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Alt-Tech Social Networks: What Security Pros Need to Know

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A handful of Silicon Valley titans dominant the world of social media. But a batch of new upstarts plan to upset the status quo. 

Welcome to the world of alt-tech social networks. 

Over the past few years, dozens of these new platforms have popped up to challenge incumbents like Facebook and Twitter. 

And these sites, once only a refuge for political extremists and fringe content creators, have started to go mainstream. 

That can create a problem for security practitioners. 

In recent years, millions of users have migrated to alt-tech websites. So if you’re not watching these platforms, it’s easy to miss serious threats to your organization. 

But what exactly are alt-tech social networks? And how can you monitor them effectively? 

Let’s dive in. 

What are Alt-Tech Social Networks?

Industry analysts describe alt-tech social networks as a collection of sites that have positioned themselves as substitutes to more mainstream offerings. 

The first platforms popped up in the early 2010s, catering to a variety of fringe groups. But only in recent years have these communities started to attract wider attention. 

The overall movement represents a backlash to the moderation policies of the established sites like Facebook and Twitter.  

Incumbents have strived to find a balance between policing harassment and permitting the free flow of ideas. Critics, however, claim these companies have significant political bias when enforcing their policies – censoring those with anti-corporate or right-wing views. 

In response, some social separatists have built their own online spaces promising less moderation and fewer restrictions.

A handful of platforms, such as Mastodon and Discord, have no explicit political allegiances. Others, namely Gab, Parler, and BitChute, serve as hubs for right-wing users banned elsewhere. 

10 Alt-Tech Social Networks to Watch

Mastodon
TYPE: MICROBLOGGING

A Twitter-like social network. Users form communities, called servers, based around a single topic. 

Gab
TYPE: MICROBLOGGING

A social network that resembles Twitter known for its limited content moderation and right-wing userbase.

Parler
TYPE: MICROBLOGGING

A popular alternative for conservative users frustrated by Twitter’s moderation policies.  

Rumble
TYPE: VIDEO STREAMING

A Canadian-based video streaming platform widely considered as the go-to alternative to YouTube.

BitChute
TYPE: VIDEO STREAMING

A video streaming service that caters mostly to fringe content creators booted from other platforms. 

TYPE: IMAGEBOARD

A popular English language imageboard known for conducting acts of internet mischief. 

8kun
TYPE: VIDEO STREAMING

A dark web community dedicated to extreme free speech and serves as a hub for several fringe groups.

Raddle.me
TYPE: FORUM

A gathering place for anarchists that resembles Reddit. Raddle.me also hosts a large shoplifting community.

Telegram
TYPE: MESSAGING APP

An encrypted messaging system that resembles ‘WhatsApp.’ Such security features have attracted a large criminal userbase. 

Discord
TYPE: MESSAGING APP

A dark web community dedicated to extreme free speech and serves as a hub for several fringe groups.

Note that the table above isn’t an exhaustive list of alt-tech social networks. It only represents a handful of some of the more popular platforms. 

Why Should You Pay Attention to These Sites?

Many security teams already conduct social media threat monitoring on mainstream platforms. And in the past, covering a handful of the biggest sites provided sufficient coverage to keep an organization safe. 

But in recent years, millions of users have migrated to new communities. If your team doesn’t have eyes on these sites, it’s easy to overlook a real threat. 

Furthermore, alt-tech social networks often represent hubs for nefarious individuals. 

Admittedly, the bulk of people using these platforms are harmless. And most of the content you’ll find in these communities resembles much of what you’d find elsewhere.

But limited moderation policies, as you’d might expect, can turn alt-tech forums into gathering places for violent individuals, political extremists, and organized criminal groups. 

So what type of threats can you find? Here’re a few examples:

  • Disinformation: Disinformation is misleading content deliberately created to undermine a person or organization. For example, a deepfake video may present an executive in a negative light. Or an adversary could plant a fake news article to damage a company’s reputation. Mainstream sites attempt to police disinformation. But thanks to often lax moderation policies, this type of content can run rampant in alt-tech communities. 

  • Violence: Investigators often find violent threats published openly on these sites. For instance, much of the planning behind the January riots at the U.S. Capitol building occurred on the Twitter-like social network Parler. A few weeks later, police arrested a Texas-man after he posted plans to bomb an Amazon data center. Law enforcement discovered the plot on a far-right forum called My Militia. 

  • Data Leaks: Bad actors often leak sensitive information on alt-tech social networks. For example, someone might decide to dox an executive. Alternatively, insiders may leak the defensive measures in place at a secured facility. If publicly available, this information could present a serious physical security risk to a VIP or organization.

  • Theft: Criminal groups are tech-savvy. They’re not hesitant about exploiting new technologies to share tips and techniques with their brethren online. Or they may attempt to recruit corporate insiders to assist in their activities. All of this represents invaluable intelligence for any security team. 

Beyond situational awareness, having a grasp of the alt-tech landscape can pay off during an investigation. 

Threat actors, like the rest of us, rarely conduct all of their activities on one platform. They often have accounts across multiple social networks. 

Now imagine you identify a threatening post on a mainstream site. By running the author’s user handle across multiple alt-tech communities, you may uncover their other online activities. 

This information could allow you and your team to gain more resolution on a person of interest. 

And that info might be critical when evaluating the severity of a threat. 

How to Monitor Alt-Tech Social Networks

Keeping tabs on alt-tech social networks can present a challenge for your team. 

New platforms pop up and go dark all the time. A post may also disappear automatically after a short period. 

So relevant intelligence may not be available when an analyst logs onto the site.

Moreover, many security teams piggyback off of the social media listening software purchased by their marketing departments. These tools, however, rarely cover fringe forums or communities.  

To tackle these issues, here’re a few best practices to keep in mind:

  • Cast a wide net when gathering data. Go beyond the big social media networks like Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. The more sites you cover, the less likely you are to overlook a relevant threat.

  • Keep close tabs on the changing social media landscape. New networks pop up. Once thriving sites disappear. Users move from one platform to another. Analysts and investigators need to keep tabs on these developments.

  • Cover your digital footprints. Each time you go online, you leave digital breadcrumbs for outsiders. In the worst-case scenario, this can alert a person of interest that they are the target of an investigation. At LifeRaft, we always suggest analysts cloak their internet activities. But that becomes even more important when surveilling some alt-tech sites where members may be hostile to your organization. 

  • Invest in automated tools. Analysts do have the option of conducting manual surveillance. But monitoring dozens of sites often requires a large amount of resources. LifeRaft’s Navigator intelligence software can help security teams automate this process. Keyword queries spot threatening posts as soon as they’re published. Our team also keeps close tabs on new and emerging platforms, which can help analysts stay up to date with the changing world of social media.

The Future of Alt-Tech Social Networks

Looking forward, it’s easy to imagine the internet becoming divided along ideological lines. 

On one side, you have a collection of mainstream platforms for those with liberal views. On the other, a growing network of alt-tech sites for those with more conservative or anti-establishment leanings. 

This presents a problem for your team that won’t go away anytime soon. As more users migrate to these communities, they will become an increasingly valuable source of threat intelligence. 

And leaders that overlook this trend could leave their organizations exposed to a variety of threats in the future.  

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