Video Sharing Turmoil: Alternative Platforms Hosting Hate Speech and Misinformation

Following “A new breed of video sites thrive on misinformation and hate”

Since 2020, under rules enforced by UK media regulator Ofcom, BitChute must protect the public from “harmful content”. This means, primarily, content that would be considered a criminal offense under terrorism and child sexual abuse laws, or content that incites violence or hatred against particular groups. Ofcom can impose heavy fines or even suspend a platform.

Ofcom and BitChute told Reuters they had consulted on content to ensure compliance – “while maintaining our free speech guidelines”, BitChute added. But that doesn’t mean that BitChute has removed any potentially harmful content. Ofcom told Reuters that regulations do not require BitChute to proactively police itself; instead, BitChute only has to remove content that someone – for example, a user or an advocacy group – has reported as a violation of its terms and conditions. Additionally, the regulations apply only to BitChute’s videos and not to its user comments.

A Reuters review of Britain’s BitChute site found myriad examples of content promoting hate and violence, including videos of white men beating up black men and racial slurs in their comment sections. .

Ofcom said it had not launched any investigation or issued any fines under the 2020 regulations against BitChute or any other company.

BitChute released a public report in June on how it had moderated tens of thousands of videos. Most have been flagged for copyright issues; others encouraged terrorism, violent extremism or incited hatred. BitChute said that in most cases it removes videos or restricts their distribution in certain countries.

Reuters found that some videos blocked by BitChute in Europe remain on BitChute in the United States, where free speech protections for social media are particularly robust. In addition to constitutional protections, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 states that social media companies cannot be held legally liable for content that users post on their platforms.

BitChute content blocked in Britain, but still available for free in America, includes swastika-adorned videos that attacked Jews and black people, and worshiping montages of Adolf Hitler with names like “We Need You now – Happy Birthday Mein Fuhrer”.

A lizard person

BitChute’s online traffic grew 63% in 2021 from the previous year, to 514 million visits, according to Similarweb, the digital intelligence firm. By comparison, that’s more than double the online audience of, the website of the cable news channel known for its left-wing opinion leaders.

But BitChute’s funding model seems fragile. In the December interview, Vahey said he turned away investors because he refused to compromise on free speech. He said he mainly covers his monthly running costs of US$50,000 (RM223,375) through donations and subscriptions. The site also contains advertising.

BitChute’s closest rival, Odysee, attracted 292 million visits last year. But he took a different path to get there.

Odyssey was born out of a company called LBRY (pronounced “library”), co-founded in 2015 by Jeremy Kauffman, an American tech entrepreneur and radical libertarian who funded LBRY by creating his own cryptocurrency. The company’s other founders did not respond to requests for comment. .

Kauffman, 37, lives in New Hampshire, where he is campaigning for the U.S. Senate on the state Libertarian Party ticket in November’s midterm elections. His radical version of the Party’s anti-government philosophy includes the abolition of the Federal Reserve, the Internal Revenue Service, and child labor laws.

Kauffman promoted his Senate campaign with a bizarre video posted to Twitter in May. He addresses the camera in an ill-fitting crocodile costume and speaks as images flash across the screen of snarling aliens, Godzilla and President Joe Biden with a forked tongue. “I want to become a lizard person,” Kauffman says. “I would like to rule you.”

The act appeared to refer to the lizard-people conspiracy theory, which holds that the governing elites are actually blood-sucking alien reptiles in human form.

Kauffman also posts provocative statements on Twitter. “Being unvaccinated and being black are two choices,” he tweeted in August 2021, along with a photo of a fair-skinned Michael Jackson. He told Reuters the tweet was a joke.

“I think it’s funny,” said Kauffman, the sole occupant of LBRY’s headquarters in downtown Manchester, New Hampshire. “If you don’t think it’s funny,” he said, “you don’t have to watch it.”

While in college at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York, Kauffman studied computer science and physics and played competitive Frisbee. He had little publishing experience when, in 2015, he set up LBRY with four others, promising to bring “freedom back to the web”, according to an initial pitch from investors.

