Censr: Alt-Right Twitter Alternative Gettr Bans Posts, Accounts Calling One Of Its Backers A Chinese Spy
from the no-bettr-than-the-alternatives dept
As so-called “conservatives” (a decently large number of them appearing to actually be white supremacists and bigots engaged in harassment) complained Big Tech was slanted against them, a host of new services arrived to meet the sudden demand. Gab, Gettr, etc. hit the marketplace of ideas, promising freedom from the “censorship” of “liberal” social media platforms, ignoring evidence that indicated “conservatives” weren’t actually being “censored,” but rather extremists calling themselves “conservatives” were being booted for multiple violations of site policies.
New services arrived, promising unabridged speech and a safe space for bigots, transphobes, disgruntled MAGAts, and everyone else who felt oppressed because they frequently went asshole on main. But as soon as these sites debuted, they began moderating all sorts of speech, starting with the clearly illegal and ramping things up to eject trolls and critics.
Moderation at scale remains impossible. And it’s not much easier when you’re dealing with thousands of users rather than millions or billions. Decisions need to be made. While it was clear to see the upstarts were unfamiliar with the moderation issues bigger platforms have struggled with for years, it was also clear to see the upstarts were more than happy to “censor” speech they didn’t like, despite claiming to be the last bastions of online free speech.
“You’re free to say whatever you want,” platforms like Gab and Gettr proclaimed, muttering asterisks under their breath. You were indeed free to say what you wanted, but that would not prevent your content or your account being banned, deleted, etc.
Gettr has experienced the growing pains of platform moderation. This has happened despite its initial guarantees (*offer void pretty much everywhere) that it would only remove illegal content. Porn is not illegal, yet Gettr seemed to have a problem with all the porn being posted by users, perhaps because a majority of it involved animated animals.
It also had problems keeping trolls from impersonating the illustrious conservative figures it hoped to host exclusively. Aggressive trolling resulted in Gettr temporarily banning Roger Stone’s actual account under the assumption it couldn’t possibly be the real Roger Stone. It followed this up a few months later by banning the term “groyper” in an effort to limit the amount of white supremacist content it had to host. This too was somewhat of a failure. First, it told white supremacists their awful (but not illegal) speech wasn’t welcome on the “free speech” alternative to Twitter. Then it became apparent the ban on “groyper” could be easily evaded by adding an o or two.
Now, there’s even more “censorship” to be had at Gettr. One of its financial backers is Guo Wengui, a (former) billionaire and supposed anti-communist who recently filed for bankruptcy. There are reasons to believe Wengui isn’t the most trustworthy of online associates. Wengui left China and has spent several years living in a New York City hotel overlooking Central Park. He has applied for asylum but has yet to be granted this request. Despite apparently distancing himself from China, he is still hounded by claims that he’s only in the US to obtain information he can deliver to the Chinese government. These allegations were made by Strategic Vision US during a lawsuit over business dealings the company had with Wengui.
Strategic Vision said it concluded Mr. Guo was seeking information on Chinese nationals who may have been helping the U.S. government in national-security investigations or who were involved in other sensitive matters, according to the filing.
“Guo never intended to use the fruits of Strategic Vision’s research against the Chinese Communist Party,” the court filing said. “That is because Guo was not the dissident he claimed to be. Instead, Guo Wengui was, and is, a dissident-hunter, propagandist, and agent in the service of the People’s Republic of China and the Chinese Communist Party.”
Journalists at the Daily Beast spent a few days running accounts on Gettr to see if the “free speech” site had a problem with criticizing Wengui. Unsurprisingly, the “we won’t censor” platform engages in plenty of moderation when it comes to speech it doesn’t like.
In an attempt to test the claims that even so much as mentioning the allegations of Guo being a “spy” would result in a permanent suspension from the platform, The Daily Beast created six separate Gettr accounts critical of Guo over the past two weeks.
These accounts posted variations on the question of whether the platform’s billionaire benefactor is a “Chinese spy.” For example, one of the accounts asked, “Does Chinese spy Miles Guo fund Gettr?” It was banned from the platform just 19 minutes after its creation. “Guo a spy??” another Daily Beast-operated account asked in response to a post from the businessman.
All six accounts were promptly banned, with 83 minutes being the longest span of time a single critical post remained live. They were banned without notice of wrongdoing or explanation for the permanent suspensions.
The hypocritical chickens have come home to roost. You’re free to run your mouth on Gettr with copious exceptions. And one of those exceptions is the repeating allegations about someone who put some money into Gettr. Meanwhile, over on Twitter, users are free to insinuate the company’s principals and backers are in bed with the Chinese government without running afoul of the terms of service.
Gettr will undoubtedly continue to pretend it’s a free speech champion, even as it engages in actions that show it’s really no more protective of speech than any other platform. It will continue to disappoint refugees from other, more heavily-trafficked social media platforms by engaging in (completely lawful!) moderation of speech it would rather not see on its platform. And while it may be more inviting of general harassment of people with alternative viewpoints (which is generally a lot less fun in Gettr’s echo chamber) and election/COVID misinformation, it sees absolutely nothing wrong with silencing dissent and criticism. Its promises of a social media Wild West are as empty as its promises to give Twitter users a better place to express their “conservative” views.