‘Free speech’ Reddit clone Voat says it will shut down on Christmas

Voat, an “anti-censorship” alternative social network that’s been described as the “alt-right Reddit,” is scheduled to shut down on December 25th. Voat co-founder Justin Chastain announced the pending closure yesterday, saying the site had run out of money after an investor defaulted on their contract in March. “I personally decided to keep Voat up until after the US election of 2020. I’ve been paying the costs out of pocket but now I’m out of money,” Chastain wrote.

Voat was founded in 2014 and hosted Reddit-like forums with minimal moderation. It grew rapidly after Reddit added an anti-harassment policy and banned five subreddits that it said violated the rules, including its infamous r/fatpeoplehate forum. The site set a model for other “censorship-free” alternatives to mainstream web platforms, a category that grew to include Gab, Parler, and the defunct crowdfunding site Hatreon.

While these sites often don’t take an explicit political stance, they’ve attracted a largely far-right user base that’s incensed by bigger networks’ crackdowns. Voat also provided a home for the QAnon conspiracy movement after it was purged from most other platforms.

Voat had a close brush with death in 2017

However, Voat faced chronic funding and technical problems, as well as denial-of-service attacks and an apparent warning from law enforcement about threats made on the site. Chastain warned in 2017 that Voat was likely to shut down, but a year later, he announced a partnership with the unnamed investor, keeping the site online.

Other alternative social networks have struggled to gain traction as well. Gab migrated to the decentralized Mastodon network in 2019, after a mass shooting by a Gab user prompted PayPal and GoDaddy to sever ties. Parler experienced a massive user influx after the 2020 presidential election, but its momentum slowed rapidly. Voat’s death has been announced before, and it’s possible the site will pull through again — but its demise looks much more likely this time around.

“Instead of feeling pity or vengeful, I’m instead going to celebrate the fact that Voat stayed up for so long. In my opinion, Voat is and will always be the biggest dysfunctional family on the internet,” Chastain wrote in the farewell post. “I love you all. Every single one of you. I hope you all have a life filled with overflowing joy and happiness.”

Later, after some users speculated that the site had been a sting operation secretly funded by intelligence agencies, Chastain added an addendum. “You guys crack me up, even now you accuse me of being Mossad or a honeypot,” he wrote. “Damned if you do, damned it you don’t.”

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