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Banned from Twitter and Facebook, which sites are the pro-Trump movement using now? | Science & Tech News

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'This is why we set up Telegram. Stay in contact.'

The attack on the US Capitol prompted unprecedented action from Twitter and Facebook, amid criticism that the president was using their platforms to foment an insurrection.

Tens of thousands of accounts, pages and groups tied to the more extreme parts of the pro-Trump movement have been suspended and banned following the attack – as have Donald Trump’s own accounts – driving his supporters to fringe websites.

One alternative platform, Parler, was removed from Apple and Google’s app stores over the weekend – with Amazon kicking Parler’s website off its hosting infrastructure. Now, many of Mr Trump’s supporters are seeking services that can resist action taken by tech giants and governments.

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‘This is why we set up Telegram,’ one user responded to a large pro-Trump group

Sky News has observed a rise in the number of conversations and engagements taking place on platforms such as Gab, MeWe, Telegram and CloutHub.

The scale of the bans on mainstream social networks is not clear. Twitter says it has removed 70,000 accounts that promoted the QAnon conspiracy theory – but many users operated multiple accounts, so the size of the movement on the platform was smaller than it first appeared.

Facebook announced that it would begin removing posts quoting the QAnon catchphrase “stop the steal” ahead of Joe Biden’s inauguration on 20 January due to the risk of additional violence.

But these messages have found new spaces to flourish, as Sky News found through direct observations and data from CrowdTangle, a public insights tool owned and operated by Facebook.

Social networks like Gab and MeWe are offering a replacement for Facebook and Twitter – while other aspects of the movement continue to foment on even more fringe forums including 4chan, 8chan, and The Donald.

Gab

Gab was launched as a self-proclaimed free speech website in 2016 by Andrew Torba and Ekrem Buyukkaya. It is now widely considered to be a digital haven for far-right extremists, with researchers linking it to radicalisation and offline violence.

Its users include US politician Marjorie Greene, a newly elected Republican member of the House of Representatives, who has regularly supported the QAnon conspiracy theory.

Ms Greene had posted a picture of herself on Facebook holding a rifle next to images of Democratic congresswomen Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib – stating it was time to “go on the offence against these socialists who want to rip our country apart”. Facebook deleted the image for inciting violence.

In a new post on Gab, Ms Greene said: “Dems are the hypocrites that call for violence. The people see through it all. No amount of censorship will hide the truth.”

US politician Marjorie Greene has joined Gab
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US politician Marjorie Greene has joined Gab

Gab’s app was removed from the Google Play store in 2017 for violating hate speech policy, and it is not listed in Apple’s app store for similar reasons.

Despite this, Google Trends data shows an increase in searches for Gab following Mr Trump’s suspension from Twitter on 8 January – notably in traditionally conservative states such as Alaska and North Dakota.

CrowdTangle – which tracks public interactions such as likes, comments and shares on public Facebook posts – also shows an increase in interactions on posts that mention Gab. It recorded over 290,000 interactions on these posts since Sunday.

Following the move to take Parler offline, Gab claimed that it was adding more than 600,000 new users every day in a tweet that was subsequently deleted. Independent metrics gauging the social network’s popularity are not available.

The site's founder has accused 'communists' of posting threats against Trump supporters
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The site’s founder has accused ‘communists’ of posting threats against Trump supporters

As the site appeared to deal with the apparent influx of new visitors, the company’s chief technology officer said they had brought 10 new servers online and quoted Mr Trump in stating: “The best is yet to come.”

Gab’s owners have regularly used their Twitter accounts to express support for Donald Trump and actively market their platform on the basis of being sympathetic to causes popular with the far-right, including conspiracy theories they claim are being unfairly targeted for censorship.

Alongside these posts, the platform features news articles from Russia Today, as well as pseudo-religious messages from QAnon followers calling for the community to keep the faith, with one stating: “Do you have any idea what’s going to happen next? Good. Neither do they.”

Several MeWe groups use the QAnon catchphrase 'Trust the Plan'
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Several MeWe groups use the QAnon catchphrase ‘Trust the Plan’

MeWe

MeWe was founded in 2012 by Mark Weinstein, initially as a privacy-positive version of Facebook. The social networking service has grown in popularity with Mr Trump’s supporters as a result of moderation efforts pushing some of them away from more mainstream platforms.

