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In the hours and days after the January 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube kicked off then-President Trump from their platforms. They also removed many of the people involved in planning the attack. It's been called the Great Deplatforming. In the year since, far-right groups have scrambled to find new homes on the internet, and NPR tech correspondent Shannon Bond looks at where they have gone.
SHANNON BOND, BYLINE: January 6 was a turning point for the Big Tech platforms and for many of those who used them to spread lies about the election, stoke conspiracy theories and call for violence. Jared Holt studies online extremism at the Atlantic Council's Digital Forensic Research Lab.
JARED HOLT: Deplatforming kind of produced this great scattering, where groups that were banned or groups that believed their bans were imminent or forthcoming kind of engaged in this giant game of musical chairs.
BOND: They turned to encrypted messaging on Telegram, YouTube alternatives DLive and Rumble and social media sites like Parler, Gab and GETTR that claim to allow users to post things that would get them in trouble on Facebook or Twitter. Some right-wing figures, like conspiracy theorist and pillow company CEO Mike Lindell, have even launched their own platforms.
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MICHAEL LINDELL: They cancelled my Twitter. They cancelled YouTube. They cancelled Vimeo. I simply have to come up with something to give our voices back.
BOND: On Lindell's streaming website, he's interviewed former-President Trump about his baseless claims of election fraud while promo codes for Lindell's pillow business appeared at the bottom of the screen. This scattering has had an impact, says Rebekah Tromble, director of the Institute for Data, Democracy and Politics at George Washington University.
REBEKAH TROMBLE: It means that really prominent actors who helped stoke the stop the steal campaign that led to the insurrection have much less reach, get much less audience and attention. And that is very, very, very important.
BOND: The alternative apps have become echo chambers for those clinging to the false belief the election was stolen. But none has broken out as the main destination for the far-right and diehard Trump supporters. Researcher Megan Squire at Elon University says it's become harder for these groups and influencers to gain mass followings.
MEGAN SQUIRE: I would say it's going to be an uphill battle for most of these guys. They don't all have the ability to make their own platforms. And a lot of times, they lose their legitimacy being off of the mainstream ones.
BOND: And of course there's the Trump factor. The former president has not joined any of these platforms. Instead, he's touting plans for his own social network which has yet to launch. Jared Holt says the far-right groups are adapting.
HOLT: These smaller groups of extremists are, you know, showing up to lower level, you know, government institutions, like city councils or school boards, and participating in these kind of culture-war causes of the day.
BOND: They're joining other groups in protests against vaccine and masking rules and over how public schools teach kids about race. This local focus doesn't require a big network to have an impact.
HOLT: If the purpose of organizing is just to get a dozen people to turn out at a local government body, then, you know, they don't need a channel or a account with 100,000 followers on it, they might just need a hundred.
BOND: That's made extremists less visible on the national stage, but not less of a threat, says Candace Rondeaux of the think tank New America.
CANDACE RONDEAUX: You even have to really go almost to the county level to understand what's happening and how what happens online is related to what's happening offline.
BOND: Putting together that picture will be the challenge for researchers, journalists and law enforcement in 2022.
Shannon Bond, NPR News.
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