LBRY’s business model was based on sales of its own cryptocurrency, called LBC. Launched on the cusp of a crypto boom, the price surged, taking the company’s value to $1.2 billion.

But in March 2021, the Securities and Exchange Commission sued LBRY, alleging that selling a cryptocurrency to fund its operations amounted to an unregistered offering of securities. Kauffman attacked the commission in tweets and interviews as “monsters” and told Reuters he had spent $2m (RM8.93m) in legal fees for a “Kafka-esque” fight. The Securities and Exchange Commission declined to comment on the case, which is still pending.

Even before the trial, LBC’s claim wavered. After its launch in 2016, the currency’s value swung up and down, hitting $1.29 (RM5.78) in early 2018 before crashing, according to CoinGecko, a website that tracks currency values. cryptocurrencies. It is now trading at around two cents.

The company launched a streaming platform in late 2019 called LBRY.TV. It courted creators specializing in technology, cryptocurrencies or science, but also attracted conspiracy theorists and extremists looking for an alternative to YouTube. Paul Webb, a web developer who joined LBRY in 2017, said he raised objections when he discovered the site featured videos of a leader of the Proud Boys, the far-right group whose current leader and four associates are now charged in connection with the Jan. 6 Capitol Riot.

During a video call with Kauffman, Webb presented research on the Proud Boys by groups that track extremists. Webb said he argues that “we have a responsibility not to give people like that a platform.” Kauffman disagreed and said the controversy generated publicity for LBRY, according to Webb, who now works at a Canada-based digital design agency.

Asked about the exchange, Kauffman said, “Even morally questionable groups, such as Reuters journalists or the Proud Boys, should be allowed to speak to others who want to hear them.”

LBRY.TV was rebuilt and rebranded into a new website, Odysee, in late 2020. The following year, the operation was handed over to a new LBRY subsidiary called Odysee Holdings Inc, with a new managing director. Kauffman remains LBRY’s CEO, but Odysee is now led by Julian Chandra, the two men said in interviews. Chandra had worked for popular Chinese short video app TikTok before joining LBRY and taking over Odysee.

He told Reuters he wanted to make Odysee a profitable platform that serves a wider and more mainstream audience, going beyond Kauffman’s libertarian politics and original vision for the video-sharing site. . Odyssey is looking to increase its revenue through advertising and ad-free premium subscriptions.

Odysee’s traffic has grown exponentially. Like BitChute, it fed on the turmoil surrounding Covid-19 lockdowns, mass vaccinations, and Trump’s misrepresentations regarding the November 2020 US election. That month, Odysee visits doubled to reach around 6 million, according to Similarweb. In January 2021 – the month Trump supporters stormed the US Capitol – it nearly tripled again, to 17 million. In August, the total nearly doubled again, to 33 million.

Odysée always presents itself as a bulwark for freedom of expression. When YouTube last year removed several videos condemning China’s alleged human rights abuses against Uyghur Muslims, Odysee provided an alternative home. So did RT and Sputnik after YouTube and Facebook blocked Russian propaganda channels in March. In a statement on Twitter, Odyssey said: “We are not banning any news network. It’s a slippery slope.”

It remains a sanctuary for controversial figures. Megan Squire, a professor at Elon University in North Carolina who studies online extremism, identified more than 100 channels on Odysee from right-wing extremists and conspiracy theorists.

Chandra acknowledged that such content exists on Odysee but said he did not define the platform. He said the company removes content that promotes terrorism, hatred or violence towards other groups.

Yet Odyssey remains a home for neo-Nazis. Joseph Jordan, who produces videos under the pseudonym “Eric Striker,” co-founded the white supremacist National Justice Party. In his videos on Odyssey, he praises Hitler, denies that the Holocaust happened, and advocates for policies that protect whites against blacks. Jordan did. do not respond to a request for comment.

“You want me to remove this person because of what exactly? He didn’t break any laws,” Chandra said. “You don’t like a channel, don’t watch it. It’s very simple.” – Reuters

Shirley K. Rosa