As never-ending free speech arguments rage on social networks, a growing number of alternative platforms have sprung up, happy to accept ostracized users.
While these platforms all claim to be politically neutral, it does not really matter if they are or not; even perfectly politically neutral moderation cannot overcome the fact that most users will flock to the largest platform they are allowed to use.
This means that a “free speech alternative” to mainstream sites like YouTube or Twitter often becomes a hub of neo-Nazis and other undesirables.
BitChute tells its users a compelling story, which goes something like this: Freedom of expression is under attack by corporations and the “totalitarian leftist media,” mostly against right-wing thinkers. The solution to this, at least for video hosting, is BitChute.
But BitChute isn’t just another centralized video platform which will jettison its Nazis once it becomes popular. No. This platform is decentralized and a member of #AltTech (along with Gab, Minds, and others)—impervious to attacks by those fascists who hate free expression: as its Twitter bio tells us, it’s a “revolutionary [peer-to-peer] video platform that puts respect for the individual and #freedomofexpression first. #BitChute – Decentralize FTW.”
As such, BitChute has become a favorite platform of far-right-adjacent YouTubers and many other members of the self-styled “independent media” in an attempt to escape what they see as censorship.
The casual observer would be hard-pressed to distinguish the BitChute of 2019 from the YouTube of 2009; for all intents and purposes, besides the content, the sites are identical.
Felix Lace, better known under the moniker “Black Pigeon Speaks,” who according to Harvard University’s Shorenstein Center is “xenophobic, misogynist, [and] anti-Semitic,” shills BitChute in his YouTube outro and uploads all his videos there a day early to entice users to make the move to BitChute.
The platform is also full of such memorable shows as “Goy Talk Live,” which has hosted such speakers as Richard Spencer and David Duke.
BitChute is fully aware of where its popularity comes from—its official account has retweeted, among other videos, one which calls white nationalist American Renaissance leader Jared Taylor a “reasonable guy” who makes “reasonable, clear, and evidence-based arguments.” And just like many of its creators, BitChute has suffered at the hands of “cancel culture,” having been deplatformed by Patreon, Stripe, Indiegogo, and PayPal.
The only problem is, the story BitChute tells its creators and users, especially regarding decentralization, is not true: BitChute is just as centralized as YouTube, despite Brookings, Breitbart, and Daily Dot reports to the contrary.
This should be immediately obvious; on Nov. 22, BitChute went down for 15 minutes. A decentralized system does not “go down” just because one person pulls the plug. Think of Bitcoin: If you turn off your miner, someone else’s miner will pick up the slack. Even if every miner in China were to shut down, the network will correct for that.
Yet BitChute could just shut itself down on a whim because it’s not in any way decentralized.
BitChute also claims to be peer-to-peer, but, there is no evidence that BitChute’s operation is in any way peer-to-peer.
Ray Vahey, an Englishman living in Thailand, is its CEO, and one of the directors of the corporation which owns it and its IP blocks, Bit Chute Limited. In an interview he gave Dave Cullen, who according to Polygon has “ultra-nationalistic, xenophobic views,” he says:
- We’re all being “acclimated” to censorship by YouTube; (03:50)
- Web traffic is costly, and BitChute remains sustainable via WebTorrent; (08:00)
- “Basically, we’ve got the scalability advantages of BitTorrent with the usability advantage of a normal website;” (08:36)
- “We keep a copy, we’re a peer of last resort, but people watching are also storing a copy and they’re also using their bandwidth.” (09:12)
Especially relevant is the claim that BitChute stays sustainable via peer-to-peer WebTorrent technology. Essentially, what Vahey is claiming is that in order to save money on his bandwidth bills (cloud internet service providers charge around $0.09/GB), he’s using the bandwidth of other people who just happen to have the videos open in their browsers instead—that is to say, video is sent from one viewer (peer) to another viewer (peer) without BitChute in between.
If all this is true, it should not be hard to find a video that is served via a non-BitChute peer, right? Take something like: “Insider Blows Whistle & Exec Reveals Google Plan to Prevent ‘Trump situation’ in 2020 on Hidden Cam,” which at press time has 357,000 views.
Simple analysis shows that this video is hosted at https://seed13.bitchute.com/enCP7veavtI1/re9Xp6cdkro.mp4. Despite its BitTorrent-y sounding name, “seed13,” has nothing at all to do with BitTorrent and is not a BitTorrent seed.
