Alternative Social Media and its Role in the News and Information Environment
Heated political themes prevail on these sites, which draw praise from their users and skepticism from other Americans.
In recent years, several new options have emerged in the social media universe, many of which explicitly present themselves as alternatives to more established social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube – especially by opposing free speech restrictions they say are rife at those sites.
These newer sites have created a small but satisfied community of news consumers, many of whom say one of the major reasons they are there is to stay informed about current events, according to a new Pew Research Center study. The study included a survey of U.S. adults along with an audit of seven alternative social media sites – BitChute, Gab, Gettr, Parler, Rumble, Telegram and Truth Social – and a detailed analysis of prominent accounts and content across them.
Although fewer than one-in-ten Americans say they use any of these sites for news, most who do say they have found a community of like-minded people there. And news consumers on the four sites with large enough numbers to be analyzed individually – Parler, Rumble, Telegram and Truth Social – largely say they are satisfied with their experience getting news on the sites, that they find the information there to be mostly accurate, and that the discussions are mostly friendly.
At the same time, however, the study finds signs that these sites may be another symptom of the increasingly polarized public discourse – and Americans’ partisan divisions in the broader news media environment.
A majority of those who regularly get news from at least one of the seven alternative social media sites (66%) identify as Republicans or lean toward the Republican Party, in contrast with the news consumers on more established social media sites, who largely identify as Democrats or lean Democratic. And this trend is common among prominent accounts as well, with about a quarter of these accounts (26%) identifying as conservative or Republican or supportive of former President Donald Trump or his “Make America Great Again” movement. In addition, many prominent accounts express other values such as patriotism and religious identity.
Several sites are linked to conservative backers – including Truth Social, which was launched by Trump about a year after he was “indefinitely” and “permanently” suspended from Facebook and Twitter. This is not a unique phenomenon: The study found a noteworthy percentage of prominent accounts on these seven newer sites (15%) have been banned or demonetized elsewhere on social media.
Perhaps connected to that, Americans who have heard of these sites but do not use them as sources for news are skeptical of them. When asked for the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about alternative social media sites, people in this category commonly cite inaccuracy and misinformation, political bias and the political right, and extremism and fringe ideas.
Other elements of the study speak to some of these associations. A small but measurable share of prominent accounts across these sites (6%) mention a connection to the set of conspiracy theories known as QAnon. And an analysis of recent content posted by prominent accounts on these sites finds that the most common phrases include some that are controversial and even inflammatory such as wariness toward vaccines and negative associations with LGBTQ people. Moreover, one of the most prevalent destinations for links found in these posts is The Gateway Pundit, a digital outlet that has been criticized for publishing false information.
These are some of the key themes to emerge from this major new study, which was designed to look at multiple aspects of the world of alternative social media. It examines those who turn to these sites for news, explores how the sites present themselves, and reports on the kinds of accounts that draw the most attention and the types of conversations taking place there.
For the first component, researchers conducted a survey of news consumers on seven sites: BitChute, Gab, Gettr, Parler, Rumble, Telegram and Truth Social. Four of these – Parler, Rumble, Telegram and Truth Social – had enough news consumers to do a deeper dive.
Next, researchers conducted an audit of all seven sites that explored elements of how the sites present themselves, privacy features, and other characteristics. Researchers then analyzed 200 prominent accounts sampled from those with the highest number of followers on each of these sites. They examined these 1,400 accounts for several attributes, including how they describe themselves in their profiles. Finally, researchers collected all 585,470 posts published by these accounts in June 2022 and examined their key phrases, themes and the links included in the posts. For more details, see the methodology. The rest of this overview discusses the key findings of the study in more detail.
Alternative social media sites have small, largely Republican audiences; prominent accounts tend to emphasize right-leaning identities and religious and patriotic values.
These sites have become a refuge for some who feel they do not have a home on the more established sites.
Still, relatively few Americans use these alternative social media sites for news – though larger portions have heard of each of them. Parler is the best known of the seven sites named in the survey, with 38% of U.S. adults saying they are familiar with it. The share who get news on these sites is much smaller: Just 6% of Americans get news from at least one of the seven sites mentioned, and no single site is used for news by more than 2% of U.S. adults.
The news consumers on these sites lean heavily Republican. A majority of those who get news from at least one of the seven alternative social media sites (66%) are Republican or lean Republican. This is in contrast with more established social media sites, where news consumers are more likely to be Democrats or lean Democratic. (For more about news consumers on these more established sites, read our Social Media and News Fact Sheet.)
This report also looks at a sample of 200 of the prominent accounts on each site – those with the greatest number of followers – to determine what kinds of accounts tend to gain the most traction on alternative social media.
Roughly half (54%) of prominent accounts appeal to some kind of value or political orientation in their profiles. The most common of these values was right-leaning – 26% of prominent accounts expressed some kind of right-leaning or pro-Trump appeal – more of which centered around Trump or his “Make America Great Again” movement than with the Republican Party or conservative ideology.
Other expressed values included appeals to a religious identity (21% of prominent accounts), patriotism/pro-America views (21%), freedom and liberty (7%), pro-gun or pro-Second Amendment positions (6%), and support for the set of conspiracy theories known as QAnon (6%).
A close look at who is behind the prominent accounts shows that about eight-in-ten (83%) are run by individuals. That can mean either a single person with a noted affiliation to an organization or one without any organizational affiliation. Another 12% are organizations, including news organizations, nonprofit groups and others.
Along with a prevalence of conservative values and identities in prominent account profiles, political topics were common in the content posted there. This study collected all posts published by the 1,400 prominent accounts in June 2022 and identified those that were about five politically oriented topics: abortion; guns, gun control and shootings; the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol and subsequent congressional hearings; LGBTQ issues; and vaccines.
The discussion around these issues often reflects fringe and controversial worldviews on the political right. For instance, some of the most common terms in posts about the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol include “political prisoner,” “DC gulag,” “unselect committee,” “witch hunt” and “sham hearing.” Meanwhile, posts about vaccines indicate a deep and consistent concern about the impact of vaccination. These posts regularly refer to a small group of influential vaccine skeptics. The most common terms in these posts point to a widespread fear of real but rare impacts of vaccination (“side effect,” “adverse reaction,” “blood clot,” “heart inflammation”) but also diseases or symptoms for which the medical literature finds little evidence of being tied to vaccines (“[sudden adult] death syndrome,” “sperm count”). And posts about LGBTQ issues commonly referred to drag queen “story hour” (a common target of anti-LGBTQ groups) or derisive allegations toward gay and transgender individuals, such as “pedo” and “groomer,” implying that they prey on children. See Appendix C.
Most alternative social media news consumers feel a sense of community on these sites, which prominently identify themselves as havens of free speech.
About two-thirds of individuals who get news on at least one of the seven alternative social media sites (65%) say they have found a community of like-minded people there.
In a related finding, those who get news from Rumble, Parler, Truth Social and Telegram are far more likely to see these spaces as friendly than unfriendly. About half or more of those who get news on each of them – ranging from 53% to 69% – characterize the discussions they see on these sites as mostly friendly, while no more than a third of each site’s news consumers say the conversation there is mostly unfriendly (the rest say conversation is about an equal mix of friendly and unfriendly).
In some cases, the activity on these sites moves beyond the digital realm. One-third of alternative social media news consumers (33%) say they have participated in an in-person political rally or other political activity they learned about on these sites, and a similar share (36%) have donated money to accounts they follow on these sites.
