This article originally appeared on VICE Canada.
As Facebook and other platforms attempt to cleanse white nationalists from their sites, one Canadian man is attempting to attract far-right social media users to his website.
That man is Scott Bacheldor, a Saskatchewanian with a website and a dream: take all the far-right people booted from Facebook and place them on his website. Due to the fact that there is, you know, at least one Nazi groups operating on the website (we’ll get into that later) VICE isn’t going to name it. For the rest of this piece, we’ll call it “the site.”
On Bacheldor’s answer to Facebook, racism, conspiracy—pretty much anything except for violence and nudity—is kosher.
"It's a place for people to go to where they don't have to worry about being kicked or banned,” said Bacheldor. “If we have a problem with someone we let them know but everything pretty much goes, except nude pics and pornography." He would later add in a message that if there were “actual white supremacists” on the site he would look into it and “if some people are misbehaving they would go off.”
As the debate about the radicalizing effects and extreme toxicity of social media grows to a fever pitch, some companies, including Facebook, are trying to cleanse their platform of extremists in an attempt to battle hate and disinformation (and improve their image). With news of these exoduses growing louder, people like Bacheldor see the now-purged users as a business opportunity, creating a whack-a-mole effect where those deemed too toxic for some platforms are the core user base for others.
Bacheldor’s site, while still very small, could probably best be described as a palette-swapped Facebook clone with an icon straight from Geocities. It has the familiar layout, tabs on the left-hand side, chat options on the right, posting and search tools smack dab in the center, options in the top-right hand corner… you get the drift. It’s when you start to browse the groups and posts you realize something is off.
One of the first pages advertised to me after creating my account was an (albeit tiny) Holocaust revisionist group. That unease doesn’t go away when you move to the “groups” section, as one of the biggest groups on the entire site, sporting about 500 members (or a fifth of the site’s membership to date), is dedicated to the popular and cultish QAnon conspiracy theory. At least a couple of the larger pages are dedicated to the Canadian Yellow Vest movement—initially an anti-Justin Trudeau/pro-oil industry group that has since been co-opted by racist elements.
The activity on Bacheldor’s site varies. A few users are extremely active; most post, at best, infrequently; and a large portion haven’t posted in months. Bacheldor said there are about 2,500 members on his site and that every time news of Facebook bans pop up they experience a surge in membership.
This trend of alternative social media platforms catering to the free speech crowd is nothing new. Gab was created as a response to Twitter, WrongThink as a response to Facebook, Bitchute as a response to YouTube and so on. Jeremy Blackburn, a professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, who researches alternative media platforms like the site or Gab, said the creation of sites like this make him uncomfortable.
"Sites like this and sites like Gab are kind of why I'm not entirely comfortable with the whole deplatforming thing,” said Blackburn. “[For Gab], it got them off of Twitter and that's great but now they're just going to create their own thing. It's good because they don't bug everyone on Twitter but it's bad because we don't really know what the hell they're doing over there."
As one would expect from a site built to cater to people kicked of Facebook, this one was born from a grievance. Bacheldor told VICE that he started the site about six months ago when a fringe political group he was involved with, The Republic Party of Canada, had some of their leadership kicked off Facebook. Since its inception, the Facebook clone has banned only six of its users. One they had to ban because they “wouldn’t stop calling people jews” and the rest were due to nudity being posted.
The site certainly lives up to it’s dedication to so-called free speech and hosts at least one sort of known name in the Canadian extreme-right, Kevin Goudreau and the Canadian Nationalist Front. Goudreau is a well-known neo-Nazi who caused a little bit of a stir when, after the Christchurch shooting, he seemingly made a comment that advised Canadian lone wolf attacks on possible targets. Goudreau was kicked of Facebook at the same time well-known white nationalist Faith Goldy was given the boot.
Now, Goudreau has found a new home on the site. When asked why he signed up there he told VICE, “out of the many sites, this is Canadian, pro-nationalist and freedom of speech.” Other users when asked had a myriad of reasons which ranged from the outright racist, complaining they can’t discuss the “holohoax” on YouTube and Twitter, to the more pragmatic, “it works like FB and there's no Zuck asshole influence.”
Barry Bradlyn, an assistant professor at the University of Illinois who works with Blackburn researching alternative media sites, says sites like the site and others tend to build up influence as they grow. These sites can start to work as a link in a chain for the spread of narratives or conspiracies. An example Bradlyn gives is the way the "[4chan board]/pol is very influential on Gab, Gab is very influential on the Donald, and the r/Donald is very influential on Reddit."
"This isn't just something you can just ignore," he added.
This isn’t Bacheldor’s first rodeo when it comes to trying to squeeze a living out of a website. Over the years, he’s attempted to make a go of it with classified sites kijijiji.com (note the extra “ji,” please), topdollarclassifieds.com, a dating site called youllfindlove.com, a news website, NCBM.ca, and a political site/party as mentioned earlier.
The news website, NCBM, is described by Bacheldor as "pretty much an open platform” that anyone can upload to. The outlet, which is still updated weekly, runs a mix of uncredited stories lifted directly from other sites. These include: the Express, the blog of right-wing provocateur Spencer Fernado, far-right site Voice of Europe, and, in a strange twist, the Canadian parody site The Beaverton. It also runs out-and-out fake news under headlines like “5 MILLION PLUS TO BECOME HOMELESS BECAUSE OF THE CARBON TAX OVER THE NEXT 2 YEARS!!!”
The site is run primarily by Bacheldor who recently says he incorporated it in Saskatchewan. It’s his primary vocation and he is actively searching for advertisers and fundraising in order to improve it.
While things revolving around social media companies are almost never not weird, things move into the territory of bizarre when discussing the site’s fiances. Bacheldor wildly claimed to VICE that the site was evaluated at $3 million [$2.22 million] but said he couldn’t recall what company actually did the evaluation. He told VICE that in regards to the site’s profits, “20% goes to shareholders, 30% goes to infrastructure and upgrade, and 50% goes to a program called the Canadian Community Project.” The project is Bacheldor’s idea to combat Canadian poverty, it would see him build a Christian community in Saskatchewan where the down and out would be sent to get better, work, and train—according to its constitution punishment for disobeying the community’s rules would be either hard labour or banishment.
According to counters on the side of the CCP site, Bacheldor has raised $75 [$56] of a needed $26.5 million [$20 million].
It’s still too early to say what will become of the site. It could just as easily die out as build a dedicated user base. If it does have a future though, it’s not too hard to see the inmates getting control of this particular asylum. As one can see with other websites built on an almost religious devotion to freedom of speech like Gab, 4Chan, or 8Chan, things can quickly spiral.
"I would expect that at some point this kind of thing, it just runs away from you,” said Blackburn. “Quite frankly, your whole point is radical free speech at the expense of everything else there are consequences to that, right?”
“It's easy for this stuff to get out of control."
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This article originally appeared on VICE CA.