Dave Rubin, a political commentator and host of “The Rubin Report” talk show, on Wednesday launched his own tech company, Locals.com.
In an effort to combat online censorship, manipulative algorithms, and arbitrary shadow-banning, Rubin’s move aims directly at Big Tech, which he says has created obstacles for content creators trying to promote their work and communicate with audiences.
What Is Locals?
To better understand Locals, think of it as an intersection of Patreon, YouTube, and social media, or as Rubin calls it, “digital homes for creators.” To participate, content creators with some established following buy into Locals, which works with them to develop a website or app — depending upon needs and objectives — allowing each creator to operate their own personal website and community of followers and crowd-funders.
Each creator determines his own rules of conduct for his community and monetary threshold for access. For instance, Rubin’s rules for his site are essentially don’t do anything illegal and don’t be a trolling jerk, and his subscription cost for community buy-in is a $3 minimum. Chronological content feeds can function as video receptacles, a creator messaging feed, and a social engagement tool for subscribers, among other things.
“Basically, we’re unbundling the internet,” Rubin told The Federalist in an interview. “Everything’s sort of bundled. You know, we’re all on these giant platforms. There’s a million competing interests. There are terms of service that can’t be or are never upheld evenly. There’s definitely a feeling that there’s a political bias — they de-platform, they censor, they suspend, and the rest of it — and basically, we want to give all creators a chance to completely own and control their community.”
Dave Rubin Wants to Take Power from Big Tech
Rubin routinely speaks about free speech and censorship, especially with of online content creators. He and notable Canadian professor and clinical psychologist Jordan Peterson announced their exit from crowd-funding site Patreon in January 2019, citing an “ever-moving encroachment on free speech, on free expression.”
Nearly a year later, Rubin says Locals is his solution, taking power from online behemoths and instead place it into the hands of individual creators. “We don’t have any big money from Big Tech yet, so if it comes, it comes,” he said, noting that Locals has three investors who were simply fans of his work.
“I believe that small is the new big,” he said. “I think that the internet needs to reverse from being this top-down thing for giant, corporate monoliths that we know are censoring us, we know are manipulating algorithms, we know are shadow-banning us. I want to give the power back to the creators so that they can directly contact their fans.”
Rubin expressed concerns about reaching his YouTube audience, saying not only does he have no way of knowing how many of his more than 1 million subscribers actually see his content because algorithms may be hiding it, but if YouTube decided to boot him off its platform, he wouldn’t be able to take any of his content or his audience’s contact information with him. He has said he won’t leave YouTube or Twitter, however, noting he doesn’t care where his fans get his content, so long as they can get it somewhere.
YouTube really doesn’t want me to hit that million subscriber mark. Tech companies censor in many ways not just banning people. Unsubscribes, videos don’t go into feeds, deboosting, shadowbans…
— Dave Rubin (@RubinReport) May 3, 2019
Rubin Hopes to Facilitate Mature Online Dialogue
Rubin hopes Locals will also become a networking opportunity, where creators’ “gated communities” team up with like-minded communities to share audiences.
“At the moment, you’re going to just subscribe to whoever you want, you’ll be part of their community,” he told The Federalist. “Ultimately, we may decide — and this will be up to the creators — but if there’s five like-minded creators with audiences they think could benefit from each other, then maybe they’ll want to do a bundle package.” For now, Rubin said, subscribers just pay separately for whoever’s content they want.
Rubin believes this “skin in the game” will facilitate “more mature conversations, true community-building … without a lot of the noise.” He estimates that creators charging “as little as $3 deals with 95 percent of the problems” they face from tech giants and online trolls.
Part of the problem right now is that everything online is absolutely free. Except that price you have to pay usually is your soul and your data. Twitter is just stealing your soul and stealing your data and your information, and they give you something that you think is free. That’s what Facebook’s doing. That’s what YouTube’s doing, but it’s obviously not really free. Charging as little as $3 — most trolls … they’re only [trolling] because there’s no barrier to entry. They can do it with no cost to them. … Most people won’t pay you to troll you.
If paying subscribers do violate creator-decided terms of service, however, each creator will reserve the right to expel users from their site. “We’re not infringing on their free speech because this is not a platform,” Rubin said, seeking to distinguish these bottom-up collectives from monopolistic tech giants.
Rubin Wants Locals to Be More Than Politics
On the other hand, considering the niche nature of these potential communities, Rubin acknowledged the possibility of them turning into ideological echo chambers but said he isn’t worried. “Is there a risk that ultimately some people will only subscribe to things that only reinforce their preexisting notions? Of course that risk exists, but that risk is happening right now on all the other tech platforms,” he said. “Twitter and YouTube and Facebook are top-down, except people put themselves in echo chambers that way.” He continued:
I should be very clear about this, Locals is not just for political people. I hope that political people are just a tiny fraction. I want gamers on there. If you’re a knitter, an unboxer, if you’re a chess player … we want all kinds of people on there, and by the way, I want political diversity on there. … I’m not looking to ideologically put my finger on the scale of who can use [Locals].
In the initial launch, Rubin’s community, DaveRubin.com, is the sole one using Locals, and fans can access his content ad-free through an app or desktop. Rubin will begin announcing other notable creators joining Locals as early as next week.
“Truly, I’m trying not to promise too much. You can’t solve everybody’s problem overnight,” Rubin said of potential tech startup hiccups. “But this was truly a mission of aligned people trying to solve problems. So we’ll have problems along the way, and we’ll deal with them as such.”