#parent | #kids | I tried four social media networks attracting right-wing users

On the heels of a deadly insurrection at the U.S. Capitol during the certification of the 2020 election, Amazon booted social media app Parler from its web hosting services at midnight on Monday. In the waning hours of the app, Congressman Devin Nunes posted regular updates counting down the hours until its demise. He, and other users, bemoaned a supposed infringement of free speech while expressing the standard vitriol for Democrats typically found on the platform. Both Apple and Google’s app stores also recently banned Parler, which purportedly played an instrumental role in organizing plans for the gathering and ensuing riot Jan. 6. Without hosting or distribution, Parler is offline for at least a number of weeks, and possibly for good, raising the question of who might fill its shoes.

As the app did its best Titanic impression, entities such as the Proud Boys and Diamond and Silk scrambled to keep their revenue-generating audiences by plugging other social channels to join, which may lend a clue as to where users are headed. One such platform, Gab, is also banned from both the Apple and Google Play stores, but maintains a web portal for users. With a higher barrier to access, Gab is an unlikely landing spot for average Parler users, but may congregate the most radical among the ousted.

Gab itself went through the same ordeal as Parler, when GoDaddy pulled the site’s hosting after a user made violent posts to the platform before gunning down 11 people at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh in 2018. In light of that fact, it’s fair to wonder if apps like this are doomed to a cycle of failure. Though the idea of the “First Amendment” gets batted about often in conversations about fringe social media apps, the amendment restricts Congress from making laws “abridging free speech,” but says nothing about private companies’ ability to create their own terms of service.

Further, (buckle up for this one) not all speech is protected according to the Constitution. If you make a statement that leads to violence or causes harm to others, or use false statements to damage someone’s reputation, you can be held legally responsible. Section 230 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 grants some amount of immunity to social media platforms even when its users behave badly, but that doesn’t prevent companies from incurring the wrath of the public when they believe sites aren’t doing enough to curb disinformation and violent rhetoric.

Other than Gab, several other social media apps came up in posts the night Parler went down. Both noteworthy personalities and average users alike encouraged others to join MeWe and Rumble. Additionally, a new app that just launched last summer called Wimkin has caught the attention of right-wing thinkers and disenfranchised Parler users.

Screenshots from the social media app MeWe.

Courtesy of Bryan C. Parker


As of early Monday morning, MeWe was in the top 5 free apps in the Apple App Store, but has since trailed off. MeWe is most like Facebook. It’s centered around a profile page that you can customize and a timeline you can post to. Overall, the app is well-designed, fairly intuitive, and the direct messaging interface is user-friendly. The app derives its name from the function of front camera selfies (Me) and rear camera photos (We) to be posted with an expiration time, so they disappear automatically. The app heavily emphasizes joining and interacting in groups, which drive users’ timelines and activity.

As soon as you create an account (an easy process involving a verified email address), you’re prompted to invite friends, explore open groups (as opposed to invite-only ones), design a profile or start a private group. Unlike Parler’s clear right-wing slant, the topics for groups are much more innocuous, ranging from music to food to politics. However, the featured pages are slightly less balanced; you’ll find the New York Times and BBC News there, but also Newsmax and popular Donald Trump devotees Diamond and Silk.

After joining a group, posts from those pages will show up in your timeline feed. You’ll also be added to a chat thread accessible to all the members of the group (which can be disabled). And this is where MeWe gets pretty MeWeird. For starters, users aren’t announced, so someone could pop into the chat and lurk while everyone else talks. Some of the chats seem entirely dead, but most of the ones involving right politics brim with activity.

After scrolling through dozens of similarly-themed accounts, I join one called MAGA Patriot Party where users dismiss Capitol insurgents as “actors” and brag about not wearing masks in public. Then, someone starts a rash of posting photos of personal arsenals, which ranges from small pistols to several machine guns. Other groups require a request to join along with a series of questions, making it much more difficult to access chat rooms to see what’s going on.

Following the attack on the Capitol, MeWe released a statement pointing to their terms of service, which prohibit “inciting violence,” and founder Mark Weinstein posted that MeWe is not an “anything goes” site. On its face, MeWe doesn’t appear to be the next Parler, but an influx of new users could change that.

Screenshots from the social media app Rumble.
Screenshots from the social media app Rumble.

