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Rise of right-wing apps seen worsening midterm disinformation

A growing constellation of right-wing social media apps and sites are seeing their user bases grow, creating an echo chamber that experts fear will promote disinformation and outright lies about the midterm elections.

A major concern: increased calls for violence.

What began in the past few years as fringe and sparsely populated alternatives to established social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube has become a torrent.

While apps like Parler and Gab have been around for about four years, positioning themselves as conservative alternatives to Twitter, more sites and apps have launched in the last year — since President Donald Trump left office while fanning the political flames with his false claims of a “stolen” election.

Rumble, which went public through a special purpose acquisition company, positions itself as an alternative to YouTube. Gettr, launched by Trump’s post-presidency aide Jason Miller, who was an informal adviser to the 45th president, is a Twitter-like platform. And Trump himself has announced plans to launch a new social media platform called Truth Social.

The new apps and sites present a new information landscape for voters as November’s midterm elections approach and Democrats seek to defend their slim majorities in Congress. After being routinely bombarded with discredited claims about fraudulent and destroyed ballots, voting machine malfunctions and other unproven conspiracy theories, nearly 80 percent of Republicans continue to believe that President Joe Biden did not win legitimately in 2020.

The picture is about to get much worse, as the new apps promising to be anti-Big Tech, anti-censorship and pro-free speech are attracting “die-hards,” said Angelo Carusone, president of Media Matters, a nonprofit group that monitors conservative media outlets.

By promising users unfettered platforms to say and promote whatever they please, these right-leaning apps and sites will likely become places to start, nurture and promote disinformation about the midterm elections that may even lead to violence, Carusone said.

“And so, what is unique in this cycle is that you now have places that are poised to not just serve as petri dishes for misinformation, but also have the distribution capacity to prime the pump a little bit to get some of those smears started” that could jump over to mainstream media, Carusone said.

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