A central way these sites depict themselves, one that may help give users that sense of community, is as welcoming havens for free speech as well as antidotes to the censorship and “cancel culture” they say exist on more established social media sites. Indeed, all of the seven sites examined explicitly state that they support free speech.
That message has clearly resonated with those turning to those sites for news. When users of alternative social media sites were asked to describe, in their own words, the first thing that comes to their mind in connection with these sites, 22% mentioned something related to the concept of freedom of speech, anti-censorship and an alternative to more established social media – far more common than any other type of response.
Alternative social media news consumers are particularly supportive of these concepts. Compared with Americans overall, alternative social media news consumers are more likely to say that freedom of information should be protected – even if it means allowing false information and offensive content online – than they are to say technology companies should take steps to restrict false information. For example, nearly two-thirds of alternative social media news consumers (64%) favor the protection of free speech even if it brings with it some false content, while the majority of all U.S. adults (61%) prefer that tech companies take steps to restrict this kind of content even if it limits freedom of information.
15% of prominent accounts on alternative social media sites were banned elsewhere.
The free speech philosophies of these alternative social media sites have attracted some user accounts that were banned elsewhere. This may be connected to the perception among Americans who are aware of these sites but don’t get news there that the sites host misinformation.
Indeed, 15% of prominent accounts across the seven sites, including Trump’s account, have been indefinitely or permanently suspended, banned or demonetized on more established social media. This is particularly common on BitChute, a video-focused site, where about a third of prominent accounts (35%) have been banned or demonetized elsewhere.
In a number of cases the banning or demonetization was based on evidence that they had spread misinformation and inaccurate information (one example being COVID-19 vaccine skeptic Dr. Robert Malone).
That perception clearly exists among the larger segment of the public that does not use these alternative social media sites for news. When asked to name the first thing that comes to mind when they think of alternative social media sites, adults who have heard about these alternative social media sites but do not get news on them most commonly voice thoughts of inaccuracy and misinformation: 16% of responses. Another 11% of these U.S. adults cite political bias or associate the sites with the political right, and 6% associate alternative social media with extremism or consider them dangerous. Those who get news on these sites are less likely to mention these ideas and more likely to associate them with a lack of censorship or as alternatives to Big Tech.
The content on these sites also raises some questions about the credibility of the information found there. In June 2022, the most prominent accounts commonly linked to digital-only outlets such as The Gateway Pundit, Rebel News, Zero Hedge and Breitbart – each of which have been banned or demonetized by technology companies or other social media sites for misinformation or hate speech. Overall, during this period, there was a clear preference for material from other social media (45% of links) and relatively new, digital-only news sites (20%) rather than legacy news organizations like print publications (4%), radio or podcast sites (1%) or television (1%) sites. In fact, the same share of links went to The Gateway Pundit as to all print publications combined (4%).
Almost all alternative social media sites studied moderate content to some extent and also give users the option to do so.
Notwithstanding their allegiance to free speech, almost all of the sites analyzed have at least some restrictions on content.
Every one of the sites, with the exception of Gab, moderates user content beyond the existing legal requirements to remove illegal content and cooperate with law enforcement requests.1 In some cases, sites have agreed to certain restrictions due to outside pressure from governments or mobile app stores like Apple’s App Store or the Google Play Store. This moderation includes removing posts that may contain violent, racist or offensive content and, in some cases, for the political viewpoint expressed.
In addition, almost all these sites give their users options to control the content they see. Five sites let users block or mute other users from their news feed, six sites let users report either accounts or posts, and four of the sites allow users to block explicit content.
Alternative social media news consumers largely satisfied with news they find there, which is often government and political news they wouldn’t have seen elsewhere.
For many users, these sites are an important source of information about current events – often government and politics news – and they report finding news that they wouldn’t necessarily find elsewhere.
A majority of those who get news on at least one of the seven sites (56%) say a major reason they go to these sites is to stay informed about current events and issues. And much of what they see is government and political news: 52% say this is the most common type of news they come across on these sites.
In general, alternative social media news consumers like their experience there. About half or more of news consumers on Rumble, Truth Social, Telegram and Parler say they are very or somewhat satisfied with the experience of getting news there, and this overall satisfaction extends to their perception of the accuracy of the information they find. Fewer of the news consumers on each of these sites – roughly a quarter or less – say they are dissatisfied with the experience, while the rest say they are neither satisfied nor dissatisfied.
These news consumers also say that much of the news they see on alternative social media sites is information they wouldn’t find elsewhere. Roughly half of news consumers who get news on at least one of the seven sites (52%) say they at least fairly often come across news on these sites that they would not have seen elsewhere, with an additional 32% who sometimes encounter unique news there.
Americans Are More Aware of Some Alternative Social Media Sites Than Others
Overall, 6% of U.S. adults say they regularly get news or news headlines from at least one of seven alternative social media sites – BitChute, Gab, Gettr, Parler, Rumble, Telegram or Truth Social – according to a Pew Research Center survey conducted May 16-22, 2022.
Respondents first were asked whether they had heard of these seven individual alternative social media sites. Some are better known than others, but fewer than half of U.S. adults have heard of each of the seven sites. The public is most familiar with Parler: 38% say they have heard of it. About a quarter of Americans (27%) have heard of Telegram and Truth Social (which was founded by former President Donald Trump), while one-in-five have heard of Rumble and roughly one-in-ten have heard of Gab (11%), Gettr (10%) and BitChute (7%).
If respondents had heard of a site, they were then asked if they regularly get news there. The portion of Americans who get news from these alternative social media sites is very small across the board. For each of the seven alternative social media sites asked about in the survey, the share of U.S. adults who regularly get news there is either 1% or 2%. Altogether, 6% of Americans regularly get news from at least one of the seven alternative social media sites. By comparison, much larger shares of Americans get news regularly from Facebook (28%), YouTube (22%) or Twitter (14%), and 46% get news from at least one of these larger social media sites.2
Although these sites were largely created to be alternatives to the more established social media sites, most Americans who have turned to them for news report that they also still get news on at least one of the more established sites. Indeed, about three-quarters of alternative social media news consumers (73%) also get news from YouTube, Facebook or Twitter – with 46% saying they regularly get news on YouTube and 42% on Facebook, slightly higher than the 30% who do so on Twitter.
People who get news on alternative social media commonly associate the sites with free speech, Big Tech alternatives and lack of censorship.
To get a sense of how Americans view these alternative social media sites, the Center asked respondents an open-ended question. If respondents had heard of any of the alternative social media sites, they were asked to write down the “first thing” that came to mind when they thought about the sites. Overall, the responses indicate that people who regularly get news from alternative social media sites perceive them in a more positive light than those who don’t.
The concept brought up more often than any other by people who use alternative social media for news is that the sites provide a sense of freedom of speech, a lack of censorship and/or an alternative to more established social media sites – similar to the terms these sites use to describe themselves. About one-in-five of those who get news on any of seven alternative social media sites (22%) said something related to these concepts. Examples of these types of responses include:3
- “They allow ALL political parties to have a voice without censoring personal or political parties.”
- “They are trying to deal with the destructive, disgusting censorship that has been the norm in this country.”
- “More freedom of speech (for the normal folk) but less popular (for the elites).”
Smaller portions of those who get news on these sites associate them with accuracy/being unbiased (4%) and community or connection (3%).