Courtesy of Bryan C. Parker


A video platform billed as an alternative to YouTube, Rumble is far more insidious and brazen in its approach. A quick email registration gets you onto the site where you are greeted with “recommended channels” to follow: Fox News anchor Sean Hannity, conservative YouTube stars the HodgeTwins, Devin Nunes, Newsmax or OAN. Reuters is the lone name I see regarded as objective.

Rumble seems to primarily exist to generate revenue for content creators. Users upload videos that are then licensed to Rumble’s partners such as Yahoo! and MSN, and money is deposited directly into your account on Rumble. This is so central to the platform that an “Earnings” tab is one of five main tabs in the interface. Users can also win a daily cash drawing by swiping left or right to vote on videos and earn tickets. The more tickets you have, the more entries in the drawing. I felt one step away from being handed a box of Tupperware to sell, but I swiped through a few anyway. Republican Matt Gaetz yelling about liberals on the House floor, an address from President Trump, a dimly lit guy in an army helmet drinking a toast to the Battle of the Bulge and showing off a vintage machine gun clip. You get the idea. If you’d like a channel to the right of Fox News in an app format, you’ve come to the correct place.

Screenshots from the social media app Wimkin.
Screenshots from the social media app Wimkin.

Courtesy of Bryan C. Parker


Between the moment I downloaded the Wimkin app and the moment I began writing this article, Wimkin was removed from the Apple App Store, but with the app already on my phone, I was still able to use it. It has subsequently been removed from Google Play and put offline by “a massive DDOS attack,” so the future of the service is uncertain at best.

Billing itself loudly as “No fact checking social media,” Wimkin functions like a mashup of Facebook and Twitter, with users primarily posting content to a wider audience of other users, but also able to join groups, as well as to interact with posts by liking and commenting on them.

Surprisingly, without curating a feed or following pages or friends, a ready-made timeline of content appeared as soon as I opened the app. “BE READY AND WALK WITH YOU’RE [sic] EYES OPEN… Starting 1-18-2021 and STAND UP AND WIPE UM OUT!” read one post. I can’t be sure who “UM” is, but I have some guesses.

Wimkin stands apart from others with its overt fringe content, such as QAnon discourse, which pervades public posts. The app’s groups section provides some greater sense of normalcy (e.g., pets and travel) but QAnon has its own section here. And those groups contained more members than most. Less navigable and cleanly designed than MeWe, Wimkin is also far less populated, and being removed from Apple’s store won’t help. It’s the most Parler-like app I saw but appears to be headed for the same fate.

Screenshots from the social media app Telegram.
Screenshots from the social media app Telegram.

Courtesy of Bryan C. Parker


An app that got repeatedly plugged as Parler died, Telegram was the second most downloaded free app in Apple’s store when I downloaded it. A new notification on the app says it has surpassed 500 million active users, adding 25 million in just the past 72 hours. Unlike these other social media platforms, Telegram primarily functions as a direct messaging app, like WhatsApp. However, users can create a channel that can be joined with a simple search and used to send communication directly to subscribers. For example, @proudboysusa has more than 32,000 subscribers on Telegram. A major selling point for the app is its commitment to security via deeply encrypted end-to-end message delivery. Users can also create “secret chats” that disappear in time. In many ways, the idea of extremist rhetoric being piped straight to users like directives feels even more insidious than a social platform where users engage with one another and occasionally (fingers crossed) question one another.

Ultimately, it’s shocking just how big this market is. The rise of these apps makes clear that a significant and disgruntled portion of the population wants alternatives, underscoring the distrustful and rancorous tenor of this moment. To be fair, these platforms lack the heavy ad-driven algorithm dominating marquee social channels now. (Though Ivanka Trump plugging a MAGA mug popped up early and often on MeWe.) However, we should remember that other platforms also began with similarly lofty goals. It’s easier to cater to an audience that’s small and homogenous.

In the end, these sites, like all companies, are looking to capitalize. Without a doubt, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube are mega-corporations chiefly interested in making money, but they strive to have broad appeal to maximize users. As a competing strategy, these social media apps seek out a subset of the population harboring fringe beliefs around the hottest topic: American politics. No one can be certain if their gambit has long-term viability, but like the discontented user base these apps serve, they have certainly captured the moment.

Bryan C. Parker is a freelance writer, photographer and educator in Austin, Texas.

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