Tim de Winkel | Fringe platforms: Researching the role of the contesting alternatives to the mainstream social media platforms

Tim de Winkel | Fringe platforms: Researching the role of the contesting alternatives to the mainstream social media platforms | Overarching project: Governing Digital Societies in Europe | University Utrecht, Media and Culture | Promotor(es); supervisor(s): Prof. dr José van Dijck & dr Mirko Tobias Schäfer | September 2018 – August 2022 | T.dewinkel[at]uu.nl

Since 2016 the administrative (European Commission, 2018) – and public – incentive for more moderation caused several of the major social media, such as YouTube, Facebook and Twitter, to take measures against hate speech (Fioretti, 2018), resulting in the removal of content and banning of users. Predominantly focusing on the alt-right communities, several alternative services have manifested (Zannettou, 2018, p. 1), that allow the speech that was banned on their mainstream equivalent. There is Voat for the banned subreddits such as ‘Pizzagate’ and ‘Fatpeoplehate’ (Marwick, 2017, p. 25), the crowdfunding site Hatreon for users that create content too controversial for Patreon (Malter, 2017), and the Twitter surrogate Gab.ai, with an estimate of 440.000 users and growing (Torba, 2018). These alternative platforms, henceforth described as ‘fringe platforms’, celebrate (radical) free speech, call out against more moderation of online media, and explicitly challenge the MSSM platforms on their management of the ‘networked public sphere’. This research investigates the phenomenon of the fringe social media platforms and their role in the online communication and information practices of our platform society (Dijck, 2016), by analyzing: what encompasses the phenomenon of ‘fringe platforms’, how these alternative networked publics (Boyd, 2010) of radical free speech are governed, how they facilitate public debate and media practices, and what role they play in the networked public sphere. The main question this research addresses is: What role do the fringe social media platforms play in the provision of information and communication in the social media ecology?