Story on the Washington Examiner website here: The real challenge for conservative social media platforms: Attracting 'libs' to own
Social media platforms popular with right-leaning users are having difficulty attracting a more mainstream user base as they try to expand, a major obstacle to conservative hopes for ending the liberal chokehold on social media.
Conservatives are worried that if alternative social media companies such as Parler, GETTR, and MeWe only succeed in attracting Trump supporters and Republicans, the platforms could be doomed to niche status — echo chambers that are no fun without liberals to debate with and troll.
Many of these platforms also aspire to compete with Facebook and Twitter to be the digital "town square" for conversations of all kinds, which is not possible without liberal and apolitical users.
This has pushed them to reach out to social media influencers, focus on promoting their privacy protections and lack of intrusive advertising, and wait for Big Tech platforms to censor liberals as well.
Making inroads with Democrats and liberal influencers
Most social media platforms that are focused on anti-censorship and free speech have often become pigeon-holed as conservative websites because their users are typically right-leaning.
Many of these platforms have sprung up in the past few years as a result of the increase in content moderation and censorship by social media giants such as Facebook and Twitter that tends to affect conservatives more than liberals.
“We’re making aggressive outreach efforts to Democrats by hiring folks from the 2020 campaigns and reaching out to left-leaning influencers. A lot of Democrats also value free speech,” he told the Washington Examiner.
Another strategy is to encourage liberal advocacy groups, grassroots organizations, and those unable to get traction on saturated Big Tech platforms such as YouTube and Facebook to use new, alternative platforms instead.
“They should frame themselves as a one-stop shop for free speech in a safe space for marginalized voices of all stripes to have a megaphone,” said Adam Sharp, Twitter's former head of news, government, and elections.
“There’s a need to actively court groups and representative voices to tell the story of not just gun rights activists, but also Black Lives Matter people and LGBTQ folks — to tell both stories side by side,” said Sharp, Twitter’s first Washington, D.C., employee, who helped grow the platform into a political media powerhouse.
Partnering with social media influencers and celebrities is also a well-known tactic for growing platforms and brands.
“It's a pretty standard thing to try to get prominent people on to platforms. So they need to get people with large social media followings on to their platforms, probably through incentives,” said Dan Gainor, vice president at the Media Research Center, a conservative media watchdog that tracks censorship on Big Tech platforms.
“Work out a deal with a Kim Kardashian or similar cultural icons,” he suggested.
Better user experience with a focus on content moderation, data privacy, and lack of ads
For many apolitical social media users, who don’t espouse controversial opinions or beliefs, the free speech focus of platforms popular with conservatives isn’t always persuasive.
However, addressing users' quest for greater privacy and less advertising has universal appeal.
“Focusing more on their messaging around privacy and advertising will probably have more resonance than the free speech argument,” Sharp said.
“For these alternative platforms, telling users they’re not being tracked, and their data is not being sold, probably has the broadest appeal right now,” he added.
This is why GETTR, for example, has banned advertising on its platform until next year. It is focusing on attracting and building its community, Miller said.
“We’ve made a commitment to not sell any user data, which is very different from Facebook and Twitter and is a big driving point for users. People feel really good about that feature,” said Miller.
The anti-censorship focus of alternative social media platforms, which has successfully drawn conservatives to them, has also hindered the websites from attracting more liberal and nonideological users.
Platforms that have focused on free speech without enough content moderation safeguards have been flooded with misinformation, hate speech, pornographic images, and fake accounts, which can drive away mainstream users and advertisers.
Therefore, some up-and-coming social media platforms have emphasized the need for better content moderation to attract mainstream users.
“It’s so important to give up on the idea of no content moderation, it’s untenable because you get an online environment, which most people can’t tolerate, and it's disgusting,” said Mark Weinstein, founder and CEO of MeWe, an alternative social media platform that has been popular with conservatives.
“You can moderate content fairly and follow the principles of free speech and make sure you’re creating a space where users can share their life, not just an echo chamber within politics,” he added.
Wait for the other shoe to drop — liberals will inevitably get censored too
The free speech-focused alternative social media platforms say that conservatives have flocked to their websites in the past year because they are the ones being censored by social media giants, but they expect that liberals will also be suppressed in a similar fashion in the near future.
“The free speech pendulum swings pretty regularly. Right now, it's being championed by conservatives. But in the past, it was a big cause on the Left,” Miller said.
“It all depends on who is being silenced by the social media oligarchs, that determines who comes over to platforms like ours. Whichever Americans are frustrated by Silicon Valley will think about trying something different,” he added.
There have already been some instances in the past few years where liberals have complained about censorship by Big Tech platforms.
In 2017, Facebook made significant changes to its news feed algorithm that choked traffic for left-leaning news sites such as Mother Jones in order to combat accusations of being anti-conservative.
Additionally, in May of this year, Facebook and Twitter were accused of censoring human rights groups and liberals who posted pro-Palestinian content during the recent conflict in Israel.
“Conservatives are the ones going to new social media platforms right now because they’re being censored on Big Tech platforms, but that will probably change over time, “ Gainor said.
“If and when liberals are being censored, then they’ll want to have a sandbox of their own to play in,” he added.