In response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the European Union enacted sanctions against Russian state-funded broadcaster RT’s various communication outlets in order to limit the Kremlin’s ability to wage information warfare. Now, some alternative tech platforms are flouting those restrictions, enabling RT to continue spreading misinformation and propaganda to the EU.
While major social media platforms have implemented measures to comply with these sanctions, many alt-tech platforms, particularly those favored by conservatives and far-right extremists like Rumble and Gab, have not respected these restrictions, and in many cases they have openly opposed them. Unlike Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and TikTok, which have geo-restricted access to RT in EU countries, alt-platforms continue to allow RT’s accounts to be accessible to users from those regions. Some alt-platforms have taken minor steps to comply with EU regulations, while others are allowing RT to flout the sanctions in order to market themselves as guardians of “free speech.”
In recent weeks, media outlets have covered RT's global presence and subsequent EU restrictions on Telegram, a messaging app popular in both Ukraine and Russia. Media Matters has previously reported that RT and fellow Russian state outlet Sputnik’s Telegram channels were utilized to spread false Ukrainian bioweapons conspiracy theories across Spanish-language social media.
Rumble -- a haven for far-right misinformation about public health and elections -- has become RT’s favored video streaming platform, following the outlet’s ouster from YouTube in response to its misleading coverage of Russia’s actions. While RT’s YouTube channel was still up and running, its two Rumble channels predominantly republished clips from YouTube and Ruptly (RT’s video-on-demand service).
After RT was blocked from YouTube for “denying, minimizing or trivializing” the invasion of Ukraine, RT announced that its main Rumble channel started livestreaming its news broadcast for the first time. At the time of writing, this livestream broadcast achieved over 700,000 views, placing it in the top 10 most viewed videos of the month on Rumble.
RT has also increased Rumble integration on its website, embedding Rumble livestream and providing a paid Rumble web video player function, a premium feature ranging from $100 to $20,000 a month. RT’s video infrastructure may indicate that Rumble is not only hosting content for the Russian-state network, but also profiting from this arrangement.
Rumble issued a single statement blaming the “U.S. mainstream media” for “disseminating a completely false and misleading story about our relationship to the Russia-state news network RT.” Making no mention of EU sanctions, Rumble described itself as a “neutral video platform” and implied that RT and other outlets would be able to use its service “without censorship or restrictions.”
RT’s Rumble channels continue to be accessible from Internet Protocol address ranges in the EU. Likewise, Rumble’s mobile applications remain available on both Apple’s App Store and the Google Play Store, even though both tech companies blocked RT’s app on their respective storefronts.
Gab’s antisemitic and white nationalist-friendly CEO, Andrew Torba, has repeatedly shared RT’s account with his users, which has existed since February 2021. Torba also stated explicitly in a blog post on March 4 that Gab has no intention of banning RT, and bragged about Gab being “now the one place on the internet where you can find RT News.”
Torba's support of RT during the invasion reflects past statements of admiration for Russian conservatism, including positive sentiments he has expressed toward Aleksandr Dugin, a Russian fascist philosopher known for his genocidal rhetoric against Ukrainians. Since Russia invaded Ukraine, Torba has consistently posted pro-Russian content and misinformation. At least one of Torba’s posts was promoted by the official RT Gab account.
RT’s Gab account continues to be accessible to IP ranges in the EU, despite sanctions.
Odysee is a video platform that markets itself as a moderation-free space for far-right users, including hosting a significant amount of neo-Nazi content. Following the implementation of sanctions, RT began directing supporters to its newly created Odysee channel. Unlike its use of other alt-platforms, RT is using Odysee to house several of its specialty and foreign language broadcasts, including RT Play, RT Sports MMA, RT Documentary, RT DE, and RT en Español.
Four days after the invasion started, Odysee’s official Twitter account put out a statement opposing the removal of RT from its platform. Odysee CEO Julian Chandra tweeted that he does not make distinctions between state-funded and other media, when it comes to upholding “freedom of press.” In an interview with former Fox News producer Alison Morrow, Chandra stated that he did not receive takedown notices from governments, but he was contacted by “some malicious actors” demanding that Odysee take down RT’s accounts.
