Inside secret chat rooms censoring criticism on pro-Trump ‘free speech’ social media app

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An ABC investigation has revealed how Australian supporters of an anti-China government movement are censoring criticism on a ‘free speech’ social media platform.

Twitter lookalike app Gettr markets itself as a platform that “defends free speech” and has become a safe space for divisive figures and those spreading conspiracies about COVID-19 and President Joe’s family Biden.

Launched last July, Gettr says it has 4.5 million users and its top accounts include former Trump luminaries such as former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, as well as Australian politicians, Liberal Senator Alex Antic and One Nation candidate George Christensen.

The former US president himself is reportedly considering joining the app after the disastrous rollout of his own social media platform, TRUTH Social.

Gettr has also attracted members of the New Federal State of China (NFSC), a political movement founded by former Trump adviser Steve Bannon and exiled billionaire Guo Wengui.

Former US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is a prominent user of Gettr. Donald Trump is also considering signing up.(PA: Andrew Harnik)

The couple used the platform to bolster their anti-Chinese Communist Party (CCP) credentials, and Mr Bannon said Gettr stood outside the moderation policies present on “big tech oligarchs” such as Twitter.

But insiders have revealed that Gettr is in fact subject to round-the-clock monitoring by members of the NFSC, who flag content for takedown.

Criticisms of the platform from Mr. Bannon and Mr. Guo, their organizations and Gettr himself are often quickly identified by NFSC members and removed, contrary to the platform’s mission to combat the “culture of cancelation “.

Farms for the faithful

When Mr Bannon and Mr Guo launched the NFSC from a boat anchored near the Statue of Liberty in New York in 2020, they also created the Himalaya Supervising Organization (HSO) to support its cause.

The HSO network is spread across the globe and its local branches in each country, called Himalaya Farms, serve as the base of operations for its online and offline activities.

Branches are in the United States, Australia, United Kingdom, Canada, Japan, Singapore, Korea, Taiwan, Spain, Italy, Germany and New Zealand.

Steve Bannon and Guo Wengui
Former Trump adviser Steve Bannon and Guo Wengui launch the new federal state of China on a boat in New York, 2020.(Youtube: provided)

Tens of thousands of accounts have joined the Himalaya Farm servers on the Discord messaging service – at least two chat rooms within the servers, seen by the ABC, are dedicated to monitoring Gettr 24/7 .

Subscribers are vetted before gaining access to the “Gettr Report Room”. They are required to provide a copy of their passport, records of donations to NFSC-aligned groups, and examples of writing that shows support for the movements and their leaders.

Once initiated, they are trained to watch for content they deem “suspicious,” which is often expressions of pro-CCP sentiment or comments critical of the NFSC movement.

The base of these verified subscribers includes “patrollers” who clock in for two-hour shifts to identify and report “offensive” posts or accounts to “admins” who then review them for removal.

Another former member of the NFSC movement, Lisa Chen, who was active on those Discord channels, said the posts that asked Mr Guo about Getter would be deleted “in a few minutes”.

“Gettr is said to fight against cancel culture, but in fact, he’s a total believer in cancel culture,” Ms. Chen said.

silhouette of a woman indoors
Former NFSC member Lisa Chen said followers were instructed to create fake accounts to spread positive messages about the movement.(ABC News: Jack Fisher)

Several deleted posts and comments identified by patrollers include a question about the transparency of the Rule of Law Foundation, a charity co-founded by Mr. Bannon and Mr. Guo.

Notices that NFSC-aligned censors considered pro-CCP were also removed.

Accounts flagged for deletion have also abandoned the so-called free speech platform, including a Gettr user whose account disappeared after posting Mr Guo may soon be charged with contempt of court in reference to cases legal proceedings with which the businessman is confronted in the United States.

A censor took a screenshot of the post and wrote, “attack Mr. Guo, cancel the account.” Within an hour, an admin replied “account has been cancelled”.

a graphic showing Gettr with discord messages below indicating that they have been removed
Examples of Gettr messages that were reported by patrollers and then deleted. Discord messages, from chatroom administrators, have been translated by the ABC.(ABC News: Jack Fisher)

John Pan, was once a staunch supporter of Mr. Guo and the movement, but left after becoming disillusioned.

He was then harassed by Mr. Guo and his followers.

He said he created an account on Gettr in his own name a few days after the platform launched, but within 12 hours, and before posting anything, it was deleted.

A notification on John Pan's Gettr account that he had been
John Pan received this notification on his Gettr account within a day of its creation, in July last year. (Provided)

Mr Pan said chatroom insiders had sent him screenshots showing that his account had been reported by patrollers.

“Gettr is just a rogue website,” Pan said.

“The censorship system is even heavier than China-based websites.”

It’s unclear how these takedowns are done within Gettr, but a company spokeswoman said it works with users and “super volunteers” to identify activities that violate terms of service and guidelines. of the community of Gettr.

She claimed that “thousands of CCP troll and bot accounts directed their attention” to Gettr, and added that it would defend the platform’s users against “malicious nation-state actors.”

“Moderation of the Gettr platform is performed by both artificial intelligence and a team of trained human moderators in multiple popular languages ​​on our platform,” the spokesperson said.

“As part of this, Gettr works with experienced US-based third-party vendors and a globally distributed team of full-time and part-time moderation support staff, and like other social media companies , this includes both platform users and super volunteers.”

A post criticizing Mr. Guo that was flagged in Discord
A post criticizing Mr. Guo that was flagged in Discord and then deleted.(Provided)

The spokeswoman said it is not Gettr’s policy to prohibit criticism of “specific individuals, groups of individuals, or political movements, including, but not limited to, Mr. Guo or Mr. Bannon. “.

“Content moderation performed by our moderators is regularly reviewed to ensure that our moderators are doing their job … without favoring or disfavoring any person, group or political point of view,” she said.

The ABC emailed questions to Himalaya Farm representatives. They didn’t answer.

“Nobody Can Stop You”

In addition to removing unwanted content, Chen said followers are encouraged to register multiple accounts with Gettr and other social media platforms, and use fake profiles.

The ABC has seen chatroom administrators asking accounts to write glowing comments about the NFSC and its leaders in English.

“They asked us to spread Guo’s lyrics everywhere, to publish them as widely as possible, on all the user accounts we follow,” Ms. Chen said.

“They said (Gettr) is a platform for English audiences, especially American audiences.”

Ms. Chen said members were also told to follow certain people, including Mr. Pompeo and Mr. Bannon.

Gettr’s spokeswoman said in response to questions about the fake profiles, “Anyone who believes in freedom of speech and abides by our terms of service is welcome to use Gettr, including supporters of Mr. Guo.”

Neither Mr. Bannon nor Mr. Guo responded to ABC’s questions, but the pair have been prominent promoters of the platform, with the latter’s account referring to the app as “Miles Guo’s Gettr”, in reference to its English name.

Gettr’s spokeswoman said Mr. Guo had no leadership role or day-to-day involvement with the company.

The spokeswoman added, however, that one of its backers was an international investment fund “which has ties to, but is not controlled or managed by, the Guo Family Foundation.”

“Mr. Guo is a passionate ally of Gettr and believes in its mission to fight political censorship,” she said.

With billionaire Elon Musk’s recent plan to buy Twitter, who has promised to position it as a platform for free speech, Gettr’s future and appeal remain unclear.

In an interview the same week Gettr was launched, Bannon praised it for being a more tolerant environment for free speech than Twitter and predicted it would explode, just as Fox News did in the 90’s.

“The power of Gettr is that all of these ideas can be discussed in an open forum…and no one can stop you,” he said.

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