By: Hanna Börgmann
This Explainer is also available in German.
Rumble is a video platform based in Toronto, Canada, which enables users to view, upload and share videos. It was founded by Canadian entrepreneur Chris Pavlovski in 2013, and became popular for viral videos and news featuring pets and children. At its core, Rumble describes itself as a “free speech alternative” to the “Big Tech Giants”. In accordance with this, the platform states that it creates “technologies that are immune to cancel culture” and sees itself “on a mission to protect a free and open internet”.
Having learnt from the experience of the alternative micro-blogging site Parler— which had to shut down after Amazon revoked its hosting of the site in the wake of the January 6, 2021 attack on the US Capitol—, Rumble has built its own cloud infrastructures and video streaming capacity. In April 2022, Rumble announced that Truth Social, the social media platform created by former US President Donald Trump, had migrated its website and mobile application to Rumble’s cloud infrastructure.
Rumble’s vision of building a “new internet” has attracted a variety of high-profile conservative investors. One of them is Peter Thiel, a controversial German American billionaire, tech investor and Trump-supporting right-wing activist. Another is David Sacks, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur and investor, who has provided funding for Elon Musk’s purchase of Twitter and who has co-founded the podcasting and livestreaming platform Callin, which was recently acquired by Rumble and is set to become another pillar of Rumble’s content business. Sacks has since been given a seat on Rumble’s board of directors.
Another noteworthy development is that in September 2022, Rumble went public on the NASDAQ stock exchange which was enabled by a Special Purpose Acquisition Company (SPAC). SPACs are companies that are formed with the sole purpose to collect money via the public offering of a firm and to reinvest that money in the acquisition of the company. The SPAC merger gave Rumble an enterprise value of $2.1 billion and has provided it with $400 million in cash, which it plans to use to attract new content creators, expand its independent infrastructure and fund marketing campaigns and further acquisitions.
In 2021, Rumble sued Google, alleging that it unduly favored YouTube in search results, as well as the Android operating system. In 2022, the case was allowed to proceed after a judge declined Google’s request to dismiss the case. As of July 2023, a trial date has not been set. Yet the unfolding of the case is highly relevant for observers of social media platforms, as it might set a relevant precedent for other alternative platforms seeking to counter the market power of Google and Meta.
While Rumble claims ideological neutrality, its support from high-profile right-wing tech investors, and its founder’s ‘free speech’, ‘anti-Big Tech’ rhetoric and recent public trading, indicate both a desire to shape online discourse and infrastructure, as well as become a central pillar of the so-called ‘alt-tech’ ecosystem. This ecosystem encompasses a range of social media platforms and service providers that are popular among the far right because of their less than stringent content moderation practice.
In line with this, Rumble has mostly attracted right-wing and conservative users. While the number of views of the platform’s top-performing videos is relatively low compared to YouTube, Rumble has been able to increase its user numbers significantly. This later escalated in 2020, which marked the beginning of two central far-right mobilisation campaigns in the US: election denialism and COVID-19 pandemic conspiracies. In the second quarter of 2022, Rumble had more than 44 million monthly active users, which is 76% more than the previous year and, as the New York Times pointed out, is a greater reach than those of right-wing media outlets Breitbart, Newsmax and The Daily Wire combined.
Rumble’s reputation for attracting users from right-wing spaces is further undergirded by referral data from other sites in the alt-tech ecosystem. Rumble’s CEO himself confirmed as early as 2020 that Rumble was receiving more referral traffic from Parler than Facebook and Twitter (now X) combined.
This reputation for attracting mainly right-wing, and sometimes extremist creators and audiences, is further entrenched by some of the accounts that are posting content and gaining a large following on the platform.
For instance, the channel Red Pill News joined Rumble in October 2020 and has— at time of writing— (July 2023) posted more than 1,000 videos to the platform and gathered a total of 184,000 followers. Around the time it joined Rumble, the channel was removed from YouTube because it was spreading and promoting the QAnon conspiracy theory. Today, Red Pill News is back on YouTube, but seems to be posting less, while receiving fewer views than its Rumble equivalent (which is linked in the YouTube channel). This suggests that the earlier YouTube following of Red Pill News has largely migrated to Rumble during the time it was offline, or has otherwise been lost by attrition, and that the new YouTube channel’s main function is directing new followers to the Rumble account.
On Red Pill News’ Rumble channel, a recent video called “Biden Psyop Has Run It’s [sic] Course – MSM & Cabal Turning” received 48,200 views within one day of being posted. Other content includes promotion of the ‘Great Reset‘ conspiracy narrative; the ‘Biden Crime Family’, including the stolen election narrative; and the promotion of the European far right such as French Marine Le Pen’s Rassemblement National party.
