Grifters got to grift, and hillbillies will keep buying into it, and JD Vance knows hillbillies like no other.
The Ohio Republican wants to end certain legal protections for YouTube and Meta, but keep them for companies like Rumble, in which he’s an investor.
J.D. VANCE, THE ‘hillbilly’ venture capitalist and now Republican Senator from Ohio, frequently rails against the menace of Big Tech and its alleged bias against conservatives. Less frequent are his discussions about his investments in smaller tech firms — and how his calls to hobble giants such as YouTube could boost companies like Rumble, in which Vance has boasted he was the “first outside investor.”
A new report from the Tech Transparency Project (TTP), previewed by Rolling Stone, takes aim at this disconnect, highlighting Vance’s “self-serving” advocacy for legal reforms that could enhance his personal finances — as well as those of a top political benefactor, Peter Thiel.
Campaigning last year, Vance demanded a partial repeal of a bedrock Internet provision known as “Section 230.” Part of the Communications Decency Act of 1996, Section 230 shields tech platforms from liability for content posted by users. If a defamatory video gets uploaded to Facebook, for example, the poster — and not the platform — is liable for any damages.
Claiming during a GOP primary debate that “it’s nearly impossible to sue these companies,” Vance called to end Section 230 — but only for Big Tech. He said this was important, so as not to not punish “new entrants” in the market, name-checking Truth Social and Gettr as examples of such startups. “We need to reform it in a way that protects them,” Vance insisted, “while destroying the stranglehold and the power of Big Tech.”
The TTP report highlights that YouTube competitor Rumble could be another obvious winner under Vance’s proposal — in part because Rumble has evolved into a repository of the kind of conspiratorial, extremist, and inflammatory content that might become legally actionable if the legal shield of Section 230 were revoked.
Vance has been a significant investor in the video platform, as has Thiel. “The self-serving element is that Vance’s venture capital firm, and his mentor Peter Thiel, are investors in Rumble,” says Katie Paul, director of TTP, a Washington-based public-interest watchdog. “Vance’s proposal is essentially gaming the system,” Paul argues. It seeks to “push out those companies that we see as the headline ‘harmers’ right now — Meta and YouTube — to create a position for Rumble to take that same seat, and enjoy the 230 protections.”
A spokesperson for Sen. Vance responded to questions with the following statement: “It’s pathetic that Rolling Stone would regurgitate this nonsense and do the bidding of the Big Tech monopolies. Any reforms to Section 230 that fail to protect smaller companies will simply lead to bigger monopolies for the likes of Google, Facebook, and others. Senator Vance will continue to be a champion for restoring basic fairness and freedom to our technology industry, which has been overtaken by a bunch of corrupt, leftwing billionaires.”
Messages to Thiel’s financial firm were not returned. Rumble did not respond on the record.
Rumble was founded in 2013 in Toronto, pitching itself as a neutral platform dedicated to free speech. As described in the report, Vance, his financial firm Narya, and Thiel invested in the company in May 2021, when the platform was reportedly worth $500 million. Rumble went public in 2022 and is now worth close to $2.5 billion. Examining Vance’s public financial disclosures as a candidate, TTP estimates the senator’s personal Rumble holdings would now be “worth between $577,300 and $1.5 million.”
The TTP report claims that Vance’s involvement mirrored an ideological lurch at the video site. “Rumble’s editorial slant began to change around the time of the … investment, as the platform sought to exploit its increased popularity with right-wing users.” It underscores that the site’s “Editors Picks,” which used to recommend heartwarming puppy videos, soon began promoting content with titles like: “Fauci & the COVID Narrative are Imploding in Front of Our Eyes.”
In recent months, Rumble has attracted a number of high-profile right-wing figures, including those migrating from rival platforms that practice more robust moderation. Its creators include big-audience outcasts, notably former president Donald Trump, as well as the conspiracy theorist Alex Jones and the misogynist influencer Andrew Tate. But as Rolling Stone has reported Rumble’s biggest traffic draws are often comedians like Russell Brand and content creators like Glenn Greenwald, who don’t fit neatly into ideological categories but tend to portray themselves as adversaries of Big Tech and its allies in media and government.
Paul describes Rumble as “one of the most successful of these new-wave, right-wing social media platforms,” noting that, “because it’s gone public, it has a lot more cash on hand than Gab or Parler.” The TTP director argues that Rumble “would stand to really benefit from what Vance is proposing in a way that the other platforms wouldn’t be able to.”
The TTP report highlights Rumble’s own investor filings that indicate the company could be impacted by an across-the-board Section 230 rollback. Rumble has hosted videos that have spawned litigation, the TTP report states, including the election-conspiracy film 2000 Mules as well as videos involved in defamation suits by the voting-machine company Dominion.
Americans are familiar with politicians using their legislative clout to favor financial backers. But the fact that Ohio’s new senator has part of his personal fortune mixed up in Rumble makes this case different, Paul says. “There are a lot of questions that need to be asked about how this is benefiting Vance.” While Vance has yet to match his rhetoric with a specific legislative initiative, Paul says, the senator continues to “gin up frustration and anger against Big Tech, while keeping Rumble and the smaller platforms out of the limelight.”
This is not the first time Vance’s financial investments have become controversial politically. Last October, Rolling Stone reported on the then-candidate’s backing of a biotech firm that tested on live animals, and had mistakenly scalded the genitals of a pair of test monkeys.