Voat — the Reddit clone populated mostly by alt-right trolls and reactionaries — is, in all likelihood, shutting down. According to a post from one of the site’s two employees, Justin Chastain, the costs of hosting and maintaining the site are no longer tenable, and the site’s users should prepare for “the possibility of a closure.” Voat currently costs upwards of $6,000 to host.
Launched in the wake of one of Reddit’s many crackdowns on offensive or illegal content, Voat was one of the first in a line of platforms espousing free speech above all else. So long as it wasn’t technically illegal, site users could create toxic discussion hubs with names like /v/FatPeopleHate and /v/CoonTown (both re-creations of forums wiped from Reddit), and a lot of niche forums devoted to erotica, like /v/girlsinyogapants. It built a small community — but, perhaps because it lacked the number of victims necessary for trolling to be rewarding, never really took off.
Voat’s probable shutdown is at once surprising and not, coming in the midst of a cultural moment in which appetite for right-wing media and discussion has never been stronger, and those with the purse strings have never felt more empowered. Along with Voat, free-speech — and, subsequently, hate-speech — havens like Gab.ai have cropped up. But Voat hasn’t been able to secure funding, its assets (read: users) are still too toxic for many advertisers and tech investors. It’s not the only one — Hiroyuki Nishimura, the current owner of 4chan, has warned that the original toxic image board may soon need to be shut down.
Voat users are taking the sudden announcement as an opportunity to start a pledge drive, suggesting that the site solicit small donations from users, a profitable model for smaller media operations. But aside from that, independent websites still need to get money from somewhere, and corporate liberalism, for all its many faults, still seems to have some influence over which web communities live and die. It’s possible that through community support, Voat can be saved, but even in today’s political climate, that’s not a foregone conclusion.