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Where Alternative Social Media Platforms Stand Before Midterms

A number of "alternative social media" platforms refuse to crack down on misinformation campaigns — an issue ahead of the midterm elections.
Posted at 8:47 PM, Oct 27, 2022

After the 2020 election, alternative social media platforms like Parler, Gettr and Gab experienced surges in amount of users, especially after former President Donald Trump was banned from established social media. But since then, these spaces have seen their role diminish.

A recent report from the Pew Research Center found only 6% of adults regularly get news from at least one alternative social media space. Of the platforms Pew evaluated, none drew more than 2% of Americans looking for news.

"If you look at that 6% of people who get news on any of these sites, 66% are Republicans or lean toward the Republican Party, and a third are Democrats or lean Democratic," said Galen Stocking of Pew Research Center. "This is a contrast with more established social media sites like Facebook and Twitter and YouTube, where 39% are Republicans and 55% are Democrats, or independents."

Stocking told Newsy that every alternative site in the report identified itself as a "defender of free speech," with several declaring that they were against censorship. Critics say this approach has opened these spaces to extremism, conspiracy theories and misinformation. Pew's report found that 6% of prominent accounts on these sites mention a connection to QAnon.

Despite this, the approach seems to be a hit with alternative social media users, who report having overall positive feelings about these spaces.

"Two-thirds of any users who get news on these sites say that they have found a community of people who share their views there," Stocking said. "They say that they are more satisfied than dissatisfied with their experience in getting news there. But the most common response for people who had heard of the sites but did not use them for news was about the sites being inaccurate or unreliable."

One outstanding question is whether these spaces will retain users. Social media experts told Newsy that many prominent users who flocked to alternative sites after Trump's ban, including Trump's own Truth Social platform, may find themselves back on established platforms if the former president does return. Elon Musk said he'd let Trump back on Twitter if he acquires the company. Meta's ban on Trump is scheduled to end in January 2023.

"Trump is going to be followed no matter where he is by the media, but some of these other characters who follow in his wake... those guys know that they would instantly reach a hundred times as many people potentially on Twitter as they do Gab," said Paul Barrett, deputy director at New York University’s Stern Center for Business and Human Rights.