as “toxic technocultures” (#Gamergate and The Fappening), this work describes how Reddit’s design, algorithm, and platform politics implicitly support these kinds of cultures. In particular, this piece focuses on the ways in which Reddit’s karma point system, aggregation of material across subreddits, ease of subreddit and user account creation, governance structure, and policies around offensive content serve to provide fertile ground for anti-feminist and misogynistic activism. The ways in which these events and communities reflect certain problematic aspects of geek masculinity is also considered. This research is informed by the results of a long-term participant-observation and ethnographic study into Reddit’s culture and community and is grounded in actor-network theory.
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Online content providers such as YouTube are carefully positioning themselves to users, clients, advertisers and policymakers, making strategic claims for what they do and do not do, and how their place in the information landscape should be understood. One term in particular, ‘platform’, reveals the contours of this discursive work. The term has been deployed in both their populist appeals and their marketing pitches, sometimes as technical ‘platforms’, sometimes as ‘platforms’ from which to speak, sometimes as ‘platforms’ of opportunity. Whatever tensions exist in serving all of these constituencies are carefully elided. The term also fits their efforts to shape information policy, where they seek protection for facilitating user expression, yet also seek limited liability for what those users say. As these providers become the curators of public discourse, we must examine the roles they aim to play, and the terms by which they hope to be judged.
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Why did the insurgent United Farm Workers (UFW) succeed while its better-resourced rival-the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee, AFL-CIO (AWOC)-failed? Explanations relying on altered political opportunity structures or resources, accounts of Cesar Chavez's charismatic leadership, or descriptions of UFW strategy fail to identify mechanisms for creating effective strategy. By analyzing leadership, organizational influences on actors' choices, and their interaction within the environment, this study shows that greater access to salient information, heuristic facility, and motivation generated more effective strategy. Differences in "strategic capacity" can explain how resourcefulness can compensate for lack of resources, why some new organizations can overcome the "liability of newness," and how reorganizational "focal" moments may lead to a social movement.
As with so many technologies, the Internet’s racism was programmed right in—and it’s quickly fueled the spread of White supremacist, xenophobic rhetoric throughout the western world.
The history of social movements developed in parallel to technological changes in societies. From the invention of the press to the diffusion of television, communication technologies gave social movements new opportunities of expression and organization. Frequently, therefore, social movements met, appropriated and reshaped technological devices and supports that were at the same time opportunities and challenges for grassroots political participation. Technology intertwines with social movements at different levels. At the instrumental level, technology has an impact on mobilizing structures, organizational patterns, and protest activities of social movements. At the symbolic level, social movements have an impact on discourses about technologies and their role in societies, often including new technological visions in alternative systems of meanings. Finally, at the material level, social movements have an impact on technological supports and devices, in that activist technical knowledge and competencies lead to alternative and creative use of technology.
Contemporary networked social movements are characterized by their innovative use of mobile phones, the Internet, and social media to coordinate collective action. From 2011 to 2012, I conducted an ethnographic study of a group of Occupy protesters called InterOccupy, who scheduled and moderated 2000 movement-wide conference calls. Drawing on the history of telephones, I clarify why the Occupy movement utilized conference calls to organize mobilizations during an intense period of police repression. I locate InterOccupy within the history of conference calls to draw out the affordances of conference systems as tools for convening distributed groups in real time. Tethering InterOccupy to the history of telephone operators from the 1920s to 1960s, who used switchboards to manage shared party lines, with the phone phreaks of the 1960s–1980s, hackers who explored the telephone network, illustrates how each group used similar tools, techniques, and protocols to form communities across vast distances. Using a webinar system to link up to 500 callers, InterOccupy were guided by the ethics of phone phreaks to open lines of communication coupled with the methods of telephone operators to bring voices together. Charting the history of voice-to-voice communication explains why InterOccupy picked up the phone to bring about social change at a time when other information and communication technologies were available.
Over the last two decades, “resource mobilization” (RM) analysts have emphasized the importance of institutional continuities between conventional social life and collective protest.1 There is much about this interpretation with which we agree. It is a corrective to some of the malintegration (MI) literature in which movements are portrayed as mindless eruptions lacking either coherence or continuity with organized social life. Nevertheless, we shall argue that RM analysts commit a reverse error. Their emphasis on the similarities between conventional and protest behavior has led them to understate the differences. They thus tend to “normalize” collective protest.
The pace of black insurgency between 1955 and 1970 is analyzed as a function of an ongoing process of tactical interaction between movement forces and southern segregationists. Given a political system vulnerable to challenge and strong internal organization the main challenge confronting insurgents is a preeminently tactical one. Lacking institutionalized power, challengers must devise protest techniques that offset their powerlessness. This is referred to as a process of tactical innovation. Such innovations, however, only temporarily afford challengers increased bargaining leverage. In chess-like fashion, movement opponents can be expected, through effective tactical adaptation, to neutralize the new tactic, thereby reinstituting the power disparity between themselves and the challenger. This perspective is applied to the development of the black movement over the period, 1955-1970. Evidence derived from content-coding all relevant story synopses contained in The New York Times Index for these years is presented showing a strong correspondence between the introduction of new protest techniques and peaks in movement activity. Conversely, lulls in black insurgency reflect the successful efforts of movement opponents to devise effective tactical counters to these innovations.
The overwhelmingly progressive outcome of the Second Vatican Council in the Roman Catholic Church (1962 to 1965) changed Church doctrine on everything from the Latin mass to nuns' habits to openness to other faith traditions. This article examines a cause of this outcome by analyzing the informal organizations activist bishops built during the Council. Progressives' and conservatives' cultural understandings of authority determined what type of organization they built as well as how effectively that organization helped them to address their concerns. Progressives believed in the doctrine of “collegiality,” that bishops convening together are as infallible as the Pope—a doctrine conservatives saw as threatening the primacy and authority of the Pope. Consequently, while progressives built a highly effective, consensus-based organization as soon as the Council began, conservatives were much slower to mobilize and, when they did so, formed a hierarchical organization that proved to be much less effective. Most studies of social movements do not have faith in the effectiveness of the progressives' consensus-based organization, which have typically found such organizations to be inefficient and subject to breakdowns. This study suggests that organizational effectiveness depends in part on how well activists' cultural understandings mesh with the environment in which they are enacted.