Rumble has made a brave stand as a right-leaning “free speech” video site where users can get life advice from accused human trafficker Andrew Tate, learn how vaccinated people are “ticking time bombs,” dive into QAnon lore about Princess Diana and JFK Jr. faking their deaths to take down an evil banking cabal, or adopt the screenname “Jew Hunter” while using a picture of a Ku Klux Klan rally as a profile background. But the appeal of such a platform isn’t necessarily enough to make it a successful upstart challenger to behemoths YouTube and Twitch.
In fact, a number of trends at the alt-tech company — including outrageous spending and a precipitous crash in active users — indicate that the platform may be stalling out after a meteoric rise in 2022. And the headaches over high-profile talent have extended beyond Tate’s upcoming trial in Romania. Now another key ambassador for Rumble, comedian Russell Brand, is being investigated for alleged sex crimes in the U.K., and though he has denied the allegations, the development has driven off major advertisers. Could this all amount to a perfect storm?
Founded in 2013 by Canadian tech entrepreneur Chris Pavlovski, who serves as CEO, Rumble was relatively obscure until the 2020 boom in Covid-19 and QAnon conspiracy theories, when it began courting prominent right-wing creators able to bring established audiences to the site. The pitch proved appealing to those banned, demonetized, or otherwise “censored” by rival social media companies for hate speech or misinformation, as Rumble takes a hands-off approach to moderation. Tate, for example, with most of his mainstream channels suspended, has a semi-exclusive presence there, and the same is true for conspiracist accounts like the X22 Report, which became a top performer on the site after getting booted from YouTube for peddling QAnon content.
Yet there may be a limited upside to these channels, some of which have cost Rumble a pretty penny. (Tate claims that his deal is worth $9 million.) Alongside those contracts, Rumble has made still more dubious investments, such as buying a house in Miami for popular young streamers Kai Cenat and IShowSpeed — a property that Cenat was quick to confirm the duo would not actually live in. The company’s last quarterly statement in August showed an operational loss of more than $58 million, with millions more to be paid out in creator contracts over the coming months.
The news got worse for Rumble in September, when Russell Brand — one of the company’s foremost content creators, and a vocal supporter of its mission — was accused by four different women of rape and sexual assault in reporting by The Times U.K. and Channel 4. One was 16 years old at the time she had an allegedly abusive relationship with Brand. The actor and comedian denied the women’s claims, but his agent and publisher dropped him, the final shows on his live tour were postponed, further related accusations came out, and police opened two separate investigations (one into Brand’s alleged sex crimes, the other into claims of harassment and stalking). YouTube also demonetized his lucrative account, which left Brand begging Rumble viewers to buy a paid subscription to his channel there at a yearly rate of $60.
Although Brand had suddenly become much more dependent on Rumble, the site took collateral damage from the negative press: mainstream advertisers abandoned the platform to avoid having their products appear on Brand’s channel. As analyst Edwin Dorsey wrote in a recent edition of his popular investment newsletter “The Bear Cave,” the platform needs considerable ad revenue to keep up its frantic rate of spending, but hasn’t managed to land many household names. “Rumble’s difficulty attracting mainstream corporate advertisers may be linked to its promotion of controversial figures,” Dorsey noted, and you’re more likely to see ads for gold brokers or diet supplements. The fallout from the Brand situation led to the departure of some of the few bigger partners Rumble had managed to bring aboard: Burger King, ASOS, and HelloFresh all pulled out.
Brand struck a partnership with Rumble last year, due in part to what he viewed as YouTube’s “censorship” of his podcast, Stay Free with Russell Brand, over his repeated sharing of Covid-19 and vaccine misinformation. The debut of the series on Rumble in September 2022 coincided with YouTube deleting a video in which Brand had falsely asserted that the National Institutes of Health had added the antiparasitic drug ivermectin to a list of approved Covid-19 treatments. In a follow-up video about the incident, Brand declared, “We have had to move to Rumble to assure that we are not censored further. We will continue to upload on YouTube for as long as they allow us, but we would prefer you join us on Rumble.”
Amid the newly opened sexual assault investigations, Brand has again painted himself as a victim of censorship — this time by the U.K. government, which is set to enact an online safety law that internet policy experts believe may force Rumble offline in the country. Last month, in his first public comments since the allegations against him became public, Brand implied they were somehow connected to the U.K.’s new Online Safety Bill, which gives regulators power to fine social media platforms that fail to curb illegal content or prevent children from accessing age-inappropriate material. (It’s unclear what connection this would have to women accusing him of sexual abuse.)
Meanwhile, Caroline Dinenage, a member of the U.K. Parliament and chair of its House of Commons media committee, wrote a letter to various social media platforms, including Rumble, to ask if they would, like YouTube, demonetize Brand’s accounts. In a reply that went viral on X (formerly Twitter), Rumble CEO Chris Pavlovski called the inquiry “deeply inappropriate and dangerous,” and indicated that Brand would continue to profit off his Rumble content. “Rumble stands for very different values,” Pavlovski wrote. “We have devoted ourselves to the vital cause of defending a free internet — meaning an internet where no one arbitrarily dictates which ideas can or cannot be heard, or which citizens may or may not be entitled to a platform.” (Pavlovski did not reply to a request for further comment from Rolling Stone.)
Even if Rumble remains a safe haven for Brand and other fringe figures, how long can it last, given that the business appears to be struggling? This August, weeks before the allegations against Brand came out, Manuel Paul Dipold, a market analyst for the investment service Seeking Alpha, wrote that Rumble’s growth “has significantly slowed down or even reversed, making it a risky investment.” Of particular concern was a decline in Monthly Active Users, or MAUs. Rumble’s August quarterly statement showed 44 million MAUs, a “a slight decline compared to 48 million in the first quarter of 2023.” But Rumble was claiming 80 million monthly active users at the end of 2022 — meaning their audience has shrunk by nearly half. And a user only has to visit once in a 30-day period to be counted as an MAU. (Rumble did not respond to an inquiry about user activity in the two months since releasing the 44 million figure.)
Even when it comes to his anti-vaxxer pseudoscience and anti-government paranoia, two staples of the Rumble ecosystem, people can find those narratives flourishing elsewhere. Under Elon Musk, X has gutted moderation, allowing the extremists and misinformation influencers that might otherwise need a place like Rumble to operate without fear of a crackdown. Rumble also has a competitor in Kick, a similarly no-holds-barred streaming site that has paid enormous sums to lure big Twitch streamers to the platform — especially those rankled by stringent rules and repeated suspensions on that site — including Andrew Tate acolyte Adin Ross. But Kick, too, has seen a slowdown after explosive growth in its early days, surely an ill omen for both “free-speech” platforms.
Still, a friendly venture capitalist like tech billionaire Peter Thiel or Sen. J.D. Vance, both investors in Rumble, could always swoop in with a plan to save the site. And if anything can temporarily reverse Rumble’s fortunes, it may be the 2024 election cycle, which promises to be brutal and polarizing. The agitated voter with a taste for hard-right propaganda will find no shortage of it there, alongside professional slap-fighting competitions and conspiracy theories about the Egyptian pyramids. On the other hand, the internet is packed top to bottom with this junk, and making a profit off a lawless website where you refuse to rein in bad actors is never going to get easier. Rumble has spent a fortune on the pretext that it offers a bold and different vision of social media — instead, it’s more of the same.