After this month’s deadly attack at the Capitol, QAnon has been widely banished from the internet. Facebook, Twitter, and TikTok have all banned Q-related content, and the right’s favored platform, Parler, has been forced offline for weeks. But it hasn’t all disappeared. A new platform called Clapper, a “free-speech” TikTok clone, is becoming a home for QAnon followers.
Clapper launched last July as a “Free Speech Short Video” app — it’s basically TikTok, but the company promises a lot less moderation. In the six months since its launch, the app has been downloaded over half a million times, with a considerable amount of that growth coming in just the past two weeks.
Once you download Clapper, you can start scrolling through a “For You” page that works similarly to TikTok’s. But instead of seeing popular creators like Charli D’Amelio, the feed looks like if One America News Network made a short-form video app. There are airsoft and fishing videos with people calling themselves “patriots,” but also plenty of anti-vax misinformation and videos calling out Democrats as “pedophiles.” According to Clapper’s website, #trump2020 and other political hashtags are some of the most popular on the platform.
“Don’t be fooled,” one review read on the Google Play Store. “While the app might have been meant as a semi decent TikTok clone, it’s now taken the place of Parler in terms of [QAnon] and Bigots taking it over as their own little echochamber. If you enjoy bigotry and conspiracy theorists, by all means.”
Some QAnon influencers have built sizable followings on the app, playing off hashtags like #WWG1WGA and #thestorm that would be blocked on Instagram or Twitter. One user, named Josh Sardam, has made videos supporting Q-Anon adjacent Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) and made comments about individuals being a part of the “NWO,” or new world order. In another private messaging group titled “2021 The Great Awakening,” Sardam shares memes and theories with the closest fans, some of whom give Patreon-style donations to support the work. All told, Sardam reaches nearly 30,000 followers on the app.
For every user turned off by the presence of Q content, there are others who are drawn in. Like Parler and Gab before it, Clapper has become a popular home for conservatives who disagree with the moderation decisions of large tech companies like Facebook, Twitter, and especially TikTok. Scrolling through Clapper-related hashtags on TikTok, like #joinclapper, there are dozens of videos of users announcing their transition to the TikTok free-speech clone.
“Clapper’s almost exactly like TikTok, but it’s got better content and they don’t censor people like a bunch of communists,” one TikTok user, with the username @your_favoritebiker, posted last week.
Clapper CEO and co-founder Edison Chen realizes a lot of the app’s recent growth has come from QAnon believers and right-wing political accounts, but he isn’t losing sleep over it.
“There are lots of conservatives and political people,” Chen said. “I think they feel less censorship here and they’re kicked out from the other social media platforms. So they come to us, and it brings some opportunity to us but [it] also comes with some challenges.”
Clapper is based in Dallas, Texas, Chen said, and has fifteen employees. Users upload “thousands” of videos a day, Chen said, and Clapper has only two US employees and ten outside of the country who field content reports. In a follow-up email, Chen said that Clapper targets millennial and boomer users.
When asked if Clapper allows QAnon content on its platform, Chen first told The Verge that moderation largely relies on reports from its users, but content that could incite violence is prohibited. Later, Chen said that Clapper had “identified” several QAnon-related users and was conducting an investigation into whether they violated the app’s community standards.
“Some of the users on our app are talking a lot about QAnon, and we are still working on it to further investigate if they truly are against our community guidelines,” Chen said.
Earlier this month, Clapper content helped the FBI identify an Ohio man who attended the Capitol riot. Justin Stoll was arrested by the FBI and charged with making online threats and witness tampering on January 15th, according to ABC 6 News in Ohio. In videos posted to Clapper, Stoll made threatening comments before the riot, saying “Basically, if you are an enemy combatant, you will be shot on sight I know this is the end-all flag.” Stoll also posted videos outside of the Capitol alongside other rioters.
Clapper responded to the deadly attack at the Capitol in a statement on January 10th saying, “As many Americans, we watched in horror as a violent mob breached the US Capitol in the name of ‘political protest.’ In the aftermath of these events, we want to re-emphasize that the Clapper platform has a zero tolerance on violence of any kind, as well as individuals who incite violence for personal or political gains.”
Chen said that Clapper did not set out to be a right-wing conservative political platform, and that the company wants to highlight ordinary users’ lives. “Today’s social media platforms push most traffic to big creators while the creator in the middle and the normal user don’t get the opportunity to speak and be seen,” Chen said.
Following The Verge’s Wednesday interview with Chen, he sent a follow-up email including examples of the less political side of Clapper, highlighting accounts from a truck driver, country music singer, and a “girl with axes.”