Other themes had a more negative connotation – such as inaccuracy, extremism or societal harm, and political bias – and were mentioned by small shares of alternative social media news consumers. But these topics were brought up more often by respondents who don’t get news on any of these sites (but who have heard of at least one of them).
For example, the concept of inaccuracy – including misinformation, conspiracy theories and unreliable information – was brought up by 5% of those who regularly get news on alternative social media sites, compared with 16% of respondents who have heard of these sites but do not get news there. Two respondents who do not regularly get news on these sites said:
- “I think too many of these sites are irresponsible and they can knowingly and unknowingly promote blatantly false information and/or propaganda.”
- “They aren’t a reliable source of information.”
Another 11% of those who don’t use these sites for news associate them with political bias or division, or just with the political right. And 6% of those who don’t get news from these sites say the sites bring to mind extremism and danger. For example, one respondent said that the first thing that came to mind for them regarding these sites is “extreme right wing/conservative and racist white supremacists, and the Jan. 6 riot.” Very few (<1%) of those who actually use these sites for news mentioned extremism or danger.
In a separate analysis, researchers marked which responses mentioned a political ideology. Few responses mentioned any kind of political ideology, but when they did mention one, it more often related to the political right. A small portion of those who have heard of – but don’t get news from – alternative social media sites mentioned the political right (14%), including conservatives and Republicans, while a smaller share of those who get news on these sites (6%) mentioned right-leaning ideology. Very few respondents mentioned the political left or any other political ideology.
Demographics of alternative social media news consumers.
Overall, about two-thirds of those who regularly get news from at least one of the seven alternative social media sites (66%) identify as Republicans or lean toward the Republican Party. This is far higher than the share who identify as Democrats or lean Democratic (33%). In comparison, those who get news on at least one of the three larger social media sites – Facebook, Twitter and YouTube – are more likely to be Democrats or Democratic-leaning than Republican.
Most alternative social media news consumers find a sense of community on these sites, although some experience harassment.
While many alternative social media news consumers say they have found a community on these sites, few say they have formed strong connections there.
Among the 6% of U.S. adults who regularly get news on at least one of the seven alternative social media sites asked about in the survey, roughly two-thirds (65%) say they have found a community of people there who share their views. But far fewer (18%) say they feel extremely or very personally connected to the accounts they engage with on these sites. An additional 42% say they feel somewhat connected to others on the alternative social media sites, while 38% say they feel only a little connected or not at all connected.
Meanwhile, roughly one-in-five news consumers on these sites (19%) say they have ever been harassed or abused there. About eight-in-ten (81%) say they have not had this experience.
By and large, news consumers on Rumble, Parler, Truth Social and Telegram are more likely to characterize discussions there as mostly friendly as opposed to mostly unfriendly.
About seven-in-ten news consumers on Rumble (69%) say that discussions on the site are mostly friendly, as do about six-in-ten on Parler (61%) and Truth Social (59%) and roughly half on Telegram (53%).
Fewer news consumers in each site say the conversations they see there are mostly unfriendly.
Keeping up with current events is a key reason people use these alternative social media sites.
Overall, 56% of people who regularly get news on at least one of these seven sites say a major reason they go there is to stay informed about current events and issues, while 46% say following specific accounts is a major draw for them.
A smaller portion (31%) say discussing issues and events with others is a major reason they use these sites, while about a quarter (24% each) say being entertained or posting content is a major reason.
Government and political news appears to be the dominant news topic on alternative social media sites; 52% of regular news consumers on these sites say this is the type of news they come across most. That is followed by business and finance news and science and technology news (14% each). Roughly one-in-ten of those who get news on at least one of the seven sites – BitChute, Gab, Gettr, Parler, Rumble, Telegram or Truth Social – say they mostly see news about their local community or entertainment (9% each). Another 2% say they mostly see sports news.
Consumers of news on these sites also sense a unique value in the content they come across there. Roughly half (52%) say that they extremely or fairly often see news on these sites that they would not have seen elsewhere. About a third (32%) sometimes do, while a smaller share (16%) rarely or never come across unique news on these sites.
These alternative social media sites also at times lead people to offline activities. A third of those who regularly get news on these sites (33%) say they have participated in a political activity, such as a rally or in-person political discussion, that they found out about on these sites. And a similar portion (36%) report having paid or given money to accounts they follow on these sites by donating, paying for a subscription or purchasing merchandise.
Alternative social media news consumers largely opposed to tech company regulation of false or offensive content if it limits free speech.
The steps, if any, that technology companies should take to manage controversial online content have been intensely debated among the public and governing bodies around the globe the last few years. This new study finds that the 6% of U.S. adults who regularly get news on at least one of seven alternative social media sites are broadly opposed to technology companies restricting both false information and offensive content online. Instead, they generally prefer that people’s freedom to publish and access content is protected, even if it means false and offensive material can be published. These views diverge from those of the public overall – and may help explain the appeal of these sites, which generally say they value free speech over censorship.
Close to two-thirds of Americans who regularly get news on alternative social media sites (64%) say people’s freedom to publish and access information should be protected, even it if means false information can be published. About a third (35%) choose the opposing stance – that technology companies should take steps to restrict false information online, even if it limits people’s freedom to publish and access content.
This is nearly the inverse of the general public’s views: 61% of U.S. adults say tech companies should take steps to restrict false information, while 37% say freedom of information should remain protected.
When it comes to offensive content, Americans overall are slightly more likely to support freedom of information over tech company restrictions. But again, alternative social media news consumers are more likely than U.S. adults overall to take this view. Seven-in-ten alternative social media news consumers say people’s freedoms to publish and access information online should be protected even if it means offensive content can be published, compared with 52% of Americans overall who share this opinion.
An in-depth look at four alternative social media sites finds users generally give positive assessments of their news experiences.
In several key areas, U.S. adults who regularly get news on each of four alternative social media sites with large enough numbers to be analyzed individually (Parler, Rumble, Telegram and Truth Social) express positive overall evaluations of the news experience there.4
About half or more of those who get news on each of these four alternative social media sites are very or somewhat satisfied with the experience of getting news there – 67% of Rumble news consumers say this, as do 57% for Truth Social, 54% for Telegram and 52% for Parler. In each case, about a quarter or fewer say they are dissatisfied with the news experience on these sites, and the rest give a more neutral assessment.
Majorities of alternative social media news consumers also expect the news and information there to be mostly accurate. That includes about nine-in-ten regular news consumers of Rumble (88%) and Truth Social (87%), 75% on Telegram, and 69% on Parler.
Similarly, when it comes to current events, more people who get news on these sites say they help to improve their understanding than say the sites make them more confused. That includes about two-thirds of those who use Rumble (69%), Telegram (68%) and Parler (66%) and 58% of Truth Social news consumers. The portion of news consumers on the four sites who say getting news there makes them more confused about current events is relatively low – ranging from 11% on Telegram to 17% on Truth Social.
Of the three more established sites asked about, YouTube consistently gets more positive evaluations from Americans who regularly get news there than Facebook and Twitter do from their own news consumers, often at similar levels as the alternative social media sites. The evaluations of Facebook are the lowest among these three, and often lower than the evaluations of the four alternative sites. Evaluations of Twitter tend to fall in the middle.
For example, three-in-ten U.S. adults who get news on Facebook say they are very or somewhat satisfied with the experience of getting news there – a smaller share than the news consumers who say the same on all four of the alternative social media sites.
