As he wandered the red zone of the protest site in Ottawa, David Freiheit appeared bashful about the reception he received, but also energized by it.
People wanted pictures with him, embraced him with whispers of support in his ear, and treated him like a celebrity. He was livestreaming for hours at a time, his quick legal mind providing commentary in between interviews with the people drawn to the protest, and to him.
But Rumble had the hometown advantage during the trucker protests, even though many of the tens of millions who check out the video hosting platform every month may not know it’s Canadian.
“I have difficulty keeping it to myself now because things have fallen off a cliff in terms of rational discourse and rational behaviour from the political elite,” he told W5.
His fans knew him from his video channel hosted on rumble.com, as well as substantial followers on YouTube and Facebook.
CEO Chris Pavlovski tells the foundation story of Rumble in just about every interview he grants, primarily to American conservative media. It goes something like this. In 2013, upset that YouTube was making it harder for everyday content creators to earn a living, Pavlovski created a competing platform. It left more cash in the hands of creators and was meant to act as an agent in selling viral videos to bigger tech companies, advertisers and broadcasters.
It wasn’t a terribly lucrative business, but until 2019 it was enough to support a young family in Toronto and work alongside some lifelong friends.
Today Rumble has been valued at US$2 billion as it prepares to issue public shares on the NASDAQ exchange, and Pavlovski stands to become a multi-millionaire if the deal closes as he hopes. So what happened?
Trump happened. When the January 6th riots at the U.S. capitol led the leading social media platforms to ban the former U.S. president and some of his more nefarious allies, their supporters discovered Rumble and Pavlovski promised to never shut them down, apply editorial standards to their posts, or fact check them. To Pavlovski, free speech meant completely open debate — and as long as that debate wasn’t openly hateful, racist, or allied with known terrorist groups, it could live on Rumble.
“We don’t want to tell you what’s right or wrong. We won’t get involved in fact checking,” Pavlovski told Freiheit in a recent appearance. “We don’t want to be involved in any kind of editorializing of your content. You can have the discussion that you want to have without any obstruction from us whatsoever.”
But a W5 investigation into Rumble tests Pavlovki’s characterization of his video platform as ‘neutral’. And while some search terms for known white supremacist organizations, such as Proud Boys, allege no videos exist on Rumble, when using different key words there are video posts that surface that have been banned on other platforms.
Over three months, W5 made multiple requests to Rumble, its publicity companies and direct requests to Pavlovski to comment on what our analysis revealed, all of which went unanswered.
The shy Canadian entrepreneur is much more willing to talk to the elite of American conservative media, however, making regular appearances to pitch his pending share offering to the public.
In the past three months, Rumble has financed mergers with other conservative-leaning sites, creating an entire media ecosystem. There’s a Facebook-like platform, an Amazon-like cloud, a Shopify-like purchasing system, and this week, a Twitter-like app in beta testing hosted by Rumble.
That app comes from Donald Trump’s new media company and is called, some might say with irony, TRUTH Social. Pavlovski now proudly calls Rumble “cancel-culture proof,” and is being embraced by Republican politicians and hopefuls gearing up for an intense political season in the U.S.
Meantime, in its home country, the trucker protests have boosted Rumble’s followers in Canada up to nine per cent of all viewers of the site worldwide. But Pavlovski may be about to move his company out of his home country, establishing in Florida instead. That state’s Republican Governor Rick DeSantis has embraced Rumble’s anti Big Tech messaging, and local politicians are provided lucrative incentives to establish there.
But for now, Rumble claims its headquarters remains in a small office in downtown Toronto, even though when W5 visited, the door was locked and no one responded when we knocked.
The video site continues to be a home for largely conservative-leaning commentators, conspiracy theories, and yes, cute cat videos. But as the trucker protests subside, Rumble is now positioned to play a leading role in the upcoming U.S. congressional and presidential elections, having added many new Canadian viewers drawn to its anti-elite and defiant content.
Watch W5’s “Rumble” Saturday at 7 p.m. local time on CTV