September 27, 2023


Unlimited Technology

Florida alt video site Rumble helps keep Russian news online

A user holds a smartphone with an opened Facebook page in Moscow, Russia, Thursday, June 10, 2021.

A user holds a smartphone with an opened Facebook page in Moscow, Russia, Thursday, June 10, 2021.


As the Russian government’s invasion of Ukraine continues, many U.S. media platforms have halted the broadcast of Kremlin-funded news sources notorious for spreading propaganda.

But Rumble, an alternative video-streaming platform with headquarters in Florida’s Town of Longboat Key, is keeping it online. The video site, whose creators place an emphasis on “free and open internet,” is still hosting content from a prominent Russian state-backed news network that has a history of spreading disinformation.

Called RT (formerly Russia Today), the English-language news network is widely considered an international propaganda arm for Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin. And it has recently helped pushed the Russian government’s false narrative about its pretext for invading Ukraine.

In response, major media platforms including Twitter, Google, YouTube, Meta Platforms (owners of Facebook) and Roku have banned, de-platformed or de-monetized RT in recent days. Major TV networks in the U.S. and Canada have dropped the outlet, and the European Union has banned it entirely.

RT America, the network’s U.S. branch, confirmed last week that it was ceasing production and laying off most staff amid “challenging external circumstances” after DirecTV severed ties with the network, CNN reported.

The Russian news outlet has been criticized for years by academics, government officials, journalists and other news media for its well-documented practice of sharing misleading coverage, misinformation and conspiracy theories that benefit the Kremlin’s international agenda. A 2020 article in the Journal of Communication called the outlet “one of the most important organizations in the global political economy of disinformation” and “the most richly funded, well-staffed, formal organization in the world producing, disseminating, and marketing news in the service of the Kremlin.”

But some media critics have argued that, despite RT’s clear role as a propaganda tool, banning its international broadcasts would be anti-democratic and limit valuable insights into the current Russian regime.

“Now, with all eyes on Ukraine, juxtaposing RT’s coverage with that of independent international news outlets is perhaps the most effective way to expose Putin’s disinformation,” columnist Jason Rezaian wrote in a Washington Post opinion piece last week.

Rumble keeps RT online

RT’s access to an international audience continues to dwindle.

The network suffered a major blow when YouTube, owned by Google, announced it was blocking RT across Europe and the UK on March 1. At first, Google opted only to demonetize the network in the U.S., removing its ability to make revenue from ads and adding a disclaimer to RT’s broadcasts.

“RT is funded in whole or in part by the Russian government,” the YouTube label stated. RT’s streams remained available for several days longer on YouTube in the U.S., where the network drew millions of viewers and subscribers. But on March 11, YouTube made its ban on RT worldwide, and its U.S. YouTube channel went silent.

Now, Rumble is a last online haven for the news network. On Rumble, however, where RT’s coverage is trending and gaining thousands of new followers, there is no warning to news consumers that the information shared by RT might not be trustworthy.

As its presence continues to be limited on other platforms, RT has begun to direct its followers to Rumble, where it now has over 32,000 subscribers.

“After a multitude of platforms have moved to knock out our broadcast and limit social media… you can stay on top of our LIVE broadcast, any time, anywhere right here,” reads a post on RT’s official Facebook page on Thursday with a link that directs to the outlet’s Rumble channel.

Rumble, a Toronto-based company which promises to “empower all creators” and “protect a free and open internet,” announced its decision to move its U.S. headquarters from New York to Sarasota County in November.

As YouTube has grown stricter in removing videos that contain misinformation, Rumble has offered a less-regulated alternative for controversial content creators. Videos sharing political conspiracy theories and COVID-19 misinformation are popular and prominently displayed on the site and without any disclaimers about their accuracy.

Especially popular among conservatives, the video platform is used by public figures including Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and former President Donald Trump.

“We are thrilled to welcome Rumble to Florida, and we support its mission to promote free expression and stand up to Big Tech censorship,” DeSantis said in a news release when Rumble’s move was announced last year.

Local government and business leaders took an active role in bringing Rumble to Southwest Florida for the 165 jobs that it was projected to bring to the area. The Economic Development Corporation of Sarasota County helped the company in its relocation process, and county commissioners awarded the company an Economic Development Incentive Grant worth up to $825,000 in November.

rumble screenshot.jpg
Rumble, an alternative video platform with headquarters in Longboat Key, is allowing Russian-government-backed news outlet RT to continue streaming during the country’s invasion of Ukraine. Other major U.S. media companies have opted to block or limit the news network. Screenshot via Rumble

This story was originally published March 14, 2022 5:50 AM.

This story has been updated to include YouTube’s worldwide ban of RT announced March 11.

Corrected Mar 14, 2022

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Ryan Ballogg is a news reporter and features writer at the Bradenton Herald. Since joining the paper in 2018, he has received awards for features, art and environmental writing in the Florida Press Club’s Excellence in Journalism Competition. Ryan is a Florida native and graduated from University of South Florida St. Petersburg.
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