Rumble and Truth Social news consumers are more likely than news consumers on both Twitter and Facebook to say that they expect the news there to be mostly accurate. While close to nine-in-ten Rumble (88%) and Truth Social (87%) news consumers say this, closer to about two-thirds or fewer of Twitter (66%) and Facebook (58%) news consumers do.
News consumers on all four of the alternative social media sites are more likely than those on Facebook to say that news on the site has helped them better understand current events – 31% of Facebook news consumers say this, versus about half or more of news consumers of these four alternative social media sites. And 49% of Twitter news consumers say this, a lower share than two of the alternative social media sites (Rumble and Telegram).
Finally, YouTube news consumers are in general on par with news consumers on the four alternative social media sites to be satisfied getting news there (53% say this), to expect the news on the site to be accurate (77%) and to say that the news there has helped them better understand current events (60%).
Many of those who get news on Parler, Rumble, Telegram and Truth Social interact with news posts; about a third or more post about news.
Among Americans who regularly get news on Parler, Rumble, Telegram and Truth Social, about half or more say they engage in such actions as liking, commenting, sharing or replying to news posts on the site at least sometimes.
Of those sites, about two-thirds of regular news consumers on Telegram (67%) and Truth Social (62%) interact with news posts at least sometimes. The same is true of 55% of Parler news consumers and 50% of Rumble news consumers.
And about a third or more of the regular news consumers on these sites at least sometimes post about news themselves, including 50% of Telegram news consumers, 39% on Truth Social, 38% on Parler and 34% on Rumble.
Alternative Social Media Sites Frequently Identify as Free Speech Advocates
To further understand the structure, features and driving principles of alternative social media sites, Pew Research Center researchers conducted an audit of the seven sites analyzed at length in Chapter 1 of this report – BitChute, Gab, Gettr, Parler, Rumble, Telegram and Truth Social. Researchers visited each site in April 2022, examining characteristics ranging from site design to descriptive labels and privacy protections, and then verified that these findings still held true in September 2022. Sites were selected based on their audience size in December 2021 and their media coverage (see methodology for more details on the site selection process).
While the alternative social media sites studied here have predominantly Republican audiences and, in some cases, have received substantial funding from conservative donors, none state a clear partisan or ideological orientation in their “About” page or similar sections of their websites. Only one site – Truth Social – explicitly describes itself as nonpartisan, saying on its homepage that it “encourages an open, free, and honest global conversation without discriminating against political ideology.” The remaining sites do not mention a political orientation in the sections of their websites examined.
Conversely, all seven of the sites identify themselves as havens for free speech or enemies of censorship. In fact, each explicitly says that it supports free speech, and four (BitChute, Gettr, Parler and Rumble) specifically declare their opposition to censorship. Three sites – Gab, Gettr and Parler – also identify themselves as an alternative to Big Tech.
In expressing their support for freedom of speech, some sites criticize what they describe as “cancel culture.” Rumble, for example, advises readers that as a result of “cancel culture,” it supports “diverse opinions, authentic expression and the need for open dialogue.” Similarly, Gettr states that the site “champions free speech, rejects cancel-culture and provides a … platform for the marketplace of ideas.”
The three sites that explicitly identify themselves as alternatives to Big Tech often criticize those larger sites for not adequately protecting free speech. In describing its intent to “be the home of free speech online,” Gab, for example, notes, “We believe that users of social networks should be able to control their social media experience on their own terms, rather than the terms set down by Big Tech.” Similarly, Gettr invites users to “Be a part of history by joining the millions of Americans who are standing up to Big Tech and fighting for free speech and independent thought.”
Almost all alternative social media sites moderate at least some content and give users the chance to block content themselves.
While freedom of speech is a key element of these sites’ identity, that does not mean there are not any restrictions on the content found there. All but one of the sites studied here (Gab) moderate user content beyond spam or legal requirements – either by removing posts or suspending or banning accounts deemed to be offensive or spreading misinformation.5 Some of the alternative social media sites studied remove posts (or the accounts that share them) for a number of reasons, including because the posts are offensive, contain violent or racist content, contain misinformation or, in some cases, because of their broader political viewpoint. (All of their larger competitors also use some form of moderation to address offensive speech or misinformation.)
Rumble proposed a content moderation policy in June 2022 that included post takedowns and account bans for obscenity, stalking and discrimination. And BitChute published a transparency report in June 2022 that showed what kinds of moderation they have implemented.
Sometimes, sites moderate content at least in part due to outside pressure. For example, Parler’s app was removed from the Google and Apple app stores after the Jan. 6 riots, and only returned to each after adding moderation features requested by Google and Apple. Similarly, in September 2022, Google requested that Truth Social add moderation features to remove violent content before allowing the app on their store. And Telegram removed “far right” and pro-ISIS channels after facing international government pressure and blocked or monitored content in Brazil in response to government requests there (though this content may still be available elsewhere).
Just one site – Gab – does not appear to moderate content in the same way the other sites do. While it does take steps to remove spam and follow legal requirements (such as banning posts that harm or exploit minors or complying with requests from law enforcement) and the site’s terms of service allow users to report threats and other abuse, researchers did not find examples of the site removing posts or accounts due to misinformation or offensive or harassing content. CEO Andrew Torba reportedly told NPR in a 2021 interview that “nobody is going to make him take down messages.” Instead of moderating content, Gab says in the help section of its website that it leaves it up to the user to mute or block accounts they find offensive. This hands-off moderation policy has led several hosting and payment providers to terminate their relationships with the company, especially after the site was linked to a 2018 shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue.
Gab and Telegram also host groups – spaces where users can connect with each other to discuss topics and interests. These sites give group administrators tools to moderate posts within the group. On Telegram, groups and channels are similar and have similar moderation tools.
Many sites also give users control over the kind of content they see. Five sites let users block or mute other users from appearing on their news feed, six let users report either accounts or posts, and four allow users to block explicit content. One site (Gab) allows users to block posts with specific keywords from appearing in their news feed. Rumble, a video-focused site, is the only one that at the time of the study did not provide any of these user-level content moderation options.
In addition to moderating content more broadly, the larger, more established social media sites offer some of these user control features as well. Facebook began offering keyword blocking in 2018, but in 2021 replaced that with a feature that lets users hide specific posts or groups for 30 days; the site also lets users report accounts. Twitter also lets users mute keywords for varying lengths of time, block accounts and report accounts or posts. YouTube does not offer an easy way to block keywords, but does let users report content.
Almost all alternative social media sites emphasize privacy protections, but vary in exactly what they offer.
User privacy on social media has become a flashpoint in recent years, with critics of social media sites raising concerns over the way those sites use user data and the tools users have to control who can see what they do online.
The number and nature of protections vary significantly from site to site, with Telegram, Gab and Parler offering the most privacy features.
When the study was conducted, the most commonly offered privacy protection related to user data. Five of the seven sites examined say they do not sell user data (Gettr and Rumble are the only sites that do not promise this – they may or may not sell user data, but their privacy policies do not guarantee they will not). But even if most sites do not sell user data, there are other ways that users’ personal information could come into the hands of other entities. For example, sites can also share data with partners (including other companies) without charging for it and often without informing the user. Just one of these sites, Telegram, explicitly states that they do not do this.
Sites can also use the data they collect to sell third-party targeted ads, which allow advertisers to select the users they wish to reach based on detailed demographic information. Three of the seven alternative social media sites – Gab, Parler and Telegram – indicate that they will not sell third-party targeted ads.
