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Opinion: Don’t follow Joe Rogan to Gettr — the case for staying on Twitter

Amid another call for a conservative ‘Twexit,’ can we all pause and remember Parler?

Zoë Petersen

Remember Parler?

It seems like just a year ago that conservatives disillusioned with Twitter were abandoning the social media site in droves in order to find the free speech and privacy promised there.

Wait — it was just a year ago. But now conservatives disillusioned with Twitter are supposed to hie themselves over to Gettr, a social media platform launched last summer by Jason Miller, a former aide to Donald Trump.

Despite legitimate concerns about unequal application of standards on Twitter — Trump is gone, the Taliban spokesman remains — the latest threatened “Twexit” has the fangs of the tiger in “Calvin and Hobbes.” Which is to say, conservatives shouldn’t deactivate their Twitter accounts anytime soon.

Even Joe Rogan, the superstar podcaster responsible for the recent flurry of attention given Gettr, has said he set up an account as a sort of insurance policy, in case things at Twitter get “any dumber.”

That said, if anyone could breathe life into Gettr, Rogan could. “The Joe Rogan Experience” was the No. 1 podcast on Spotify in 2021, and Rogan already has more followers (8.9 million) on Gettr than he does on Twitter (7.9 million) if the mysterious numbers shown on the accounts are to be believed.

The New York Post reported Friday that Gettr has gained 1 million new users in the past week, because of Rogan’s presence, bringing its total number of users to around 4 million.

Meanwhile, Parler is back in the conversation, with news that the company has raised $20 million in new funding. The website TechCrunch reported, somewhat skeptically, that Parler now has 16 million users.

It seems like a bad joke that both Parler and Gettr have active Twitter accounts, even as they try to coax conservatives to leave the platform. And as unlikely as it is that Parler and Gettr can undermine Twitter’s influence (that’s like Newsmax and One America News Network trying to take down Fox), it’s also a bad idea.

Conservatives who leave Twitter remove themselves voluntarily from one of the largest platforms in the virtual public square. This is why people who lose their Twitter accounts — most recently, Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene — protest so vehemently. And it’s why, a year after Trump was permanently suspended from Twitter, it still feels strange that he doesn’t have a presence there.

Trump had more than 88 million followers when he lost his Twitter account. That’s fewer than Barack Obama, who at 130.5 million has the most followers worldwide, but a lot more than President Joe Biden, with 32 million. The account mattered so much to Trump that he’s still fighting the ban through the courts, even as he prepares to launch his own platform, Truth Social, on President’s Day. (Oral arguments in Trump v. Twitter are set for Feb. 23 in U.S. District Court in San Francisco.)

Trump obviously sees value in being on Twitter, and others have pointed out that if conservatives really want to sell their ideas, they need to promote them to the general public, not in the safety and comfort of social-media echo chambers.

As the conservative podcaster and writer Matt Walsh recently said, “Part of the fun of Twitter is that lots of people who disagree with me will inevitably see what I post. What’s the point if everyone agrees?”

He added, “The only alternative social media platform that would have any chance of real success is one that attracts people from the right and left so that we can yell at each other but without the speech restrictions and arbitrary policies of Twitter.”

Walsh could yet change his mind about that; on Friday, the Daily Wire reported that he was suspended from Twitter for 12 hours for tweets about gender identity.

He is right about the arbitrary nature of punishment being a problem. What does a 12-hour suspension accomplish beyond giving Walsh an opportunity for publicity? It’s hard to understand why Trump and Greene lost their accounts, but representatives of the Taliban continue to tweet. Facebook, at least, established an independent board to review the company’s controversial decisions. (Of course, it announces its findings on Twitter.) Facebook, too, suspended Trump’s account, but only for two years.

While there are people who note that Parler has been beset with internal conflict and was shut down temporarily after the Capitol riot, like Gettr, the company started with much fanfare and the endorsement of heavy hitters — some of whom have now migrated to Gettr.

Gettr’s founder, Jason Miller, seems to understand that the platform won’t succeed without a broader base; he has said he wants Gettr to enable the sharing of “information, news and thoughts” for everyone across the political spectrum.

In other words, he wants Gettr to be, well, Twitter, or the best version of itself that Twitter can be.

The biggest problem for both Gettr and Parler, however, is what Mike Cernovich recently pointed out: There isn’t going to be a next Twitter.

Let’s hope Cernovich is wrong about Oculus, but his larger point is well taken: Some things get so big, so entrenched and influential, that they can’t be dislodged by a merely similar version. The “next” McDonald’s wasn’t Burger King, but Chick-fil-A. Nearly a year after his death, there is still no next Rush Limbaugh.

Similarly, there will be no new Twitter, although there may well be a next Gettr.