Russian state media turn to Rumble to get their message across

These measures underscore how the far-right and self-proclaimed open-speech sites continue to provide safe havens for Russian state information. But it also illustrates how limited the reach of these news sources has become in the wake of the invasion of Ukraine as they face dissent within their own ranks during the war.

Rumble reported 36 million average monthly users in the third quarter of 2021, a number massively eclipsed by YouTube. Used by the likes of Steve Bannon and – albeit rarely – former President Trump, Rumble has taken on the posture of an anti-cancel culture YouTube. The company prides itself on having “a mission to protect a free and open Internet”. But it has become a hotbed for far-right conspiracy theories and conservatives driven from mainstream sites. Rumble did not return a request for comment.

At least four Sputnik shows — “Fault Lines,” “Political Misfits,” “By Any Means Necessary,” and “The Backstory” — began posting their content to Rumble on March 14, around the time Google decided to ban Sputnik. In mid-March, “Fault Lines” was started from YouTube. the the show’s Twitter account told followers, “Fault Lines has been banned by Big Tech, but that won’t stop us.” It included a link to his Rumble page. In what appears to be his first video on the site, one of the show’s hosts, Jamarl Thomas, told listeners the lineup needed a new home.

“As you know, you who are waiting for the YouTube stream to happen, Sputnik has been removed from YouTube, not only in Europe at this point, but also in America,” Thomas said. “We’re trying to find other ways to bring the show to you: uh, Rumble and some of the other apps. We’re also thinking about doing the show, uh, basically unlisted and sending the link to our various supporters, whether it’s on Patreon or otherwise.

Sputnik broadcasts provoke criticism of Western mainstream media and the government, particularly around the war in Ukraine. ‘Fault Lines’ hosts questioned President Joe Biden’s portrayal of Russian President Vladimir Putin as a ‘war criminal’, disparaged media coverage of the ongoing conflict and defended Russia’s decision to invade Ukraine. On “By Any Means Necessary” broadcast March 14, hosts claimed the US was the real “aggressor”, lamented “anti-Putin hysteria” and suggested the US wanted in fact that Russia is invading Ukraine to influence public opinion. opinion in favor of America and the West.

In an episode that aired before YouTube’s expulsion, John Kiriakou, a “Political Misfits” host and former CIA officer convicted of leaking information to the media, warned listeners and viewers that if ever the show was launched off the platform, they could find the show on Rumble.

“Political Misfits” and “By Any Means Necessary” continued to maintain YouTube channels, despite Sputnik being banned by the platform. However, after this reporter approached Google, which owns YouTube, about their accounts, a YouTube spokesperson said it blocked both of their channels.

Later that day, the show ‘By Any Means Necessary’ tweeted a screenshot of its blocked account, saying, “This is what ‘democracy’ looks like in the United States, folks,” and a link to his Rumble page. The account added, “No matter how hard they try to silence us, we’ll keep rocking and #TruthWillWin!”

“The Backstory” remains on YouTube as of Thursday afternoon. A YouTube spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The producer of all four shows is a limited liability company known as Ghebi. According to documents filed under the US Foreign Agents Registration Act, Ghebi reported payments for services of approximately $2.7 million from Russian state media group Rossiya Segodnya, as well as $3.8 million in expenses. All four shows air on Radio Sputnik and are featured on SputnikNews.com. In his Justice Department registration, Ghebi said he had “independent editorial control over his output.”

Although they remain active on Twitter, the the platform said it would reduce the visibility of Russian state media content and identified each of the broadcasts as “Russian state-affiliated media”. But on Rumble, such a disclaimer does not exist. The platform also continues to host RT News, including a live stream which the website says is watched by thousands of people simultaneously. In a statement, RT Deputy Editor-in-Chief Anna Belkina promised that the news agency would “continue to deliver our content to the millions of viewers and readers around the world who want it, through the platforms at our arrangement”.

“These bans are the epitome of corporate censorship in cahoots with the government’s political agenda; our voice is blocked not for what we say but for who we are,” the statement read.

On Wednesday, Sputnik also continued to operate a page on the Simplecast podcast platform, which is owned by SiriusXM. However, when approached by POLITICO, Simplecast also removed Sputnik’s programming.

“As soon as the Simplecast team became aware of Sputnik’s use of the company’s hosting services, the decision was made to immediately remove all related content, RSS feed and accounts associated with the organization,” a company spokesperson said in a statement. “Any digital content referenced in this feed has also been purged.”

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