A few of the sites studied offer other privacy features. Four of them – Gab, Gettr, Parler, Telegram – give users the ability to modify their privacy settings and allow users to control who can access their posts. Two of the sites – Parler and Telegram – also give users control over who can comment on their posts. And two – Gab and Telegram – give users the option of making their account completely private so that it does not come up in searches.
Aside from specific privacy protections, these sites also vary in the amount of information they ask for from their users. Beyond a username, which five of the seven sites ask for, four require an email address, two (Telegram and Truth Social) require a phone number, and two (Gettr and Parler) require either an email address or phone number. Two sites – Gettr and Truth Social – also require an age and birthdate in order to set up an account (see methodology for more details on how researchers determined what information is required to create an account in each site).
The privacy protections on more established social media sites are mixed. While Facebook, Twitter and YouTube say they do not sell user data, all three sites share user data with partners, although Facebook and YouTube seek permission from the user to do so. And all three sites offer targeted third-party ads – an often-criticized practice that personalizes ads based on user profiles.
Even when not sold or shared, the broad scope of data these sites can collect about users both on and off the site has prompted concerns from users and observers. But Facebook, Twitter and YouTube all offer some controls to the user over what information is shared, such as control over who can access their posts.
Most sites linked to high-profile backers; some sites also use other revenue streams.
High-profile backers are linked to a majority of the alternative social media sites studied here, according to media coverage, which has connected some high-profile conservatives, tech entrepreneurs and others, to five of the seven sites examined here.
Major donors to Parler include a member of the Mercer family, which has backed conservative organizations such as The Heritage Foundation and Breitbart. Rumble’s investors include Ohio Republican U.S. Senate candidate J.D. Vance, venture capitalist and political donor Peter Thiel, and radio, podcast and Fox News host Dan Bongino. Truth Social was launched by former President Donald Trump after he was “indefinitely” or “permanently” suspended by Facebook and Twitter, a venture that was connected to a Special Purpose Acquisition Company (SPAC) that reportedly raised $1 billion.
Telegram is largely funded by CEO Pavel Durov, a Russian-born billionaire who currently lives in Dubai. A key investor in Gettr was China-born billionaire Guo Wengui, an outspoken critic of the Chinese government and colleague of former Trump adviser Steve Bannon.
Six sites (four of which are also among those with high-profile backers) also sell advertisements or have other revenue streams – from selling T-shirts to accepting donations or offering account upgrades. Two of the sites that are not connected to high-profile backers (BitChute and Gab) are the two employing the widest range of other revenue streams.
Account upgrades, subscriptions or advertising are the most common revenue streams. BitChute, Gab, Rumble and Telegram all offer some form of account upgrade. BitChute, for example, offers users bronze, silver and gold membership options, with each option increasing the number of channels an account can host, while Rumble has a similar series of account upgrades and packages largely aimed at content creators. Telegram’s premium upgrade relaxes limitations on storage and downloads and adds premium stickers and other features, while Gab also offers an account upgrade that removes ads and enables other features.
In addition, four of these sites – BitChute, Gab, Rumble and Telegram – sell advertising, either on the site itself (such as in the post feed) or in videos. Two sites – BitChute and Gab – accept user donations, including in cryptocurrency such as bitcoin. Parler is also exploring crypto as a revenue source through a non-fungible token (NFT) marketplace it hosts called DeepRedSky, which features NFTs from Parler itself as well as partners like The Babylon Bee.
Gab, Parler and Truth Social sell merchandise as another way to generate revenue. The Gab Dissenter Shop sells T-shirts, hats and accessories with various slogans, such as “Faith, Family, Freedom” and “Free Speech.” Parler sells similar merchandise tied closely to the theme of free speech, bearing slogans such as “STOP being silenced” and “I will not be cancelled.” The Truth Social store sells coffee mugs, drink koozies, and apparel branded with the word “Truth.”
Rumble has developed an additional set of revenue streams – selling infrastructure and advertisement services to Truth Social (as of mid-September 2022, it does not appear that Truth Social has activated this feature).
Alternative social media sites vary in how they organize user content.
Like their larger, more established peers, alternative social media sites vary in their basic structure. Most of these differences are rooted in the format of content that users can post and the ways in which sites present those posts and replies.
Two sites – BitChute and Rumble – focus on videos. The main pages of these sites show videos in a grid, with featured videos at the top.
Among the five sites that host a wider range of content, distinctions lie in the way they organize those posts as well as in the community and promotional tools they offer.
At the time of the study, four of these sites are organized around a central list of posts from accounts, groups or pages the user follows (the “feed”). On desktop, the main pages of these sites tend to have a two- or three-column layout with the feed in the middle and other features (such as navigation or featured or suggested posts) on the right or left.
Despite the similar layout, these sites differ in key ways, particularly the length of posts, the customizability of the profile page and the presence of different community features. Gettr, Parler and Truth Social each limit the length of their posts to 1,000 characters or fewer, offer limited space for users to customize their profile page, and do not have functionality for groups, which are spaces for users to discuss topics and interests with other users. Gab allows longer post lengths and groups, and posts in groups do not appear to be integrated into the feed.
Sites also differ in how they organize their feed. Of the four sites that use this layout, three organize content in a chronological feed, in which the most recent posts are shown first. Gab offers both a chronological feed and an algorithmic feed that shows trending posts (some sites list trending posts separately).
Lastly, Telegram uses a chat model and does not have an aggregated feed; users have to view each channel they subscribe to on its own.
All alternative social media sites studied available on web, most available through apps.
Like most other social media sites, users can access any of these sites through a web browser, and generally can read posts, search and publish their own posts. Five have iOS apps, while four have apps available in the Google Play store.
Some sites do not have apps for mobile devices. Apple and Google, which are the main sources of apps for iOS and Android devices, control what apps are available on their individual stores and have publicly expressed concerns about the content on some of these alternative social media sites.
After the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol, both companies temporarily pulled Parler off of their stores because organizers reportedly used the app to help plan the riot (Parler also was dropped by its internet hosting service). Parler returned to the Apple App Store later that year after enhancing its content moderation and did not return to the Google Play Store until September 2022. Truth Social also has an app available on the Apple App Store, but as of September 2022 Google has requested more moderation before allowing it on their Play Store.
Google removed Gab for hate speech in 2017, while Apple has repeatedly rejected the app for similar reasons. And in August 2022, Telegram CEO Pavel Durov said that Apple was delaying approval of an update to the Telegram mobile app, though this turned out to be because Apple objected to a new feature.
Prominent Accounts on Alternative Social Media Sites Are Mostly Individuals, Not Organizations
In addition to a site’s ideals, principles, features and policies, the content visitors find on each site is shaped by the accounts that post there. This section examines a sample of 200 of the most prominent accounts – measured by the number of followers – on each of the seven alternative social media sites studied: BitChute, Gab, Gettr, Parler, Rumble, Telegram and Truth Social. (As a sample, this is not the top 200 most-followed accounts; see methodology for more details on the sampling method.)
Out of this sample of 1,400 prominent accounts across the seven sites, 83% are run by individuals. These individuals can either be a single person with a noted affiliation to an organization or one without any organizational affiliation. In most cases, these are individuals without any declared affiliation (74% of all prominent accounts).
