Profit statements

Is JD Vance profiting from Russian propaganda?

In the U.S. Senate race from Ohio, Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan ran an ad slamming Republican JD Vance as being on the wrong side of Russia’s war in Ukraine.

The ad opens with a video of a February 19 interview Vance shared on Twitter in which he said, “I don’t care what happens with Ukraine.” (Vance later issued a statement saying that “Russia’s assault on Ukraine is unquestionably a tragedy”.)

Here is Ryan’s full transcript May 10 ad:

Vanced: I have to be honest with you, I don’t care what happens with Ukraine one way or another.

The ad shows black and white images of a bloodstained woman with bandages over her eye and on her jaw, a mother holding a toddler, and apartment buildings and streets destroyed by bombing.

Text on screen: Venture capitalist JD Vance’s biggest deal? Rumble social media platform.

Russian state media uses Rumble for propaganda purposes.

Why doesn’t JD Vance care?

JD Vance doesn’t care because JD Vance profits from Russian propaganda.

In this fact check, we look at that last part of the ad to see if Vance is profiting from Russian propaganda.

The Ryan campaign sent us background information on the merits of their request. We contacted the Vance campaign and they had no comment.

Generally speaking, while the financial details are private, Ryan’s statement is fairly accurate, based on what is known of Vance’s investment in Rumble.

The Vance–Rumble Connection

Vance is an author and venture capitalist. In 2020 he launched Narya Capital, and since then the company has funded a handful of start-ups, mostly in healthcare and food supply. In 2021, Narya played the lead role in building a group of investors to help Rumble grow.

Rumble is a video sharing platform, created in 2013 by a Toronto entrepreneur to compete with YouTube. Like YouTube, the more people who come to Rumble, the more advertising revenue it generates. Rumble gained attention in 2020, when it became popular among curators for what it promoted as its hands-off approach to content moderation.

“Rumble’s mission is to restore the internet to its roots by making it free and open again,” the company said in March.

Rumble’s CEO said recently that it has yet to turn a profit, but is growing rapidly.

When former President Donald Trump and conservative pundits like Dan Bongino and Steve Bannon started posting their videos on Rumble, its user count skyrocketed. The company reported an average of 41 million monthly active users (people who visit the site) in the first quarter of 2022. In 2020, the level was closer to 1 million users per month.

Vance has personally invested in Rumble. In his April 2022 Candidate Financial Disclosure, he reported holdings in the company that range between $115,000 and $300,000. His investment was part of a larger package assembled by Narya that included billionaire Peter Thiel, now a key backer in Vance’s Senate campaign. Details weren’t disclosed, but as part of the deal, one of Narya’s top partners joined Rumble’s board of directors.

How Russian Sponsored Media Came to Rumble

After Russia began its invasion of Ukraine in February, YouTube banned Russian state-affiliated media RT – formerly Russia Today – from its platform. In response, Rumble became RT’s main video platform. Ryan’s campaign noted RT’s decision as evidence of its claim that Vance benefits from Russian propaganda.

Scott Radnitz, a scholar of Russian and Eurasian studies at the University of Washington, said RT was largely a propaganda network.

“Some of its content is apolitical, but it is state-backed and much of its content reflects Kremlin messages aimed at foreign audiences,” Radnitz said. “RT’s use as a mouthpiece for the state was particularly evident during the war, as it echoed the Kremlin’s distortions, lies and conspiracy theories.”

When Russian state media said the dead people found in the Kyiv suburb of Bucha were a hoax, RT amplified that message to non-Russian-speaking audiences.

Since March, RT has been using Rumble to post its live stream as well as individual video reports. The livestream has racked up over 2 million views since its launch. Video stories have much lower numbers. The most popular ones have around 14,000 views.

Other Russian state-sponsored programs have also joined To scold. They have lower viewing stats than RT.

Calculate if Vance benefits from Rumble

A key part of Rumble’s business plan is to grow its viewership, and with that, its ad revenue. RT and other Russian state-sponsored programs bring viewers to Rumble.

Tech investor Roger McNamee was an early backer to Facebook. Today, in addition to his investment work, he is part of a campaign to crack down on hate speech on Facebook, Twitter and other platforms. McNamee said that even though RT’s viewership is less than a million per month, it still contributes to Rumble’s bottom line.

“Rumble’s choice to stream RT after it was blocked by YouTube is an unambiguous game for viewers who engage in Russian propaganda,” McNamee said. “What matters is the intent of Rumble and the fact that RT drives millions of streams on the platform.”

Many financial details of Rumble remain private, but as a general rule, increasing the number of users increases the value of the company and, to that extent, the investment made by Vance in 2021 is worth, at least on paper. , more today.

RT has increased that number of viewers, but it’s far from being Rumble’s most popular producer. Bongino’s show, for example, regularly draws around 150,000 views for a single episode, and one of his shows in September had over 973,000 views.

Rumble benefits from RT’s presence, but it doesn’t depend on it.

Our decision

Ryan said, “Vance takes advantage of Russian propaganda.”

Ryan’s claim is based on Vance’s investment in Rumble, the platform on which RT publishes its videos.

RT amplifies Kremlin messaging, and in the past two and a half months, RT has produced nearly 2 million views on Rumble. More views mean more ad revenue for Rumble, and RT’s presence adds value to Vance’s investment.

But other programs on Rumble draw far more viewers, and details about Vance’s investment in the company aren’t public. Rumble’s CEO earlier this year said the company has yet to turn a profit.

With that caveat in mind, we rate this claim as half true.