After Backlash, MeWe Says Users Are ‘Free to Discuss’ Stop the Steal

The company’s CEO says MeWe does not enforce ‘political litmus tests’ or target political affiliations

Photo: Chesnot/Getty Images

Alternative social network MeWe became a destination for right-wing speech surrounding the Capitol riots last month. In groups and chatrooms, some users celebrated the violence in Washington, D.C., and endorsed the possibility of killing their perceived opponents.

Following the attack, MeWe announced that it was cooperating with U.S. Capitol Police and cracked down on far-right groups like Stop the Steal across the platform. MeWe says it began removing accounts and messages promoting violence and in a tweet, the company said it was removing Stop the Steal groups and encouraged people to report such communities. “We are taking Stop the Steal groups down on MeWe,” the company tweeted to me and a colleague after I reported on its evolution from a small community hub to a high profile platform championed by the far right. “If you find any, please send us the links. Thank you!”

The moves angered members of far-right movements who accused MeWe of censorship, and now it appears the company is walking back some of these moderation efforts. Groups such as the Patriot Party, which has seemingly absorbed momentum from Stop the Steal, are openly proliferating on the site.

In a post to MeWe’s news and updates page last Wednesday, MeWe president Jason Hardy referred to a tweet made by the company in regard to its ongoing moderation efforts. Hardy corrected the tweet, which he called a “communications mistake.” The post underscored that MeWe does not enforce “political litmus tests” or target political affiliations.

Both the tweet that Hardy referred to and the tweet regarding the removal of Stop the Steal groups have been deleted.

“A MeWe employee tweeted a reply from MeWe’s Twitter account to a journalist who had initiated contact with MeWe via email and Twitter, because they had identified some MeWe groups and members who were making violent threats — in clear violation of MeWe’s TOS,” Hardy wrote.

“Our employee was supposed to reply that MeWe, as always, is investigating and taking action against TOS-violators, but the reply stated we were deleting certain kinds of groups from our platform [regardless of the content they post], and asked for assistance finding them,” Hardy added. “It was an incorrect message that came during a time of immense pressure and scrutiny by organizations attempting to shut down our platform, which has been a safe place for people and communities of all stripes ever since MeWe launched in 2016.”

Both the tweet that Hardy referred to and the tweet regarding the removal of Stop the Steal groups have been deleted.

On Twitter, MeWe also responded to people discussing the company’s comment about deleting Stop the Steal groups. “Members are free to discuss STS and any other topics,” MeWe tweeted on January 25, two days before Hardy’s announcement. “Members/groups would only be removed if they are found to be calling for violence, breaking the law, etc. — like any other members/groups.”

MeWe did not immediately respond to OneZero’s request for comment.

Though MeWe originated as a privacy-focused platform, it has subsequently appealed to groups identifying as militias, violent conspiracy theorists, and Donald Trump supporters seeking to undermine the presidential election results.

MeWe has fallen out of favor with some far-right groups in the last two weeks who believe the company has wrongfully deplatformed them. By early January, MeWe had implemented a search level ban on militia content, which means that queries for the word “militia” return no results, and it seemingly expanded restrictions around Stop the Steal, QAnon, and Patriot Party groups as well, which saw some of their larger groups removed last month. Following OneZero’s story, a Patriot Party group of roughly 12,000 followers was removed by MeWe and swiftly migrated to another platform, Minds, where its creator wrote that MeWe should be punished for their “censorship.” Back on MeWe, members of existing far-right groups worriedly discussed how some of their communities were suddenly being removed.

“So now that MeWe is inching closer towards Zucking pages, does this group have a presence on Minds.com?” wrote a member of a Minutemen group on January 13.

“I’m aware of Stop the Steal was taken down,” wrote another user in a Patriot Party group on January 14. “MEWE allowed name change to Righteous Rebellion and they took that down within hours. I saw in another chat Joe Biden IS NOT my President is gone.”

MeWe’s user base has skyrocketed over the past few months as part of cadre of alternative platforms — including Parler, Gab, Clapper, and Telegram — endorsed by Trump supporters looking to abandon Facebook and Twitter. MeWe told Business Insider that it gained 2.5 million new users in the third week of January. And while the company failed to attain the same level of growth as Parler in 2020, it stands to inherit Parler users jettisoned from the platform following the app’s banishment by Amazon Web Services, Recode noted this month. Though MeWe is only a fraction of Facebook’s size, its accelerated success means the company bears an even greater responsibility for moderating harmful content on its site.

“These last few weeks have been some of the most exciting times for us here at MeWe,” Hardy wrote. “Millions of you have joined and managing this remarkable growth created temporary challenges for our team and infrastructure.”

Update: This piece has been updated to clarify that MeWe removed accounts and messages promoting violence after the Capitol riots.

Staff writer at OneZero covering social platforms, internet communities, and the spread of misinformation online. Previously: VICE

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