Among all prominent accounts on these alternative social media sites, one-in-ten are individuals with a clear past or present affiliation with an organization. This includes everything from journalists like former Fox News and current Sirius XM host Megyn Kelly to activists like Turning Point USA President Charlie Kirk, and from political figures like House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy or former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani to conspiracy theorists like Infowars’ Alex Jones.
Accounts run directly by organizations make up 12% of the prominent accounts on these sites. About four-in-ten of these institutional accounts (38%) are affiliated with private companies, such as cryptocurrency-focused corporations, while a similar share (37%) are news organizations. Roughly a quarter of all prominent organizational accounts (26%) are digital-only news outlets like the Daily Caller and Digital Trends, while 10% are outlets such as print news organizations (e.g., The New York Times and New York Post) or TV outlets (e.g., Newsmax). Nonprofit and advocacy organizations like The Heritage Foundation or Project Veritas comprise 14% of these organizational accounts.
Another 5% of all prominent accounts across the seven sites are bots, fan accounts or other types of accounts.
The balance of individual and organizational accounts varies among the different sites. At least nine-in-ten prominent accounts on Truth Social (94%), Gettr (92%) and Gab (91%) are run by individuals, while individuals comprise a much smaller majority of the prominent accounts on Telegram (56%).
On some of these sites, including Truth Social and Gab, virtually all of the prominent individual accounts are people without a stated affiliation. But in other cases, substantial shares of the most prominent accounts are run by people linked to an elected office, news organization or other group.
Rumble has the highest proportion of individual accounts that are affiliated with organizations (21%); this includes political commentators like YouTuber and former Vice Media journalist Tim Pool and The Daily Wire’s Ben Shapiro as well as politicians like former U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard or Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. Parler (15%) and Gettr (14%) have the next largest shares of prominent accounts that are individuals who are affiliated with an organization. Individuals with affiliations on Parler include U.S. politicians like U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan as well as political commentator Dinesh D’Souza, while those on Gettr include The Babylon Bee CEO Seth Dillon and politicians like Rep. Elise Stefanik and Arizona state Rep. Mark Finchem, who is currently running for secretary of state there.
Telegram stands out as having a much higher proportion of organizational accounts than any other alternative social media site. A third of the prominent accounts on Telegram (33%) are official accounts of organizations. These are largely cryptocurrency companies, which use their Telegram channels to communicate with their customers and followers. Rumble has the second-largest share of organizational accounts (21%), which are largely outlets like One America News Network and the Daily Caller.
Roughly one-quarter of prominent accounts express right-leaning political orientation or support for Trump in profiles.
Political appeals are common across the different types of prominent accounts on these sites, but they often are not presented in traditional ideological or partisan language.
To determine the political orientation and other values and identities expressed by these accounts, researchers looked at the banner image, profile photo, bio and other elements of the account profile page. The content of the posts themselves were not assessed.6
About half (54%) of prominent accounts appeal to some kind of value or political orientation in their profiles (the short descriptions that often appear under the account name).
The most common of these appeals was right-leaning: 26% of prominent accounts expressed some kind of right-leaning or pro-Trump sentiment, more of which centered around former President Donald Trump or his “Make America Great Again” movement than around the Republican Party or conservative ideology. One example of a right-leaning orientation is the profile of North Carolina Rep. Madison Cawthorn, who ran for reelection in a Republican primary contest earlier this year. In the bio of his Telegram account, he identifies himself as a “Conservative, Business Owner [and] Political Activist.” And Catholic priest and anti-abortion activist Father Frank Pavone expresses his pro-Trump sentiments on his Gettr account by including his leadership in “ProLife Voices for Trump” in his bio and wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat in his profile photo.
Other values or identities are also common. About one-in-five prominent accounts (21%) express pro-America or patriotic values, while the same share express a religious identity. Smaller shares identify with freedom or liberty as values (7%), express pro-gun or pro-Second Amendment sentiments (6%), or support the set of conspiracy theories known as QAnon (6%). While support for free speech is a primary value the alternative social media sites use to describe themselves, just 4% of the most prominent accounts across the sites mention this in their profiles. Additionally, about one-in-five accounts (22%) express a variety of other values, such as opposition to Big Tech, opposition to mainstream media, and ethnic identity.
Looking across alternative social media sites, it is far more common for prominent accounts to express a political orientation or value or identity appeal on some sites than others. Roughly two-thirds of prominent accounts or more include a value in their profile on Truth Social, Gab, Gettr or Parler. In comparison, fewer than half of accounts on BitChute, Telegram and Rumble express these appeals.
About half of prominent accounts on Truth Social (49%) – a site founded by former President Trump – are right-leaning or express support for Trump in their profiles. The same is true of 44% of accounts on Parler, a site used by organizers to help plan the Jan. 6, 2021, riots at the U.S. Capitol. Roughly one-third of Gettr (36%) and Gab (35%) accounts include right-leaning or pro-Trump appeals. Much smaller shares of prominent accounts on Telegram, Rumble or BitChute include this kind of language or iconography.
Religious identities and patriotic appeals are also common on Truth Social and Gab, where about four-in-ten accounts express these values in their profiles.
About one-third of prominent accounts on BitChute have been banned or demonetized by other social media sites.
Former President Donald Trump is likely the most notable person connected with these alternative social media sites to be banned or suspended from more established social media sites: He launched Truth Social after being “indefinitely” or “permanently” suspended from Facebook and Twitter.
But he is not alone. This study found that 15% of prominent accounts on these alternative social media sites had their account on another social media site banned or demonetized (i.e., had their access to revenue-sharing partnerships like advertising revoked).
BitChute is the site with by far the highest percentage of accounts that saw their accounts on other social media sites banned or demonetized, at about one-third of its prominent accounts (35%). Rumble is next, with about one-fifth of its prominent accounts having been previously banned or demonetized elsewhere (22%). And about one-in-ten accounts on Gettr (13%), Gab (12%), Parler (12%) and Telegram (12%) have been banned or demonetized elsewhere.
Despite Trump’s experience, Truth Social has the lowest percentage of banned accounts, at 3%.
About one-in-five prominent alternative social media accounts solicit funds from their followers.
There are multiple ways for social media content creators to fund their work, from revenue sharing with the site itself to asking their audience to subscribe or offer donations. (Many of the alternative social media sites studied here also ask for donations themselves.)
About one-in-five prominent accounts across the seven sites (19%) turn directly to their followers for support by asking for donations or offering paid subscriptions. A 2020 study found that 41% of popular YouTube news channels also did this.
Prominent accounts that accept donations and subscriptions tend to use external sites to streamline that process. The most common method is subscription sites such as Patreon and locals.com (8% of all prominent accounts), while a small share of accounts (3%) also accept cryptocurrency like bitcoin. One-in-ten accounts accept donations from a range of other avenues, including direct donation apps like PayPal or fundraising sites like GoFundMe.
Two sites – BitChute and Rumble – stand out for having particularly large shares of prominent accounts that solicit funds from their followers; these also are the two sites that focus entirely on video content, which often has high production costs. More than half of BitChute accounts (57%) ask for donations, as do about four-in-ten accounts on Rumble (39%). About one-in-five accounts on BitChute (22%) use Patreon, while the same percentage of accounts on Rumble instead opt for locals.com, a partner of Rumble.
Some accounts also raise money through selling branded merchandise like T-shirts and mugs to their followers. Across the alternative social media sites studied, 7% of prominent accounts sell branded merchandise. Like donations and subscriptions, this is more common on video-focused sites: About a quarter of prominent accounts on Rumble (24%) sell merchandise, as do 13% on BitChute.
