The Reddit clone Voat has reportedly been contacted by a “US agency” about threats being made on the censorship-free website, according to its founder Justin Chastain.
In a post on Wednesday, Chastain (who goes by PuttItOut on Voat) told users they need to “chill on the ‘threats,’” as the platform had been officially approached by an unnamed agency over some of its content. Chastain said he didn’t want to litigate free speech, but that Voat would cooperate with law enforcement and remove “gray area” posts if asked.
Voat users took offense to the perceived curtailing of their ability to post racial slurs and endorse violence.
The first comment on Chastain’s post opened with an anti-Semitic slur and call to exterminate Jews. The Voat user cited a 1969 First Amendment Supreme Court case involving a Ku Klux Klan leader who gave a televised speech targeting certain races, arguing that the court ruled a threat needs to be specific in order to be illegal. The user then gave an example of a specific call for violence against a specific synagogue on a specific day. This comment was still up at the time of writing.
Voat was founded in 2014 as a free speech Reddit knockoff and became an enclave for far-right topics. Many of its users had jumped ship from Reddit, which was beginning to ban vicious communities such as r/FatPeopleHate, r/CoonTown, and one Qanon subreddit, r/GreatAwakening—also coinciding with the advent of deplatforming, which has successfully cut the reach of people like Alex Jones and Milo Yiannopoulos and their extremist ideologies.
Chastain could not be reached by Motherboard, and it’s also unclear which comments were allegedly flagged as threats.
But in the past, the FBI has taken an interest in online postings by far-right communities and users. Last year, FBI officials infiltrated Gab, another “free speech social network,” to investigate an online acquaintance of Robert Bowers who is accused of murdering 11 people at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh.
The FBI did not immediately respond to Motherboard’s questions about whether it had approached Voat or Chastain.
“We always err on the side of not removing any content (don't even remember when I last did) but things are getting hot and it's important we understand this as a community,” Chastain replied to another user.
The future of Voat has been hanging on tenterhooks for several years now. In 2017, Chastain told members that licensing and hosting costs were unsustainable without outside funding which the site was struggling to secure; no longer relying on PayPal donations since the payments platform cut ties with Voat over “obscenity.”