f you’re not familiar with Gettr, the conservative social-media app, you can be forgiven. Its most notable moment had been when the site was hacked on its launch day: July 4, 2021. Since then, it’s toiled in relative anonymity, working hard to be the free-speech alternative to Twitter, or the “Twitter killer,” in the words of Steve Bannon, a frequent Gettr poster.
But the company just had a blockbuster week, reporting seven hundred thousand new users on the site. After Twitter banned both the congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene’s personal account and Robert Malone, a prominent doctor on conservative media, for spreading vaccine misinformation, Joe Rogan joined Gettr. “Just in case shit over at Twitter gets even dumber,” Rogan wrote. “I’m here now as well.” The masses took note.
Before Christmas, I met with Gettr’s C.E.O., Jason Miller, a savvy veteran survivor of both Trump Presidential campaigns. As a senior communications adviser on the 2016 campaign, Miller famously impregnated a fellow-staffer while his own wife was pregnant. A few days before the 2020 election, he claimed that Democrats were “going to try to steal it back.” On January 6th, he reportedly drafted a pair of tweets for Trump, claiming that “the fake news media” was “trying to blame peaceful and innocent MAGA supporters for violent actions.” One of the drafts, which was never posted, said, “Our people should head home and let the criminals suffer the consequences!” (Miller, who has been subpoenaed by the January 6th committee, told me, “My lawyers are talking with them.”) I had hoped to meet him at his company’s offices, on Columbus Circle—where “a couple few dozen” people work, Miller said—but the Omicron surge dampened those plans. Instead, we met in a coffee shop’s outdoor shed. Beforehand, a Gettr spokeswoman had assured me—unprompted—that Miller, who arrived in a KN95 mask, was vaccinated and boosted.
After a little chitchat about D.C. (Miller commutes to New York a few days a week from his home in Arlington, Virginia), our conversation turned to Trump. In October, 2021, Trump announced that he would be launching Truth Social, another Twitter alternative that’s part of his larger—and still undefined—media project, Trump Media & Technology Group. Devin Nunes quit Congress in January to serve as C.E.O. of the venture, a move that was announced shortly after the Securities and Exchange Commission reported that it was investigating the project for potential violations. It’s still unclear if Trump’s effort will progress beyond slide decks promising that some guys named “Josh A.” and “Billy B.” will steer the ship, but Miller finds himself in something of a delicate spot: his business rival is the most powerful figure in Republican politics, and, basically, the Godzilla of social media. Miller assured me that all remained rosy with Trump—the two had talked just the day before—and noted that the former President will need a working social-media platform if he decides to run in 2024. “If his platform takes longer to develop, I would not completely rule out him joining Gettr,” Miller said. “And, even when he launches his, I wouldn’t rule out that he also creates a Gettr account.”
Miller told me that he’d made Trump an offer with a “whole lot of zeros,” apparently in the nine-digit range, to join Gettr—but no dice. In early December, Miller hawked the app to congressional staffers in D.C. and got a few sign-ups, though Twitter’s a hard habit to break. (Miller has a staffer whose job is devoted to signing up “Capitol Hill and G.O.P. influencers.”) When we talked, Miller had just returned from a trip to Paris, where he courted the far-right Presidential candidate Éric Zemmour, and he had upcoming trips scheduled to India and Brazil, where, largely because of Jair Bolsonaro and Bolsonaro’s sons’ use of the app, nearly fifteen per cent of Gettr’s users now reside. His global recruitment gambit is set to include Brazilian country singers, Indian cricket players, and Japanese sumo wrestlers.
Miller wouldn’t talk on the record about specific pop-culture figures getting the Gettr sweet talk, but he mentioned that former “Mandalorian” and mixed-martial-arts star Gina Carano has an account. One ad promoting Gettr sign-ups featured a photo of the actress Dakota Johnson and her words, “Cancel culture is such a fucking downer,” while another quoted Kim Kardashian to similar effect. Neither Johnson nor Kardashian has an account, but Enes Kanter Freedom—the middling N.B.A. center and vocal critic of the Chinese government—sure does.
