“Skewtube: New breed of video sites thrive on misinformation and hate”


A day after a mass shooting in Buffalo, New York last May, the video-sharing website BitChute was amplifying a far-right conspiracy theory that the massacre was a so-called false flag operation, meant to discredit gun-loving Americans.

Three of the top 15 videos on the site that day blamed U.S. federal agents instead of the true culprit: a white-supremacist teenager who had vowed to “kill as many blacks as possible” before shooting 13 people, killing 10. Other popular videos uploaded by BitChute users falsely claimed COVID-19 vaccines caused cancers that “literally eat you” and spread the debunked claim that Microsoft founder Bill Gates caused a global baby-formula shortage.

BitChute has boomed as YouTube, Twitter and Facebook tighten rules to combat misinformation and hate speech. An upstart BitChute rival, Odysee, has also taken off. Both promote themselves as free-speech havens, and they’re at the forefront of a fast-growing alternative media system that delivers once-fringe ideas to millions of people worldwide.

Searching the two sites on major news topics plunges viewers into a labyrinth of outlandish conspiracy theories, racist abuse and graphic violence. As their viewership has surged since 2019, they have cultivated a devoted audience of mostly younger men, according to data from digital intelligence firm Similarweb.

BitChute and Odysee both host hundreds of videos inspired by the QAnon conspiracy theory, whose supporters have been arrested for threatening politicians, abducting children and blocking a bridge near Arizona’s Hoover Dam with an armored truck full of guns and ammunition.

“Platforms such as BitChute and Odysee have had a seismic impact on the disinformation landscape,” said Joe Ondrak of Logically, a British firm that works with governments and other organizations to reduce the harm of misinformation. The sites, he said, had become the “first port of call” for conspiracists to publish videos.

BitChute and Odysee say they comply with the law by, for example, removing terrorism-related material, and that they have rules banning racist content or incitement of violence. At the same time, the companies defended the rights of extremists to express themselves on their sites and downplayed the importance of their content. “Bitchute’s North Star is free speech, which is the cornerstone of a free and democratic society,” BitChute said in a statement to Reuters. Odysee said that right-wing and conspiracy content didn’t define the platform, which it said is focusing on generating science- and technology-related videos.

Despite the platforms’ rules, their users routinely publish overtly racist videos and post comments that call for violence, a Reuters review of the sites found. BitChute and Odysee didn’t respond to questions about content that appeared to violate the sites’ guidelines.

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