No, Conservative social media isn’t going away

May 20, 2021, 1:00 PM UTC

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In the months that led up to and followed the 2020 U.S. presidential election, conservative social media apps exploded.

Upset over what they considered to be unfair crackdowns on speech on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter, conservatives sought alternative services advertising laxer rules. Many people wondered: Would these upstart services last?

“It’s a fad,” Mark Shmulik, analyst at investment bank AB Bernstein, told me in January. “There will be a little niche, but it won’t disrupt what we’re seeing on Twitter.”

It’s still too soon to judge the services’ long-term longevity, but one thing is clear: They did—and still continue to—serve a group of people seeking alternative options.

Two conservative social media sites show the fad is still alive and kicking—at least more than some people may have expected. After being booted from AWS and Google and Apple’s app stores, Parler returned to Apple’s App Store on Monday (but remains banned on Google Play). Meanwhile, Rumble, the conservative rival of YouTube, just landed an undisclosed amount of funding from a group of venture capitalists that includes Palantir cofounder and Trump-backer Peter Thiel.

Parler is still gaining some traction, if slowly. The app has been downloaded 4,000 times since its return, bringing its total number of installations since its 2018 inception to more than 11 million, according to data from mobile analytics company Sensor Tower. Though that pales in comparison to the 1 million downloads the app garnered between Nov. 3 and Nov. 8, people are still using the service to air grievances that might be flagged elsewhere.

Rumble is growing too. Downloads increased 28% during the month of April, when the app was installed 119,000 times, compared to March. But that’s still down from its spike in January when the app was downloaded 956,000 times, Sensor Tower data shows. Rumble declined to disclose its total number of users, but it did say video streaming on its service popped 20% in May compared to April.

While the content on both services varies, some popular posts are, well, what you’d expect. Conservative commentator Dan Bongino’s latest video suggests “Democrats’ new scheme is terrifying,” referring to the proposed commission that would investigate the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol. The video is listed as the top video on Rumble’s “battle leaderboard,” garnering more than 66,000 views.

The scene on Parler is similar. Some users were posting blogs and articles from far-right groups suggesting the coronavirus isn’t real (it is), that masks and vaccines were a lie (they aren’t), and repeating unsubstantiated claims of election fraud.

The two apps are making plans for the future; in some cases, addressing earlier missteps and, in others, expanding ambitions. Parler says it has new systems that can automatically detect and remove posts that are designed to incite to violence—an issue that had led to its earlier app store banishment. It also says it’s working on a new version of its app that may be released on the Google Play store. And Rumble is using its new funding to improve its live-streaming capabilities and expand its server capacity in hopes of becoming a cloud service provider.

For now, the two services trail their bigger social media rivals by many, many miles. Still, with their lofty plans and new backers, it doesn’t look like they’re going anywhere anytime soon.

Danielle Abril


‘The right thing to do.’ Colonial Pipeline CEO Joseph Blount told The Wall Street Journal why he ultimately decided to pay a $4.4 million ransom to hackers who breached his company’s systems: “It was the right thing to do for the country.” Blount said though it was a controversial decision, the stakes were just too high. The company says it's responsible for 45% of the fuel for the east coast. Ultimately, the hack caused a six-day shutdown of the pipeline, causing gas prices to reach 6-year highs in some areas and a gas-desert in others. Blount said he didn’t make the decision alone, though. He had help from expert consultants—though he declined to say who they were.

Apple’s Epic profit. Core to Epic’s lawsuit against Apple is the following argument: Apple makes a massive profit from its app store payment system because it forces developers to use the Apple payment system, making it a monopoly. And on Wednesday, an Apple leader hinted at just how big that profit might be. Michael Schmid, Apple’s head of games business development for the app store, testified that Apple made at least $100 million in revenue from Epic's game Fortnite. Keywords: "At least." That number could be closer to $350 million, according to data from mobile app data firm Sensor Tower.  