CrowdTangle data shows a rise in interactions with public posts mentioning MeWe following 8 January, with nearly 100,000 interactions recorded on the following day. There was also a marked increase in public interactions on posts of this kind in the weeks that followed the election.

'I deleted Twitter to support Trump' writes one MeWe user
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‘I deleted Twitter to support Trump,’ writes one MeWe user

MeWe has jumped almost 100 places in the US app store rankings over the past two days – and according to Sensor Tower, it is now the seventh-most popular free app. It also saw a surge in popularity after November’s vote.

The app’s pro-Trump user base appears to have been increasing over recent months – although it has not been courted by Mr Weinstein.

He has said: “I think sites where anything goes are terrible. At MeWe we have strict rules in our terms prohibiting content inciting violence, posting hate, bullying, breaking the law, etc.”

Telegram

Telegram is one of the most popular apps outside of the English-speaking world, especially among protesting communities.

It offers end-to-end encryption (although not by default), as well as large chat rooms – both public and private – where users can share photos, videos and files with each other.

Pro-Trump Telegram channels have noted the increasing number of influential conservative commentators joining Telegram after Parler was taken offline.

Like Gab and MeWe, CrowdTangle shows an increase in interactions on public posts mentioning the word Telegram on Facebook in the days leading up to and after Trump’s suspension from social media.

Membership appears to be growing especially significantly in extremist Telegram chats, according to Professor Megan Squire. She warned on Twitter that white nationalists are attempting to win over Trump supporters who are joining the platform due to the actions taken by Twitter and Facebook.

The Washington Post reported that talk of guns and potential violence was “rife” on the messaging app ahead of the mob attack on the Capitol following the president’s rally.

Telegram has climbed up the app store rankings in the days since 8 January – where it now occupies the second spot, according to Sensor Tower.

This may be partially driven by privacy concerns regarding WhatsApp rather than by supporters of Donald Trump.

CloutHub

Founded in 2018, CloutHub markets itself as “the people’s platform” for users engaged in political, social and community activism. Like Gab, they have been vocal about their opposition to perceived censorship by Big Tech.

CloutHub has enjoyed a surge in interest in recent days. There were 512 interactions on public Facebook posts mentioning CloutHub on 512 – but according to CrowdTangle, this rose to 32,100 a day later.

This came after the anti-Democrat #WalkAway campaign announced it was moving to CloutHub following its removal by Facebook.

Google Trends data also indicates an increase in interest in the site in the US through its analysis of search queries.

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New footage emerges from Capitol riot

Extremists spread across platforms

According to Fred Burton, a former special agent, the distribution of potential extremists across fringe platforms doesn’t necessarily make things more difficult for law enforcement monitoring potential threats.

The executive director of the Centre for Protective Intelligence at Ontic said: “The US intelligence community is geared for these kinds of investigations.

“The ability to go back and look at some of these individuals that are on these fringe kind of elements, the howlers that are out there, whether it be on fringe social media platforms – even with Parler being shut down now – law enforcement is very good at looking and ferreting out those kinds of individuals.

“Since 9/11, technology has been enhanced to the point that all of your digital signals can be looked at from an investigative perspective if there’s probable cause to believe that a crime has been committed, or if someone’s on there fomenting hate speech.

“Social media is a double-edged sword, we all know that, but it also provides law enforcement with the opportunity to be able to do some continuous monitoring of individuals that might be predisposed towards that kind of violence.”

Mr Burton, who has worked in the arena of protective intelligence since the 1980s, said: “The ones that you can see are the ones that – yes, at times, you have to worry about – but there are others [that you can’t see] always, that you really have to be concerned about.”

Addressing the threat posed by these individuals “takes more human intelligence efforts, and the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force – again another byproduct of what happened after 9/11 – are very good at ferreting out those kinds of individuals”.

Far-right terrorists have been known to use sites such as 4chan and 8chan, which aren’t replacements for social networks clamping down on some of Mr Trump’s supporters, but remain key locations fomenting many of the ideological messages that drive the movement on other platforms.

Shortly before the mass shootings at two mosques in the New Zealand city of Christchurch, the gunman posted a link on 8chan to the Facebook page where he would livestream his attack, as well as a copy of his manifesto.