Among the network of right-wing influencers prominent on Rumble is Alex Jones, who was banned from YouTube, iTunes, Facebook and Spotify in 2018 and whose far-right Infowars media company filed for insolvency in 2022, after it was ordered to pay nearly $1 billion in damages to the families of the 2012 Sandy Hook mass shooting, the deadliest school shooting in US history. Sandy Hook ended the lives of 20 children and 6 adult staff members and prompted calls for stricter gun controls in the US. Following the shooting, Jones repeatedly accused the families of the victims of being actors in a hoax.
Another active influencer on the platform is Dan Bongino. He is a political commentator, radio show host and former police officer, who served as a Secret Service agent from 1999 to 2011 and who unsuccessfully ran for Congress for the Republican Party three times. He has been named as one of the most influential figures in spreading election disinformation in the wake of the 2020 US Presidential Election. At the time of writing, Bongino had a following of nearly four million people on Facebook, with nearly 7.7 million interactions in the week of November 3 2020. His Twitter account was shut down on 7 January 2021, after the Capitol riots.
YouTube permanently banned Bongino for spreading disinformation and conspiracy narratives about COVID-19 vaccines, after he had tried to circumvent a temporary suspension. On Rumble, in which Bongino has acquired an equity stake, he runs one of the platform’s biggest channels with 2.8 million followers. His content among others features Great Reset conspiracy narratives and right-wing extremist and antisemitic dog whistles, such as conspiracy narratives featuring the well-known Jewish philanthropist George Soros.
Rumble’s business model is based on the monetisation of user-generated content, where videos can be uploaded and shared with a global audience. According to the New York Times, Rumble generated more than $6.5 million in revenue from January to September 2022, mostly from advertising, but was not yet profitable.
Users can access features such as search, video editing tools and analytics to optimise their videos. Furthermore, videos on Rumble include a share button, which allows users to directly share videos via WhatsApp, Twitter, email and the microblogging service Truth Social, which is run by the Trump Media & Technology Group (TMTG). It is also possible to set up livestreams, which feature a live comment section. In addition, Rumble has created a feature called Rumble Rants, which allows fans to financially tip their favourite ‘creators’ during livestreams. Another option to monetise content is via ads. However, content creators must get approval by Rumble to monetise their videos. According to the site, approval to monetise a video can take between one to five days, but videos can be seen by subscribers via direct link while the monetisation approval is pending. The criteria for monetisation approval, however, remain largely unclear.
Approach to content moderation
Despite its presentation, which seems to appeal to free speech absolutists, Rumble clearly defines the limits of content that can be posted on the platform in its terms and conditions. Libel, defamation, copyright infringements, inciting violence, and hate, including racism and antisemitism, are not allowed. The platform stresses its sole discretion in determining which content may be deleted and holds itself to be neither responsible nor liable for any failure or delay in removing messages. Moreover, it is explained that “any materials submitted to the Rumble Service may be, but (…) not necessarily, examined by Rumble before it is made available on the Rumble Service. (…) Rumble has the absolute right (but not the obligation) to prohibit, refuse, delete, move and edit Content and material for any reason, in any manner, at any time, without notice to you.”
In addition, Rumble outlines a “complaint procedure” and states two email addresses that can be used to either report content that violates its policies, or to complain about otherwise inappropriate behaviour and materials on the platform. Despite detailing the form such a complaint should take, Rumble explicitly states that it takes “no responsibility to at any time report to you as to the status or outcome of its investigation or any actions Rumble has taken as a result,” thereby renouncing all accountability with regards to its content moderation practices, which are explicitly opaque in nature.
How is Rumble linked to other platforms?
In the context of ISD Germany’s research project “Countering Radicalisation in Right-Wing Extremist Online Subcultures”, the ISD research team provides quantitative evidence that Rumble plays an important role in the right-wing extremist online milieu on Telegram, specifically in conspiracy ideology channels and the anti-lockdown milieu. According to ISD’s analysis, Rumble was among the top three channel domains linked in posts in the conspiracy ideology channels investigated, with 1,056 links posted during the investigated timeframe. Moreover, Rumble was linked in 33 conspiracy channels out of 51 researched channels, which constitutes a share of 65% (Figure 1).
Since the study focuses on the German-language context, and considering Rumble’s broader ambitions (see above), further analysis of the English-language context and Rumble’s position in and interaction with the larger far-right online ecosystem is highly relevant for preventing and countering violent extremism.
This Explainer is also available in German.
This Explainer was uploaded on 24 August 2023.