Google’s second-in-command. Prabhakar Raghavan, one of Google’s top execs, gave Wired an exclusive interview exploring everything from the future of ads tracking (it’s ending third-party cookie tracking capabilities), search (people should be able to address a need without typing in a Google-friendly query), and combating misinformation (with more information, not less).
He also explores the changing culture at Google and briefly addresses, if you can call it that, the controversial firings of the "ethical A.I." team co-leads, Margaret Mitchell and Timnit Gebru (“there's a lot of detail that is not public”). Wired has all the details in a Q&A with Raghavan.

What’s with the violence, WhatsApp? At least 100 groups have popped up on WhatsApp encouraging violence against Palestinians as tensions rise between them and Israelis. WhatsApp groups with names like “The Jewish Guard” are “explicitly planning and executing violent acts against Palestinian citizens of Israel,” and are being spread via e-mail lists and online message boards by extremists in Israel, The New York Times reports. WhatsApp says it’s removed some people from the service for violating its rules. The tricky part? WhatsApp encrypts all its messages, which keeps group conversations private among its users, the service says.

HBO-Almost-Max. WarnerMedia says it will debut a cheaper version of HBO Max at the beginning of June. The cheaper version will cost $10 a month—$5 less than it charges for its premium HBO Max service—and will be supported by ads. Hulu similarly charges $11.99 a month—or $6 more than the free version—for ad-free viewing. But customers who opt for HBO Max’s $10 service won’t be able to see any of the movies the service releases on the app and in theaters at the same time. So if you’re waiting for The Matrix 4 (which filmed in San Francisco!) or the new Space Jam, better be ready to pony up that extra $5.


Earlier this week, England debut its next steps in controlling the spread of the coronavirus: Digital vaccine passports. The passports are only for people traveling outside of the U.K. from England, will only be used for border crossing purposes, and only shows vaccine status (versus negative coronavirus test results). People who don’t use smartphones can request a letter that shows they’ve been vaccinated in lieu of using the digital passport.

But it seems a lot of countries are still trying to figure out the best ways to check people for their vaccine status. Lindsay Muscato explores the topic in an article for the MIT Tech Review.

“Elizabeth Renieris, a tech and human rights fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Carr Center and a fellow with the Digital Civil Society Lab at Stanford University, says the hype over vaccine passports—both in the US and globally—sounds eerily like the rollout of covid exposure apps last year. She says those apps launched in a rush, and with a slew of unanswered questions about how they could support public health goals in useful ways.

‘There’s a kind of ‘rinse and repeat’ happening,’ she says. ‘We need to think about how technology becomes a proxy for governance. It creates the illusion of having things under control.’ She points to what’s happening in India right now: ‘You have Modi pushing a new app, and all the experts in the country are screaming, ‘We need vaccines.’’”


Bitcoin, Ethereum, Dogecoin: Witness the trillion-dollar crypto carnage—and rebound—in 3 charts by Robert Hackett and Lance Lambert

Twitter to resume giving blue checkmarks to users after four-year pause By Danielle Abril

Why the Bitcoin and Ethereum selloff is actually good for Coinbase By Anne Sraders

In a crypto crash, SafeMoon hasn’t proven to be all that safe By Chris Morris

Bitcoin is boring now—which means it’s the perfect time to buy By Bobby C. Lee 

PagerDuty CEO: There’s no one-size-fits-all solution to help employees through tough times By Fortune Editors

Is the dead cat bounce underway for Bitcoin, Ethereum, and Dogecoin? By Chris Morris

Bitcoin must stay above this level for Elon Musk’s bet to be in the black By Shawn Tully

(Some of these stories require a subscription to access. Thank you for supporting our journalism.)


Aaron did a great job recapping some of the highlights from Google I/O. But I’d like to fill in the gap on one thing he didn’t mention: the singing blobs.

For I/O's pre-show, Oakland musical group Tune-Yards joined the Blob Opera, a project that was developed out of Google Arts & Culture. To create the opera, Google and company fed 16 hours of human opera singers’ voices to a neural network, which reproduced the voices based on what it heard. (Google details how it works here.) The result: The blobs can both sing and harmonize based on sound.

I had no idea what I was watching when I watched it, but it gave me a good laugh. Then I found out Google lets you control the Blob Opera—even though it doesn't actually listen to you with this tool—and even record your own musical creations. It’s a fun way to kill time or entertain your kids if you’re looking for a distraction. Enjoy the blobs!

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