The fallout from the sexual-assault allegations leveled against Russell Brand is continuing to spark public debate, as a U.K. parliamentary committee questioned Rumble over the income the beleaguered comedian earns on its platform.
Brand has been publicly hit with accusations from four women of rape, sexual assault and emotional abuse over a seven-year period. According to a joint investigation by The Sunday Times and The Times and TV show Dispatches, the women claimed they were sexually assaulted between 2006 and 2013.
London’s Metropolitan Police has subsequently announced that it has received a report of an alleged sexual assault in the U.K. capital in 2003. Brand has denied the allegations and said in a video posted on Friday on Rumble and X, formerly Twitter, that his relationships have been “always consensual.” He stated that he refutes “these very serious criminal allegations,” and suggested that “mainstream media outlets are making a coordinated attack” against him.
Newsweek has contacted representatives of Brand via email for comment.
As the fallout from the allegations continues, YouTube announced this week that it had suspended Brand’s monetization on its platform in a move to “protect” users. Brand, who has more than 6.6 million followers on the platform, is now unable to make money from advertising revenue attached to his videos.
It has since emerged that Dame Caroline Dinenage, chair of the House of Commons media committee, told Rumble in a letter that she was “concerned that [Brand] may be able to profit from his content on the platform,” particularly his video in which he addressed the allegations leveled against him.
Similar letters were also sent to TikTok, Facebook’s parent company, Meta, and X (formerly Twitter). In the letters shared on social media, the concern appears to focus on the possibility of Brand profiting from alleged crimes.
In a post on its X account, Toronto-based video-sharing platform Rumble said that the letter sent to its founder and CEO Chris Pavlovski was “extremely disturbing.”
“While Rumble obviously deplores sexual assault, rape, and all serious crimes, and believes that both alleged victims and the accused are entitled to a full a serious investigation, it is vital to note that the recent allegations against Russell Brand have nothing to do with content on Rumble’s platform,” read part of the statement.
After criticizing YouTube’s move to demonetize Brand’s videos on the platform, Rumble said: “We regard it as deeply inappropriate and dangerous that the U.K. Parliament would attempt to control who is allowed to speak on our platform or earn a living from doing so.”
Rumble, which was launched in 2013 and states on its website that its content creators are “immune to cancel culture,” added in its rebuttal that it would not “join a cancel culture mob.”
Early in his career, Brand was known for left-leaning comedy that lampooned the British political establishment. However, in recent years he appears to have embraced more conservative viewpoints, with his show Stay Free with Russell Brand moving to Rumble in 2022.
His videos include titles such as “Shhh… Don’t Mention The Vaccines” and the “Great Reset” theory, which claims that the “elites” were using the pandemic to take control of the globe.
While Canadian entrepreneur Pavlovski has described Rumble as “neutral,” it is back by prominent conservatives Peter Thiel, a billionaire venture capitalist who invested in 2021, and former Fox News host Dan Bongino.
Beacon of Monetary Hope
At a time when several of the larger platforms have either suspended or demonetized a number of conservative influencers over their controversial content, Rumble has been looked to as something of a beacon of monetary hope for those with large followings suddenly left without a streaming home.
“We need somewhere to go where conservative views won’t be discriminated against,” political commentator Bongino said via Reclaim the Net back in 2020.
Criticisms and questions regarding Rumble have, in the past, rarely gone beyond the realm of disgruntled social media users on other platforms. However, a major government questioning the platform’s dealings with a creator has been deemed by critics to be a step toward silencing dissenting voices.
“Since when do Western political officials have the power to impose extra-legal punishment on people for alleged crimes they’ve never been charged with?” journalist and author Glenn Greenwald wrote on X. “What gives US and UK officials the right to demand that tech companies remove or [demonetize] speakers?”
While the outcry on the matter has been loud and far-reaching, Professor Charlie Beckett, the founding director of think-tank Polis in the Department of Media and Communications at the London School of Economics, told Newsweek the perception is drastically different to the reality.
“It’s a legitimate query from the committee,” said Beckett. “It is not asking for anyone to be censored, it is questioning whether they should make money out of it.”
Beckett added that there “is no such thing as absolute free speech, and there is no such thing as a right to make money from any kind of speech. The committee has no power to censor or dictate the business policy of any organization, but it absolutely does have the right to ask questions.”
Rumble saw a boom in followers after former President Donald Trump failed in his bid for a second term in the White House in 2020. That year, the number of monthly users boomed from 2 million to more than 20 million, per Forbes. According to Statista, the platform peaked with almost 80 million users worldwide at the end of 2022. That number dipped to 44 million in the second quarter of 2023.
Up until the allegations against him were made public, Brand had been frequently posting new videos on the platform. It remains one source of income that has been unaffected by the sexual-assault allegations.
On Monday, it was announced by the promoters of Brand’s Bipolarisation standup tour that the remaining three shows had been postponed.
The fallout from the allegations has also led to the suspension of Brand’s working relationship with a U.K. book publisher, and a literary and talent agency has cut ties with him. A charity supporting women who have been affected by abuse has also ended its collaboration with Brand.
As news of the allegations against Brand spread, there were claims that the comedian long had a questionable reputation behind the scenes. Others have spoken out in Brand’s defense.
Evan Nierman, founder and CEO of the crisis communications firm Red Banyan, pointed to the “speed and ferocity” with which the public view has been cemented of Brand as a “deplorable person.”
“These are far-reaching penalties levied within hours of the explosive allegations coming to light, but it bears remembering that at this stage the claims are wholly unproven, Brand has neither been charged nor convicted of any crimes, and he immediately and forcefully declared himself innocent,” he told Newsweek.
Nierman, author of Crisis Averted: PR Strategies to Protect Your Reputation and the Bottom Line and The Cancel Culture Curse: From Rage to Redemption in a World Gone Mad, added that “Brand’s experience is the latest example that cancel culture is swift and unforgiving, utterly dismantling a person’s presumption of innocence and levying severe punishments before the target has received due process.”
Acknowledging that the allegations against Brand “are horrible and the behavior described utterly repugnant,” Nierman said that it is “irresponsible and unfair to demolish Brand’s career and livelihood based on unproven accusations that fall short of actual proof of wrongdoing.
“Cancel culture scenarios such as this are not just a threat to the reputations and careers of celebrities and public figures, but also to everyday citizens. Every single one of us makes mistakes, but when social media and the mainstream press elevate and disseminate salacious allegations not yet proven to be facts, it creates an impossible situation for the person under fire.”