How social media platforms lean left or right, and its users follow

Brendan Mahoney, a doctoral candidate at the Annenberg School for Communication, examines the ways we communicate online and the corporations that host those conversations.

“Conversation didn’t come very naturally to me as a kid. I remember being very awkward,” says Brendan Mahoney, a doctoral candidate at the Annenberg School for Communication.

But online, conversation was different. Now, Mahoney is deep in his own research—studying the digital spaces where people organize activist movements and the corporations that keep those spaces online (or take them down).

Brendan Mahoney.
Doctoral candidate at the Annenberg School for Communication Brendan Mahoney. (Image: Courtesy of Annenberg School for Communication)

Recently, Mahoney has been investigating Epik, a domain registrar known for hosting far-right websites, like Gab and Parler, after they were dropped by their original hosts for things like hate speech and inciting violence.

Early in the company’s history, Epik’s CEO Rob Monster often used the company’s blog as his own, writing about everything from the price of silver to earthquake activity. In a recent paper, Mahoney analyzed years of those blog posts, unearthing signals that point to the company’s willingness to host deplatformed websites years later.

“Epik company blog posts reflect a conservative libertarian worldview,” he says, “which might have led the company to develop their domain registrar services for right-wing websites before they were actually necessary.”

Mahoney has found that analyzing corporate blogs can reveal a lot about a company’s worldview. He’s analyzed the blogs of some of the biggest tech corporations in the U.S., including Reddit, one of the main platforms he studies.

“These blogs show how companies like Reddit want users to use the site—what they associate with users in terms of characteristics and desires. Essentially they show how they’re selling us to advertisers,” he says.

This story is by Hailey Reissman. Read more at Annenberg School for Communication.