About one-in-five of these prominent accounts link to their accounts on more established social media.
With relatively small user bases on each of the alternative social media sites, just over four-in-ten prominent accounts on alternative social media sites (44%) link to another online presence.
To determine whether accounts promoted any external presence, researchers looked at the links on the account’s profile page. Researchers did not use any search engines or look on other platforms for accounts.
The most common form of this promoted presence is a personal or business website, with 23% of the accounts including it on their profiles. And though alternative social media sites often are viewed as a refuge for those who feel they don’t belong on the more established sites – or were banned from them – about one-in-five of the prominent accounts across sites (19%) still promote the accounts they have on larger sites like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.
An identical share of accounts (19%) also share links to the accounts they have on other alternative social media sites (or in some instances, accounts on the same platform, such as a company with a Telegram account linking to their support account).
Majorities of prominent accounts on three sites – BitChute, Telegram and Rumble – link to an external presence.
Nearly three-quarters of prominent BitChute accounts (72%) link to another online presence, as do just over half on the other video-focused site, Rumble (55%). Accounts on these sites often link to other video sites (28% of BitChute and 33% of Rumble accounts), including more established sites like YouTube and Vimeo. These links include referrals to “backup” accounts – in case their account is banned – or affiliated accounts connected to the same individual or organization (e.g., some organizational accounts link to the personal accounts of their hosts).
Prominent accounts on Rumble are more than twice as likely to promote more established social media sites than alternative ones (44% vs. 16%). On BitChute, meanwhile, established and alternative social media sites are promoted by an equal share of prominent accounts (38% each).
Roughly six-in-ten of the prominent accounts on Telegram also promote links to other online presences in their profile. For example, 31% of prominent accounts promote their websites and 36% link to their other accounts within Telegram. This is partly due to the large presence of cryptocurrency company accounts on the platform, which often link to their business websites and other accounts. Prominent accounts on Telegram are also more likely to link to their online presence on alternative social media sites (39%) than on more established social media sites (26%).
Prominent accounts on Truth Social are the least likely to share links to other online presences, at 12%.
Content from Prominent Alternative Social Media Accounts Highlights Extreme Vaccine Skepticism, Anxiety over LGBTQ+ Issues
Along with identifying samples of 200 accounts with the largest number of followers on each of seven alternative social media sites, Pew Research Center also collected all of the posts produced by these accounts from June 1 to 30, 2022. (For more details on how this data collection was conducted, see the methodology.)
These prominent accounts exhibited a number of differences in their basic posting behavior across sites – including whether they produced any posts at all during the month. At least 97% of prominent accounts on BitChute and Telegram were active in June. But on Parler, just 105 of the 200 prominent accounts identified published at least one post during the month.
These prominent accounts produced a sizable volume of content over the study period: a total of more than 585,000 posts across the seven sites. And the number of posts produced on each site varied in ways often tied to the structure and format of the platforms themselves. Prominent accounts on the chat-oriented site Telegram, for instance, produced by far the most individual posts – more than 275,000 in the month of June alone. Prominent users on video-focused sites like BitChute and Rumble, meanwhile, produced only about one-twentieth as many posts in the same time period.
Across all the sites, though, a minority of highly active users were responsible for a disproportionate share of the posts from these prominent accounts. The 20 most active prominent accounts on each site produced at least 46% – and as much as 80% – of all the posts the Center collected during the month of June. This sort of top-heavy posting behavior is a common feature of many online platforms that the Center has examined in its previous research.
Prominent accounts that posted during the month of June engaged in widespread discussion of topics like guns, abortion and vaccines.
To examine the nature of the topical discussion among these prominent accounts, researchers used a keyword-based approach to identify posts mentioning five broad issues linked to contemporaneous news events or ongoing social developments. They then calculated the share of “active accounts” on each platform – those that posted something during the month – who mentioned each topic at least once.7
The topics examined were:
- Abortion (including the Supreme Court decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization that overturned Roe v. Wade)
- Guns, gun control and shootings
- LGBTQ issues
- The Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol (and related hearings)
All five of these topics received considerable attention across the sites: Each topic was mentioned by at least a quarter of active prominent accounts on every site, and in many cases these topics were discussed by a majority of accounts.
While there were some site-level differences in the overall share of active accounts who engaged with these topics, the issue of guns and gun rights was an especially popular subject area among prominent accounts on nearly all of these sites. Of the topics examined, guns were discussed by the largest share of active accounts on five of these seven sites and by the second-largest share on another.
Discussion of the Jan. 6 attack, in contrast, exhibited more variation across platforms. The Jan. 6 attack was the least-discussed of these topics on three platforms (BitChute, Gab and Telegram), but was the second-most discussed – after guns and gun rights – on Parler and Truth Social. The Jan. 6 attack was mentioned by at least half of active prominent accounts during the month on Parler and Truth Social, as well as on Gab – where each of the five topics was discussed by two-thirds or more of active prominent accounts in June.
Discussion of LGBTQ issues was also common. A majority of active prominent accounts discussed this topic on both Gab and Truth Social, while more than four-in-ten such accounts mentioned it on Parler, Telegram, BitChute and Rumble. On only one platform (Gettr) was it the least mentioned of the five topics examined in the analysis.
Phrases used to discuss these topics highlight non-mainstream worldviews and sometimes offensive language.
The words used by prominent alternative social media accounts to discuss issues such as vaccines or the Jan. 6 attack help reveal the unique language, issues of salience and influential figures within these online spaces. After identifying and measuring the prevalence of these topics at a broad level, researchers collected all the posts on each platform mentioning each topic. They then calculated the most common two- or three-word phrases (“bi-grams” or “tri-grams”) contained in these posts. (See the methodology for more details.)
Like many collections of unstructured discussion, the posts about any given topic contained a wide range of terms and phrasings. With some exceptions, the most common expressions within topics typically were mentioned in anywhere from 1% to 10% of all posts mentioning that topic. Even in these relatively small percentages, though, many common themes stand out. (See Appendix C for a full list of the top phrases within posts about each topic, as well as their prevalence.)
The Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol and related hearings: Discussion of real-time events mixed with contempt for the process.
When these prominent accounts discussed the Jan. 6 attack, they often mentioned individuals (former President Donald Trump, House select committee member Rep. Liz Cheney) or entities (such as the Capitol Police and Secret Service) who were involved on the day of the attack or referenced in the congressional hearings happening at the time of the data collection.
In addition to discussing factual elements of the Jan. 6 attack and subsequent hearings, many common phrases used in these posts also demonstrate the extent to which the prominent accounts on these alternative social media sites disagreed vehemently with the fundamental legitimacy of the proceedings. The term “political prisoner” appeared in the 15 most-mentioned phrases in posts about these events on all seven alternative social media sites, while “unselect committee” and “witch hunt” each appeared among the most-used terms on four sites. Other common terms in these posts, depending on the site, included “DC gulag,” “sham hearing,” “deep state” and “kangaroo court.”
Vaccines: Frequent references to extreme vaccine skeptics and potential risks of vaccination.
The most-mentioned phrases in vaccine-related posts from these prominent accounts suggest a deep skepticism about vaccines and the supposed risks of vaccination. The most common terms in these posts regularly mentioned generalized, unspecified risks like “side effect” and “adverse reaction,” as well as specific if rare conditions potentially caused by vaccines like “blood clot” and “heart inflammation.” They also included diseases or symptoms that the current medical literature finds little evidence of being linked to vaccines, such as “[sudden adult] death syndrome” or “sperm count.”
