Why Dave Rubin’s Gated Community Sites are No ‘Big Tech Solution’

Dave Rubin has an idea to solve the big tech crisis. Instead of offering the standard solutions of market regulations, anti-trust break-ups or platform decentralization, the online talk show host has launched brand new social media sites that repeat the exact fatal flaws harming the tech industry. 

During a live stream published early in December, Rubin introduced his audience to his new tech ventures which he’s aggressively teased for months. The first being The Rubin Report app, a standard platform to keep up to date with his program and find like-minded viewers, and the second being the awaited Locals.com — not to be confused with a shady dating site helping lonely people find hot locals in their area — which is a platform he claims will do away with the “massive problems with Big Tech”.

As a staunch critic of the big tech establishment, even I was at least interested to see if Rubin could get some competition kicking in. For someone who credits themselves as a critical thinker, a pivotal ‘ideas’ man of the modern age, surely there’d be some credit to be given. Unfortunately, Rubin’s credit has been declined, repackaging these status quo problems within a rebranded slick, white package. And buyer beware, the site doesn’t even offer users the “liberty-minded” experience we get on current platforms when it comes to free speech, free access, or data protection.

In a recent interview with Fox News, Rubin described Locals as being a new “safe digital home” for content creators who are sick of “the trolls, censorship and toxic rhetoric running rampant” on sites like Twitter. Ironically, these problems contradict one another. The trolls use toxic rhetoric; this is just their exercising of free speech; censorship tends to go after trolls, especially if they’re a suggested primary target. As such, Rubin wants his “free speech absolutism” and breaking up of “safe spaces”, yet doesn’t allow such freedom and toxicity within his own space, fostering gated communities hidden behind subscriber paywalls and arbitrary terms of service.

“What I want to do with Locals is create a bottom-up solution to this,” Rubin monologued. “I want the power to be in the hands of the creators. If somebody’s not behaving by those rules, they’re not being de-platformed if you don’t want them in your community, but it’s your community. It’s not a platform in a traditional sense. If somebody comes into my community, I’m having a very open policy related to speech, but if you’re just there to troll and cause chaos, like everyone’s doing everywhere else, I’m not going to let you in my Locals. The same way that I’m for free speech but I’m not for free speech of inviting everyone into my house at all times to say whatever they want. What I’m trying to do is create a more mature, decent Internet.”

Sounds great, but what does the site actually do? 

Well, it’s the same old tech we’ve seen before spread across multiple online platforms, now rolled into one! The site allows creators and audiences to foster safe spaces to communicate like Discord, it will monetize these experiences through the same bi-monthly subscription model like Patreon, may seek potential advertising like Google Adsense, and users who rock the boat with their own “toxic rhetoric” can be censored for any reason, just like Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and any master of the universe you can pick. 

Rubin even gave the game away in a clip saying censorship will be under technicalities, saying removal means “I just won’t be accepting your money, not your message”, like when GoDaddy, PayPal, Medium, Stripe, Joyent, Mastercard, and other payment processors only implicitly reject user money over messages. Rubin then reaches a fundamental misunderstanding in believing a free internet is one that “was originally intended to be a positive environment” but has since been “taken over” by trolls and bots, according to his statement to Fox News. This, however, is not the case.

“By doing something that is subscription-based, people can join my Locals for a little as $3, it will be up to creators to decide what amount they want to charge, I think that for a little as $3, you’re going to get rid of 99 percent of the trolls.” Essentially, Rubin’s platform starts from the premise of building a confined echo chamber, leading to vague, gradual expansion to somewhat like-minded communities, all the while turning profit. “They don’t want to pay you to troll you. And if they do want to pay you to troll you, at least you’re getting a little something from it,” he continues. “I think we can solve so many of the problems by creating small gated communities and then figuring out how those communities can link together to create bigger communities.” 

Ironically, this is a more gatekeeping oriented approach than that of current Big Tech offenders. Even Jack Dorsey, the CEO of Twitter, has admitted that while “we incentivize echo chambers”, it’s this way of communicating that “goes against the context of free speech” on the internet. “We incentivize outrage and hot takes — there’s no nuance for conversation,” as he told podcaster Joe Rogan. “The biggest [regret] has been around the dynamics of the service to allow it to be weaponized to silence someone else… We need to make sure that everyone feels they have a voice.” He later told The Washington Post that “the most important thing that we can do is we look at the incentives that we’re building into our product, because they do express a point of view of what we want people to do — and I don’t think they are correct anymore.”

Inherently, both of these platforms rely on the trust of their executives to simply do the right thing for the user. Locals can make promises to “work with content creators to meet specific objectives” and “not to sell data or use vague algorithms to determine what followers have access to”, but there’s no mandate to ensure users have these as consumer rights. It all relies on the pandering of good tech from corporate overseers. 

“People saw that I did something brave and I actually took a stand,” Rubin continues to self congratulate. “We have a real bravery deficit in this country right now and I think people appreciate when you do something worthwhile when you do something good.”

But what is “good” in the eye of these overseers? Is it what Mastercard says when they won’t process their payments? It is the advertisers who threaten to cut their ties? Or is it who Rubin declares a troll rather than a legitimate critic? And what’s to stop centralized platforms from deciding ‘hey, good is what you make of it’? After recent announcements that Twitter may opt for decentralization, alternatives like Locals are just running on old tech to solve the new issues of today. If the goal is just to remove the trolls, neglecting the concerns of data insecurity, due process in moderation, unethical gatekeeping and more, Rubin’s pet project just comes across as a petty cash-in on big tech’s success.

“We all know that there is a major problem with the internet right now,” Rubin concludes. “We’re all subjected to the arbitrary, confusing, often-conflating and intentionally designed to be obfuscating rules that big tech has set forth. We know they’re shadow banning, we know there is algorithm manipulation… we know about all of these ways that the information that we get is being manipulated and nobody is really doing anything about it.” In seeing the little of what Locals have to offer, you can safely add Rubin to that list of nobodies.

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