BitChute has a lot of these “seed” subdomains. “Seed13” goes to 18.104.22.168, which is owned by Bit Chute Limited.
I decided to take a look at all subdomains between seed00.bitchute.com and seed99.bitchute.com, and found that those which resolve (33/100) resolve to IPs either owned by BitChute or likely to be owned by BitChute.
Here’s a summary as of press time:
AS16276: 1 IP, OVH, seed24.bitchute.com
AS32097: 19 IPs, Bit Chute Limited via WholeSale Internet Inc., seed03.bitchute.com, etc.
AS33387: 9 IPs, Shivam Saluja via NOCIX – DataShack, seed67.bitchute.com, etc.
AS53667: 4 IPs, PONYNET d/b/a FranTech Solutions, seed29.bitchute.com, etc.
All of these IPs are in very large datacenters, and it is very unlikely that any of them are not in direct control of BitChute.
The NOCIX IPs, AS33387, while not explicitly marked as Bit Chute Limited, are likely his as the customer, Shivam Saluja, has the same Kansas mailing address as Bit Chute Limited is using. Saluja has not responded as of press time but is likely an employee of BitChute’s.
I could not find a single video that was served via BitTorrent peers. Not a single one. In both Firefox and Chrome, all video data came directly from servers owned by BitChute.
BitChute does not work how they claim it does. Even the top video for a search of the letter “a”, “BAD ENGLISH – WHEN I SEE YOU SMILE,” with 291,000 views, was served directly from BitChute’s servers. In my case via seed63.bitchute.com.
So, BitChute is serving all videos directly from servers under their control and is saving no money at all.
Bitchute claimed, to the Daily Dot, that they are “able to enable p2p and disable it as [needed] to optimize bandwidth as necessary.”
It is absurd to ever need to disable a peer-to-peer solution that works well. Even if it’s only saving the company 1% on their bandwidth bill, that’s not 0%, and if some start snooping around, your “revolutionary p2p video platform” is not actually decentralized as promised.
It would seem that at BitChute decentralization is not so much a technical reality as a state of mind; like #AltTech itself, it is a brand, a category, a hip buzzword. I’ve seen this mentality a lot in people who use the word “blockchain”; this is unfortunately not my first time trying to figure out how a decentralized platform works only for it to come up fully centralized and with a founder making excuses.
I asked whether its donors understand that BitChute has no working decentralization, and was told, quote, “your question is misleading…Decentralization is not a goal for the sake of it.”
The magnet links provided which allow users to download videos, presumably from a swarm of BitTorrent peers, likewise do not work, and seem to be there mostly for show, to give the illusion BitTorrent peer-to-peer technology is in use when it is not.
The top trending video at press time, “Hillary Clinton and the Ultimate Ironic Tweet,” failed to download via magnet link, as did every other “trending video” I tried. This is not user error, I’ve done this exact kind of thing before, the problem is that BitChute doesn’t work how they say it does and so there are no seeds.
BitChute is also willing to “delist” some odious users, the term BitChute uses when it deplatforms a user and deletes their videos.
This term is a more friendly form of “deleted,” but is highly misleading. BitChute’s interface for viewing videos, and for making searches, is proprietary. It is not like BitTorrent—where BitChute maintains one “list” of videos, but you may create your own tracker to maintain your own “list”—yet it wants you to think it’s like BitTorrent.
Being “delisted” from BitChute is just a duplicitous way of saying a video was deleted. BitChute, in their reply, did not dispute this. Instead, they once again promised real decentralization was just around the corner; indeed, they blame their lack of promised decentralization on their supporters: “we’re community funded so it’s really down to the community how soon we can get there.”
BitChute wants to have it both ways: It wants its users to believe that BitChute is impervious to censorship, yet it wants to censor its catalog of videos. Who can blame them for wanting to censor their catalog? The internet is a vile place. But the truth is, if BitChute were truly decentralized, it wouldn’t be able to. In the same way no one can stop people from sending Bitcoin to a Nazi, if BitChute were decentralized, it wouldn’t be possible to delete videos either.
The fact that they can is the best evidence that it’s not.
Much like everything BitChute promises, it can’t back it up.
Fredrick Brennan is the founder and former owner of 8chan.