These common phrases also prominently featured the names of several influential vaccine deniers. The name of author and journalist Naomi Wolf – whose Twitter account was suspended in June 2021 for repeatedly posting misinformation about COVID-19 vaccines – was among the most mentioned vaccine-related terms on four of these seven sites. And discussions of vaccines on BitChute and Rumble often mentioned Stew Peters (a former bounty hunter-turned-radio host who has produced a documentary that associates COVID-19 vaccines with satanic forces), as well as conservative influencer Dr. Jane Ruby, who has promoted the false claim that COVID-19 vaccines are composed entirely of foreign substances, and that “there’s no other reason for this to be in here except to murder people.”
Other prevalent terms referenced conspiracy theories about the nefarious purposes of the COVID-19 vaccines (“Bill Gates”) or the source of the COVID-19 virus itself (“Wuhan coronavirus,” “CCP [Chinese Communist Party] virus”).
Abortion: Focus on law and policy after Dobbs ruling.
More than the rest of these topics, discussion of abortion was dominated by a singular entity. “Supreme Court” was the most-mentioned phrase within these posts by a substantial margin, appearing in as many as 32% of abortion-related posts depending on the site – a reflection of the Supreme Court’s Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization ruling that was leaked in early May 2022 before its June 24 release. Other common phrases in these posts across sites included “Planned Parenthood,” “[crisis] pregnancy centers,” and “killing babies.”
Gun control: Discussion of high-profile shootings and Supreme Court rulings, worries about new gun control efforts.
Similarly, many common terms in posts mentioning guns referenced contemporaneous events like the May 24 school shooting in Uvalde, Texas (“Robb Elementary,” “police chief”) or the June 23 Supreme Court ruling striking down New York state’s concealed carry weapons law (“Supreme Court,” “New York,” “concealed carry”). Another common set of terms were related to concern and opposition to potential gun control regulations or restrictions. These included phrases like “take away [our guns],” “false flag” and “Matthew McConaughey” (who made several speeches and lobbying efforts on behalf of gun control efforts in the weeks following the Uvalde school shooting).
LGBTQ issues: Concerns over children and ‘drag queen story hour’.
Posts from these prominent accounts mentioning LGBTQ issues covered a number of topics and concerns, but frequently focused on perceived threats or dangers to children. Some 10% of all posts mentioning LGBTQ issues across these seven platforms included words related to pedophilia (such as “pedo”) or child grooming (such as “groomer”). Other terms that appeared in these top phrases included “protect child,” “[number] year old,” and “child pornography.”
Another common issue of focus were so-called drag queen story hours: family-oriented events featuring drag performers, a number of which were the site of protests and occasionally violent confrontations in the spring and summer of 2022. The phrase “story hour” was among the 15 most-used phrases in posts mentioning this topic on six of these seven sites. And the phrase “Pizza Hut” – a reference to a viral controversy over a children’s reading club that included a book about a drag performer – was the single-most frequently mentioned phrase in these posts on Truth Social.
A third group of common phrases in these posts indicated concern over transgender issues and changing norms of gender identity. Roughly one-quarter of all such posts about LGBTQ issues by these prominent accounts (24%) included the word “trans.” And on four of the seven sites, the top 15 terms included references to transgender athletes competing in women’s sports.
These posts also frequently mentioned journalists, politicians and other figures who have prominently spoken out against changing gender norms, or against expanded rights and greater public acceptance for LGBTQ individuals.
These prominent accounts often linked to other social media platforms, established and alternative alike – but rarely to traditional media outlets.
In the month of June, the prominent accounts examined in this analysis posted a total of 359,037 discrete links to 9,075 unique web domains. Around one-quarter of all posts produced by these accounts during the month (27%) included at least one link.
In an effort to understand the types of online entities these prominent accounts directed their audiences toward, researchers from the Center collected and classified every domain that was shared at least 100 times during the month. A total of 345 domains met this condition, and they accounted for 84% of all links shared by these accounts during the study period. These domains were then categorized in a method similar to the one used in the Center’s 2018 analysis of immigration-related tweets, as well as its 2020 examination of COVID-19 posts in public Facebook groups.
This analysis finds that social media sites – both established and alternative – are central to the link-sharing habits of these popular accounts. Fully 45% of all links to popular domains shared by these accounts went to some type of social media site, including around a quarter (24%) that pointed to more established sites such as YouTube or Twitter. Another 15% went to alternative social media sites that were included in this study – while 6% went to other alternative social media sites like odysee.com that were not included in this report.
Beyond social media, one-in-five of these links went to digital-only news organizations, while another 8% went to blogs. All told, nearly three-quarters of all links to popular domains from these accounts (73%) went to these four categories (more established social media, alternative social media, digital-only news and blogs).
By contrast, it was rare for these prominent accounts to link directly to legacy media sources. Just 4% of these links went to the online presences of print publications, and 1% went to TV station websites.
This abundance of links to the social web and digital-native news organizations – and paucity of links to legacy media sources – represents a stark divergence from the link-sharing habits in other online spaces the Center has examined. In the Center’s study of COVID-19 posts on public Facebook groups, more than four-in-ten posts containing links directed readers to either the website of a TV station (28%) or a print publication (15%). Meanwhile, just 9% of such posts contained links to other social media sites. And in the Center’s study of immigration posts on Twitter, legacy news organizations such as print, TV and radio accounted for 28% of linked sites – double the share for digital-only news organizations (14%). Even acknowledging the differences in these studies – including the methods, time frame and topical orientation – the stark variation in these findings is striking.
Social media sites and digital-only publishers are the most common individual domains in links from prominent alternative social media accounts.
In addition to grouping these domains into categories, researchers also examined the most popular individual domains based on the share of all links that directed readers or viewers to those sites. (For the top domains across each individual alternative social platform, see Appendix C.)
Three digital-only publishers – The Gateway Pundit, Rebel News and Breitbart – appeared in the 15 most-linked domains across the seven platforms. Indeed, 8% of all the links shared by these prominent accounts over the month of June went to these three platforms – with 4% of all links going to The Gateway Pundit alone. The rest of the domains in the top 15 consisted primarily of social media sites, whether established or alternative.
And the 15 most-linked domains contained only one outlet that began as a print publication: The Epoch Times.
- Gab takes steps to remove spam and follow legal requirements (such as banning posts that harm or exploit minors or complying with requests from law enforcement) and its terms of service encourage users to report threats and other abuse. However, researchers did not find examples of the site removing posts or accounts due to offensive or harassing content.
- These figures are from the May 2022 survey. See July-August 2022 data on social media and news.
- Some quotes have been lightly edited for clarity.
- News consumers on BitChute, Gab and Gettr are not analyzed here due to insufficient sample size.
- To determine if a site moderates content, researchers looked for any moderation policy on the site and searched for news coverage of the site removing any posts or suspending or banning any accounts.
- Rumble does not provide a bio section for accounts, so many put this information in their post descriptions. For this site, the five most recent posts were examined.
- Keywords were matched against the text of posts and the title, description, and URL of any links. Content within videos was not included. See the methodology for the list of specific keywords used to identify these topics.
Originally published by Pew Research Center, 10.06.2022, reprinted with permission for non-commercial, educational purposes.