Jan 13, 2021 - Politics & Policy

GOP digital operatives aim to avoid "deplatforming"

A smartphone is seen in front of the Twitter logo after President Trump was banned from the app.
Photo Illustration: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Republican digital operatives are worrying about themselves and their clients after major technology companies cracked down on prominent conservative websites and organizations.

Why it matters: Amazon’s decision to remove the popular conservative social media site Parler from its hosting services, and Twitter’s suspensions of President Trump and tens of thousands of his supporters, have segments of the online right fearing they will be "deplatformed" themselves.

What's new: A handful of conservative digital professionals huddled virtually this week on an email list they share. The tone was despondent as they tried, in a series of emails forwarded to Axios, to figure out how to stay on the right side of technology industry standards.

Between the lines: The crackdowns have mainly focused on platforms where conspiracy theories have proliferated since Trump's election loss, and, in some cases, where last week's Capitol violence was fomented, encouraged and celebrated.

  • But the digital strategists on that email list were convinced that they might soon find themselves swept up in an ostensibly imminent wave of online censorship.
  • They view them as arbitrary and politically motivated.
  • “What is the threshold for knowing if a project is likely to get booted and shut down?” asked Colorado GOP strategist Allen Fuller. “Obviously, fomenting insurrection and violence is pretty clear ... but the line from there is not.”
  • “It just comes down to where the left wants to draw the line and they have no idea right now where that line is nor do they seem to care,” wrote Thomas Peters, the founder and CEO of the peer-to-peer text messaging software company RumbleUp.

Driving the news: Trump’s permanent suspension from Twitter on Friday was seismic. But it was far from the only platform to exile him.

  • His supporters flocked to rival social media platforms catering to his political brand. The most popular of them, Parler, was suspended by Amazon's AWS cloud service and is now suing.
  • GoDaddy booted the web’s most popular firearms forum, AR15.com, from its domain registration system Tuesday. The company told Axios it discovered content on the site "that both promoted and encouraged violence.”

For some conservatives, the answer is to remain as technologically self-sufficient as possible.

  • Tom Elliott, a former talk radio producer who founded the television and video clipping service Grabien, said his decision to build his own digital infrastructure behind the company was paying off.
  • “I've specifically avoided outsourcing functionality to outside tech vendors who've shown a willingness to be used on behalf of ‘social justice’ struggle sessions," Elliott said in an email to Axios.

Editor's note: This piece was updated with information on the email list, after being inadvertently cut during the editing process.

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