Is A Freedom Friendly Version of the Internet Closer Than We Think?

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Last month the pro free speech YouTube alternative Rumble announced it would acquire Locals, a technology product co-founded by conservative commentator Dave Rubin, allowing audiences to interact more directly with their favorite creators for a subscription fee — like OnlyFans but for political content instead of skin.

An audience of 40 million active users already come to Rumble to consume video from the likes of Dan Bongino and Russell Brand. Now pair that tech and user base with Locals’ community building and subscription processing capabilities, along with personalities like Tulsi Gabbard, and you have a functionally complete alternative to YouTube and its ad-supported business model.

Meanwhile, Substack has been disrupting the way we consume text by freeing journalists from activist editorial constraints and allowing readers to fund and receive writing more directly.

Alternative: Text. Video. Community. Payment Processing. Is a freer and Big-Tech-less version of the internet coming to life right before our eyes? Certain proven investors are betting that the answer to that question is — yes. 

The fabled blue chip venture capital firm Andreesen Horowitz has injected multiple rounds of investment into Substack. The equally legendary Y Combinator is an investor as well. Couple those investments with a solid product / market fit, and Substack is growing as a result. From September 2020 to February 2021, paying subscribers on Substack nearly doubled, exceeding 500,000.  

Even more dramatically, Rumble saw its user base explode 15x from Q3 2020 to Q1 2021 as YouTube clamped down on “misinformation” and demonetized even wildly popular creators like the aforementioned Bongino, who ended up taking an equity stake in Rumble.

Double the number of paying customers. Active users up 15x. Those are real growth patterns.

But then again, it seemed like Parler was gaining traction not long ago, only to have the plug literally pulled out of the wall by its cloud hosting provider, Amazon Web Services. And as it turns out, Substack relies on Amazon Web Services as well. How independent can a media platform really be if its underlying technology is wholly dependent on the dissent-crushing Big Tech?

That is where Rumble re-enters the picture, along with techno-contrarian investor Peter Thiel and Hillbilly Elegy author-turned-senatorial candidate J.D. Vance, who together with a few others, invested a sizable sum of cash into Rumble earlier this year to support the development of a cloud services product. Or in other words, a direct competitor to Big Tech’s cloud hosting providers like Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud, and Microsoft Azure.

If Parler had been built on Rumble’s presumably soon to exist cloud infrastructure instead of Amazon’s, Parler’s growth trajectory might have continued, and who knows, maybe it would have emerged as a worthy competitor to Twitter. But of course that was not the case, and after being yanked from the web earlier this year, Parler has struggled to return to relevance. 

And what are the odds that someday soon Substack will find itself in the crosshairs of the unified conglomerate that is the legacy media, Big Tech, and the Democrat Party? Not only does Substack’s business model undermine how legacy media operates, but it has also become a lucrative haven for dissenting voices on a variety of different subjects. See Glenn Greenwald’s reporting on the establishment’s hypocrisy or Alex Berenson’s data-driven but non-mainstream views on COVID and virus policy. 

All of which dangles from that same single thread, that one point of failure — Amazon Web Services.

Obviously alternative media sources are a good thing. But to really change the game at a foundational level, a separate and Big-Tech-less technology infrastructure that can be purchased and used by anyone to create new products without fear of political retaliation is what’s truly needed. And thanks to Rumble, Thiel, Vance, and others, we might just get it.

Many tech commentators say the internet is increasingly being split into three, with cyber walls being drawn up separating the US, the EU, and China, each of which require their own flavor of regulatory oversight and speech suppression.

But maybe a fourth internet will emerge. A free internet. An internet that fulfills its original promise. The odds of all the pieces falling into place just right may be long, but the holiday season is a time for optimism.

And as for Rumble, well, they are hard at work:

Written by Ethan Reese

Ethan covers digital media and popular culture after spending nearly a decade in corporate search engine marketing and digital product management


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  1. I keep seeing a Facebook-sponsored commercial where the actor who claims to be a Facebook content moderator cries about how difficult it is for him to decide what is free speech and what is dangerous speech and “maybe the government should be making those decisions and Section 230 should be amended.”

    Personally I think that was their end-game all along – they wanted government to take that content moderation over – but they figured, “Hey, while we have free rein, why not abuse our power to affect the Presidential election and try to get that Bad Orange Man out of office? We want regulation anyway so we are not losing anything. Orange Man Bad!”

    Power corrupts and these immature silicon valley clowns like Zuckerberg are a lot better at coding than understanding how the world works outside of their little bubbles… now that the Bad Orange Man is out of office they are turning content moderation over to good ol’ Senile Afghanistan Joe and his woke affirmative action bureaucrats.

  2. WAIT A MINUTE !!! Wasn’t there an Elite Think Tank Retreat in Aspen last month on “Misinformation” that concluded that Katie Couric and Prince Harry (?) should be co-National Censors of All Media? ….

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