Gettr is, for the most part, short on recognizable names, though a few, such as Tucker Carlson and Tulsi Gabbard, have joined the site in the past couple of days. Private messages aren’t yet available. (Miller told me they’re coming this year.) And, while the likes of Mike Pompeo, Sean Hannity, and Dinesh D’Souza have accounts, if you’re not deep into the conservative social-media world, you might not know who a lot of Gettr’s verified users are. @Jamierodr14, a “Proud Mother, Retired Army Veteran For President Trump!” has more than a hundred and eighty-eight thousand followers, but it wasn’t otherwise discernible what merited the official Gettr “V” at the top of her account. The same went for verified users like @Clinton614 (“special weapons and tactics operator”) and @KellyCurrie45 (“Married ! Fighting for true elections! TRUMP WON ! Freedom from Communism! Jesus is Lord 🙏🏻🙌🏻 Let’s go Brandon 💯”). Verified users have all been contacted directly by the Gettr team or their verified status on other platforms is carried over to Gettr. Miller said that a formal verification policy would be out shortly.
So far, the site has been where the “reply guys” of Twitter finally found themselves as main characters. That’s why the Rogan news drew such excitement in the Gettr-verse—it could use a little more star power, especially from one who likes to jump into the fray. The Internet-famous types on the site don’t really seem to engage with one another—you’re not going to get the right-wing equivalent of David Shor and Justice Democrats arguing over the finer points of coalition politics—and a lot of big-name feeds are merely cross-posting from Twitter. Since they all seem to mostly agree with one another—anti-mask, pro-Trump—there’s not much to say after a while. “People are just a lot more respectful. It’s an enjoyable experience,” Miller said. The “respectful” environment is in the eye of the beholder. Earlier in December, Miller had posted a cartoon of a Christmas elf hanging from a noose behind Hillary Clinton; it seemed to be a Jeffrey Epstein allusion. “ ’Tis the season!” he wrote.
Gettr is part of a niche conservative-media ecosystem that could see a banner year in 2022. Gettr, Parler, Rumble, and Gab—each app beloved by the right wing—has had their moment in the spotlight. But the midterms are coming, then the 2024 campaign will ramp up. As Big Tech cracks down on covid-19 and election misinformation, sites with more permissive posting rules could prove attractive to prominent figures on the right. It might simply be a matter of which becomes the go-to gathering place.
Parler, which started in 2018, has claimed that it has twenty million users, many more than Gettr, which only boasts around four million. Parler was effectively taken offline following the January 6th attack on the Capitol, when Amazon Web Services stopped hosting the site. It’s since found a new host and tried to recalibrate. In February, the site’s founding investor, the G.O.P. megadonor Rebekah Mercer, fired Parler’s C.E.O., who later claimed he’d been pushed out after advocating for stricter content moderation around QAnon and neo-Nazi posts. Mercer has since hired George Farmer, the Oxford-educated son of a Tory peer—and husband of the conservative commentator and Cardi B Twitter-beefer Candace Owens—to run the site. Parler returned to Apple’s App Store in May. This winter, the company reported twenty million dollars in new funding; in January, Farmer told Kara Swisher that he wasn’t worried about Gettr’s new influx of prominent names. (Recently, Melania Trump launched an N.F.T. project in partnership with Parler. But really, who knows how to parse that?)
David Thiel, a researcher at the Stanford Internet Observatory who has co-authored reports on Gettr and Parler, told me that the sites have a problem with user engagement. People might sign up for them, riding a wave of outrage after a major figure, such as Greene, is banned from one of the major platforms, but they often lose interest. The last time that he’d checked in on Gettr, Thiel said, “something like almost fifty per cent of users that signed up haven’t posted or commented on anything.” Gettr, for what it’s worth, estimated that there are four hundred thousand to five hundred thousand active daily users. By the time Twitter was a year old, it had more than five hundred thousand users. Two years later, it had fifty-eight million.
A big open question facing conservative “free speech” social media seems to be: Do these sites work without the heady excitement of owning the libs? There’s no denying that, to a large degree, conflict powers social media. If James Madison could have taken his worries about political factions to Twitter, he surely would have been called both a cuck and a neoliberal shill.