A screenshot of the discussion on 8chan
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8chan users spread the propaganda video of the Christchurch terror attacks

8kun/8chan

Following two other domestic terror attacks in the US in August 2019 – one involving a mass shooting at a Walmart in Texas, and another at a bar in Ohio – 8chan lost its hosting provider and renamed itself 8kun.

Its original founder, Fredrick Brennan, now disavows the site entirely. Mr Brennan accuses its current owner, Jim Watkins, of facilitating the person or group behind the QAnon conspiracy theory.

The eponymous “Q” came to fame by posting their messages on the forum. The QAnon community now dominates the site with numerous boards dedicated to understanding the quasi-religious prophecies that the account posts there.

As a result of significant efforts to deplatform the site, 8kun now features only hundreds of posts every hour – compared with tens of thousands at its pinnacle.

However the discussions show the extremist influences on the pro-Trump movement, including extensive neo-Nazi and antisemitic imagery.

One post seen by Sky News read: “To any ******** who doesn’t believe there’ll be a civil war, here’s a newsflash – it’s already happening. We’re already in the beginning stages.

“We’re gonna soon experience the full effects pretty soon. Get trained, get prepared. Our side has already thrown some blows.”

As examples of these “blows”, the post listed neo-Nazi terrorist Dylann Roof, the Unite the Right white supremacist rally, and the date of the Capitol building attack.

4chan’s Politically Incorrect board

4chan’s notorious Politically Incorrect discussion board (known as /pol/ due to its URL) has become one of the most significant fringe communities online for the far-right.

Although the forum is owned by Japanese entrepreneur Hiroyuki Nishimura, it is not known who the board’s controlling moderators are, despite the significant editorial control they can wield over what threads are allowed to remain on the site.

Alongside 8kun, 4chan was one of the primary locations for QAnon conspiracy theories to be developed. Numerous false claims about electoral integrity which would eventually be articulated by unreliable media outlets – including the debunked conspiracy theory regarding Dominion Voting Systems computers – originated there.

The Donald

The Donald originated as a page on Reddit before that social media platform banned the community in June 2020 for trying to “weaponise parts of Reddit against other people”.

The moderators of the forum, who are also anonymous, created a mirror on a new domain. The site appears to be much busier following the moves from Twitter and Facebook.

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Donald Trump issues flurry of pardons as he leaves office | US News

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Donald Trump issues flurry of pardons as he leaves office | US News

Former White House adviser Steve Bannon and rapper Lil Wayne are among the people being pardoned or granted clemency by Donald Trump in the final hours of his presidency.

The outgoing president granted clemency to 143 people on Wednesday.

Wayne pleaded guilty last month to possessing a loaded, gold-plated handgun on a private flight in 2019. He faces a sentence of up to 10 years in prison at a hearing next week.

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‘We pray for the new administration’

The president met the rapper during his election campaign last year, with the artist later praising some of Mr Trump’s policies such as proposed justice reforms.

Controversial former White House adviser Bannon, who was fired by Mr Trump, has also been granted clemency.

“Bannon has been an important leader in the conservative movement and is known for his political acumen,” the White House said in a statement.

He was charged last year with swindling Trump supporters over an effort to raise private funds to build the US-Mexico border wall, and pleaded not guilty.

Bannon was appointed chief executive of Mr Trump’s successful presidential campaign in 2016, leaving his role at conservative website Breitbart News.

Lil Wayne
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Lil Wayne is also among a raft of 11th-hour pardons and commutations

He became chief strategist for Mr Trump after his inauguration, but clashed with others in the White House and was pushed out in August 2017.

Bannon was recently banned from Twitter after he called for the beheading of top government doctor Anthony Fauci and FBI director Christopher Wray.

Others reportedly among the dozens of people being pardoned are Kodak Black – a rapper also sentenced over weapons charges, and former Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick who is seven years into a 28-year sentence for corruption and racketeering.

Mr Trump has previously pardoned several of his closest confidantes such as Michael Flynn, the former national security adviser who lied to the FBI, and commuted the prison term for Roger Stone – who was convicted of lying to Congress during its probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

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Super Bowl LV: First woman official chosen for showpiece American Football game | US News

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Ms Thomas will be a down judge at the Tampa game next month

A woman will officiate at next month’s Super Bowl for the first time, the NFL has announced.