Jeremy Kauffman, a New Hampshire libertarian Senate candidate and founder of Odysee’s parent company, complained on Twitter that YouTube has “artificially boosted state-dominated, pro-war fake news like CNN for YEARS” but was now banning RT, and commented that he “was well positioned to profit from our ongoing dystopia.” According to Nandini Jammi, co-founder of advertising-technology watchdog Check My Ads, RT’s Odysee video pages contain advertisements and utilize the ad service VERIZON DSP, which is owned by Yahoo.
RT’s Odysee accounts continue to be accessible from IP ranges in the EU, despite sanctions. Odysee is also in the process of launching an Android app, which was recently approved by the Google Play Store, and the platform is currently available in the Apple App Store.
Prior to Parler’s deplatforming by Amazon Web Services and Apple’s App Store after the app played a role in the January 6 insurrection, RT established a profile on the platform as it achieved peak popularity in the immediate post-2020 election period.
RT created a Parler account on November 12, 2020, just days after the presidential election was called for President Joe Biden. RT capitalized on Parler’s newfound attention over the next three months, as mainstream media outlets covered Parler’s role in spreading election misinformation and hosting calls for the January 6 attack on the United States Capitol. The Russian state-backed network simultaneously published articles perpetuating the narrative of Parler’s fight against “Big Tech censorship” while bolstering its own anti-censorship credentials by directing users to its account on the conservative platform. RT has sometimes uploaded articles about Parler and directed users to its account at the same time.
Parler is now less relevant in the right-wing social media ecosystem, but RT continues to maintain an account on the website. Unlike its other, more tailored accounts, RT's Parler account is solely used as a direct feed for RT’s web articles.
Parler has not made any explicit statements regarding RT’s presence on the platform, instead choosing to actively promote its new line of NFT products, while RT’s account continues to be accessible from IP ranges in the EU.
Prior to the invasion, the alt-platform GETTR hosted two RT accounts, both of which have since been suspended in compliance with EU sanctions, in alignment with its fledgling reputation for bare minimum content moderation.
Unlike other alt-platforms, GETTR has publicly vowed to comply with and implement recent EU sanctions regarding RT. Speaking to Falun Gong-backed NTD News, former Trump adviser turned GETTR CEO Jason Miller stated that the platform would comply with EU and local laws by not allowing RT to broadcast on his platform.
Without elaboration or further announcements, GETTR subsequently banned all of RT’s accounts on the platform. An initial ban of the German-language RT DE occurred on March 3, followed by a ban of RT’s English-language account on March 11. The bans were met with outrage from longtime GETTR critics on the far-right, QAnon influencers, and white nationalists.
RT’s English-language GETTR account was unremarkable — it never officially received a verification badge, and never gained more than 900 followers.
The platform currently hosts one RT account, however there is no confirmation that this account is controlled by RT directly. Despite RT’s demonstrated knowledge and awareness of Bitchute’s existence, the Kremlin broadcaster has never officially directed users to this account or mentioned its existence. The content uploaded by this account consists entirely of copied videos uploaded from RT’s YouTube channel, with identical titles and descriptions.
Following the invasion of Ukraine, Bitchute condemned Ukraine-related censorship of the media by Chinese, Russian and Western governments. Bitchute also levied criticism against other tech companies for implementing a variety of Ukraine war-related policies, including downranking sites “associated with Russian disinformation.” While expressing condolences for victims impacted by the invasion, Bitchute’s chief executive Ray Vahey told The Guardian that the platform will feature RT “as long as we can legally host them.”
While publicly presenting a neutral position, Bitchute’s verified Gab account shared an unfounded claim about anti-Russian bots attacking alt-platforms.
In the meantime, RT’s Bitchute channel remains accessible to IP ranges in the EU, despite sanctions prohibiting internet-based distribution of RT.