Miller says that it’s not as if he doesn’t want liberals on the site. It was just that they haven’t had their earth-shattering anti-Big Tech moment yet. “The pendulum swings on this, and free speech has only become really this big issue for the center right in the last five years or so,” he said. Before that, it had been a center-left concern. “The pendulum is gonna swing back.” He brought up Dave Chappelle and Nicki Minaj, both of whom have recently had flirtations with “cancellation” over accusations of transphobia and covid misinformation, respectively—also, Madonna, who lashed out at Instagram for censoring her nipple. Liberals would have their come-to-Gettr moments over different issues, Miller posited. “There’s no part of Madonna I want to see, no part of sixty-two-year-old Madonna that I want to see, but obviously she is frustrated with Big Tech for censoring her on many of these things.”
Miller’s not wrong that a lot of Americans seem fed up with Big Tech—recent polling shows that most don’t trust Facebook, TikTok, and Instagram. But concerns seem to be mostly over information privacy, not necessarily free-speech concerns. The idea that Big Tech and the mainstream media are out to get you is, at this point, a central tenet of the G.O.P. In a 2021 Pew Research Center report, less than a quarter of Republicans who see their primary political news source as part of the mainstream media actually trust their primary news source. Such disaffection serves a specific purpose for the right: feeding the persecution complex of a well-organized out-group.
Twitter’s ban of Trump, in January, 2021, removed the former President’s ability to communicate directly with millions of Americans—including many who hate him—but enhanced the quality of his digital martyrdom. He, and any other Republican politician who runs afoul of private companies enforcing their terms of service around misinformation and hate speech, can make a powerful argument to the G.O.P. base that they’re being silenced. Righteous outrage—“negative partisanship,” in wonkspeak—can be good electoral motivation.
Perhaps one of the more successful Gettr users has been Bannon, who uses the site to amplify his popular podcast, “Bannon’s War Room.” Bannon was removed from both Twitter and YouTube, and he gleefully played to the cameras for a Gettr live stream of his surrender to authorities, in November, for contempt of Congress. Bannon, who is relatively famous, both for his many shirts and for his many brushes with the law, has attracted other deplatformed sort-of-famous people, such as Naomi Wolf and Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., as guests. The downloads of “War Room” are consistently strong, and its influence in the Trump Republican Party is palpable. The congresswoman Elise Stefanik’s appearances on the podcast seem to be part of a savvy strategy to launder her former political moderation through Bannon’s hard-core, right-wing media machine. A September, 2021, ProPublica report pointed to “War Room” and its grassroots influence on reshaping local elections administration across the country.
“Gettr is where he is building up his other platform,” Benjamin Teitelbaum, who wrote a 2020 book on Bannon titled “War for Eternity,” told me. Bannon’s history is littered with initiatives and projects that fail, he said, “but every now and then one of them has been a real success.” Gettr feels a little like that, and Bannon’s frequent collaborator Guo Wengui—an exiled Chinese billionaire with legal entanglements to rival Bannon’s own—has been closely tied to the site from its beginning. At one point, Guo Media contracted Bannon for a million dollars in “strategic consulting services.”
Thiel, the Stanford researcher, told me that it appears Guo is responsible for the development and launch of the app. Previous reporting revealed that what is now called Gettr was originally a Chinese-language site called Getome. GTV and GNews—two Guo-funded anti-Chinese Communist Party ventures—share the same developers as Gettr, Thiel said. A report out this week from the cybersecurity expert Sean O’Brien delved into the security flaws that have resulted from Getome’s connection to Gettr. It also called Gettr’s inclusion of Facebook and Google ad trackers “disingenuous,” given the site’s anti-Big Tech rhetoric. Miller evaded my questions about whether Gettr was Guo’s idea, saying repeatedly that an engineer had begun working on the app more than a year ago. He also declined to share the names of Gettr’s investors, institutional or otherwise. “Miles does not have a direct personal financial stake,” Miller said, using another name Guo goes by, Miles Kwok. “Steve does not have direct personal financial stake in it.”
The next year in the site’s life would seem to be a crucial one. Gettr plans to launch a video component in February—basically, their version of TikTok or Instagram Reels—a bid to draw younger users. After that, they’ll turn to cryptocurrency. “As we move into next summer, we’ll definitely be heading much more into a financial-payment platform, as well as a two-coin ecosystem—stable coin and fluctuating coin with our own marketplace,” Miller said. This, it appeared, would have the added benefit of allowing Gettr to pivot gracefully should Trump actually bigfoot his way into the conservative social-media space. “We’re moving much more into a financial-services competitor,” Miller said. “He’s moving more toward being the entertainment baron, so to speak.”