Sarah Thomas, 47, will be a down judge at the world’s biggest annual sporting event.

“Her elite performance and commitment to excellence has earned her the right to officiate the Super Bowl.

“Congratulations to Sarah on this well-deserved honor,” said NFL executive vice president Troy Vincent.

Ms Thomas became the league’s first full-time female official in 2015, making her regular season debut in September that year.

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Ms Thomas will be a down judge at the Tampa game next month

She will join a male-dominated staff of officials for the big game in Tampa, Florida, on 7 February.

Home town side Tampa Bay Buccaneers are due to play Green Bay Packers for a place in the game, while their opponents will be either Buffalo Bills or defending champions Kansas City Chiefs.

NFL bosses have yet to reveal how many fans will be able to attend due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Reports have suggested it could be around 20%, with fans sitting in groups and having to wear masks.

The half-time show comes from Canadian singer The Weeknd.

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US says China is committing genocide against Uighurs and other ethnic minorities | World News

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Mr Pompeo and his top aides are rushing to complete actions they believe will cement their legacy

The US State Department has declared that China is committing genocide and crimes against humanity in a campaign targeting Uighurs and other ethnic minorities in Xinjiang. 

In a statement, outgoing Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said: “I believe this genocide is ongoing, and that we are witnessing the systematic attempt to destroy Uighurs by the Chinese party-state.”

The designation was made in the dying hours of the Trump administration. But the incoming Biden team had previously voiced its support for such a definition, labelling the repression of Uighurs genocide in August last year.

And although Joe Biden’s nominee for secretary of state, Antony Blinken, has pledged to reverse a host of President Trump’s foreign policy measures, he said that he agreed with Mr Pompeo’s determination.

In his determination of crimes against humanity, Pompeo cited “the arbitrary imprisonment or other severe deprivation of physical liberty of more than one million civilians, forced sterilisation, torture of a large number of those arbitrarily detained, forced labour, and the imposition of draconian restrictions on freedom of religion or belief, freedom of expression, and freedom of movement”.

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Mike Pompeo said he believed the genocide was ongoing

Beijing is likely to react furiously. At a press conference held last week in the Chinese capital, Communist Part official Xu Guixiang said: “This utterly untethered fabrication of ‘genocide’ regarding Xinjiang is the conspiracy of the century.”

Analysis: Condemnation of China might be the only point of consensus between Biden and Trump

The US labelling China’s treatment of Uighurs and other minorities as genocide is the most significant intervention on the issue. It might get lost in the pageantry of today’s inauguration, and the pressing domestic concerns of the US, but it will reverberate for months and years to come.

China’s reaction is guaranteed to be apoplectic. But it will seek to portray the genocide designation as motivated by politics, the last gasp of an outgoing administration and the personal vendetta of Mike Pompeo – public enemy number one in Chinese propaganda.

Critics elsewhere might agree with some of that. The Trump administration was not well known for its protection of minorities and human rights, whether at home or abroad. The US ignored calls to declare Myanmar’s treatment of the Rohingya as genocide, for example.

And President Trump previously sidestepped human rights issues in his dealings with China, preferring initially to focus on trade. His former national security adviser John Bolton alleged that in July 2019 President Trump told Chinese President Xi Jinping that he was correct to build detention centres for Uighurs.

The designation isn’t too much of a curveball for the Biden administration, which has voiced its agreement – perhaps the only point of consensus between two vastly different administrations. For all the division in the US, it is united on China.

But it might make things more difficult for America’s allies. The British government narrowly defeated an amendment to legislation that would have added a genocide clause to trade bills, a clause aimed squarely at China. And the EU has recently concluded its own massive trade deal with China. The Biden administration may take a dim view of all that, and the genocide designation adds more moral heft.

In practical terms, the designation legally allows the US to take some new measures, although none of those are massive. The power is in the symbolism. And that symbolism may be most apparent in a year’s time, when the 2022 Winter Olympics begin in Beijing.

It’s hard to imagine Team USA competing in a country the US government accuses of ongoing genocide. Would other countries join that boycott?

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