A supermarket parking lot in the city of Buffalo, New York, USA. In mid-May 2022, pictures of yellow barrier tape and crying people going around the world will be created here. Ten people were killed. Most of them black. The reason: racism.
There is a video of this act because the 18-year-old shooter filmed himself driven by hatred entering the supermarket with an assault rifle and shooting at people. Of course, the video of the inhuman act cannot be found on YouTube. The video still exists on Odyssey to this day. "Odysee" is the name of a video hosting platform that markets itself as a YouTube alternative.
Odyssey is written in scrawled lettering against a black background. The brand's symbol is a walking astronaut. Including cooking videos, vlogs, travel videos, gameplays and make-up tutorials in the German-language version - at first glance everything seems "normal", i.e. like on YouTube. Were it not for the many links that can be found in numerous Telegram groups and on websites ranging from conspiracy ideology to right-wing extremism. Like digital signposts, they lead to the Odyssey URL.
Odyssey is modeled on a marketplace. It is what is called an "Incentivized Platform". This means that users are offered financial incentives for certain interactions. Such an interaction is, for example, pressing the "Fire" button (approval) or the "Slime" button (rejection). In plain English this means: If you hang out a lot on the platform and click, you get money. For watching and rating videos, each user receives a tip in the form of the virtual currency LBRY credits. An in-house cryptocurrency that can be exchanged for US dollars or euros via trading platforms.
As is common with alternative currencies, Odyssey also states that it uses so-called blockchain technology. To put it simply, blockchain means that data is not stored on central servers like on YouTube, but in many different places. The crux of the matter: blockchain technology enables anonymous transactions and communication - a circumstance that also makes the technology attractive to criminals. This is where those people who have a problem with supposed state censorship come into play: extremists and conspiracy ideologues. Because on Odyssey there is a place for all those whose videos were deleted on YouTube for violating the guidelines. But what exactly is on the site that was previously censored on YouTube?
First of all: On Odyssey by no means all users belong to the conspiracy ideology or right-wing extremist spectrum. Rather, this milieu also uses the platform and strategically links to it from other platforms, as the research team at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, or ISD for short, found out.
On Odyssey you can find accounts and videos of the Russian propaganda channel RT, Martin Sellner (Identitarian Movement) and the so-called Corona Committee, which spreads conspiracy myths about an alleged Corona dictatorship. All these channels are blocked on Youtube, not on Odyssey.
Paula Matlach has spent a lot of time on Odyssey over the past few months. In mid-May, she sees ten people dying in Buffalo because the video is uploaded immediately after the crime. Matlach is an analyst at the ISD. Once she researched Russian propaganda, now she is researching right-wing subcultures on the internet. In their latest study, which is funded by the Federal Ministry of Justice, the focus is on Odyssey.
The site's community guidelines say "We don't allow posts that incite hatred or violence against specific groups or individuals because of their sexuality, race, or gender." In the course of her study, however, Paula Matlach experienced live how much hatred can unfold on Odyssey, for example during Pride Month
The most successful of these is an anti-lockdown channel, on which conspiracy ideological and anti-Semitic theses are regularly presented in talk show formats. The videos examined deal with climate change denial, vaccination rejection, a so-called "deep state" (illegitimate power structures within a state) and historical revision.
The second most successful channel is a right-wing extremist channel that explains current political events with a racist tinge. A total of 55 videos were analyzed in the study, some of which came from these channels. They received a total of 36,120.88 credits in support ($536.76 as of 05/13/22). But how can it be that money can be made at all with right-wing extremist and anti-Semitic content in MP4 format? And who owns this platform of supposed freedom?
The contact address of the company Odysee Inc. leads to Nevada in the USA. Actually, it probably belongs to the parent company LBRY Inc., which is based in New Hampshire. A company that is closely linked to the political current of libertarianism. The basic idea of libertarianism: Individual freedom as the highest political good. The US Senate election in 2022 shows how politically charged the parent company of Odysee is. LBRY CEO Jeremy Kauffman is currently running for the Libertarian Party New Hampshire. He recently commented that LBRY Inc. will ensure that Odyssey never develops into a YouTube.
To prevent this, Odysee is built on top of the LBRY protocol. According to the findings of the ISD, this protocol is based on: "The rejection of state interference and the demarcation of large companies, which are seen as enemy images in the form of 'big corporate'" - all classic components of libertarian ideology.
So while the company LBRY Inc. states that it has no influence on what is published on the blockchain belonging to the protocol, the platform operators of Odyssey - following their basic libertarian attitude - interpret freedom of speech very broadly in their guidelines. What ultimately results from this is a desire for decentralization and freedom of speech and a reality in which you can see in a video how a man, driven by hatred, shoots ten people. In this reality, a right-wing extremist can make money by filming the murder of black people.
How decentralized the platform really is remains open from Paula Matlach's point of view: "The platform operators could regulate more closely, but don't want to block by geo-blocking (content is not available in certain countries)." So how much more freedom the libertarian platform really offers compared to Youtube, you can safely put a question mark behind it.
One thing is certain: For the right-wing extremist online milieu, Odyssey serves as a place of retreat because the platform pretends to represent a largely regulation-free space where money can be made. Even users who think in terms of conspiracy ideology feel addressed by the basic idea of decentralization. Of course, the platform is not specifically right-wing extremist, but it tolerates extremist users partly because of libertarian thinking, partly because of financial profitability, according to the ISD study.
Paula Matlach and her team at the ISD are calling for content-based regulations so that an attack like the one in Buffalo is no longer seen as yellow police tape. Holocaust denials shouldn't find a place on platforms like Odyssey either. With fewer than two million users, Odysee is still relatively small, but there are many platforms like Odysee. In the future, according to the demand of the ITS, they should also be included in the action plan against right-wing extremism of the Ministry of the Interior and listed in the investigation of right-wing extremist financial activities.
In 2022, not only concerts, merchandise and music productions are among the hidden sources of income for extremists. The Odyssey case shows that cryptocurrency has long since become a source of income for right-wing extremists and conspiracy ideologues.
Sources: ISD study, Berliner Morgenpost, Odysee