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As rain pours down, Ohio Senate candidate JD Vance gestures during a campaign rally in Greensburg, Pa. (AP) As rain pours down, Ohio Senate candidate JD Vance gestures during a campaign rally in Greensburg, Pa. (AP)

As rain pours down, Ohio Senate candidate JD Vance gestures during a campaign rally in Greensburg, Pa. (AP)

Jon Greenberg
By Jon Greenberg May 24, 2022

Does JD Vance profit from Russia propaganda?

If Your Time is short

  • J.D. Vance personally invested as much as $300,000 in the video sharing platform Rumble, although the precise details remain private.

  • RT, a Russia state-sponsored service that amplifies Kremlin messaging, posts its videos and livestreams on Rumble.

  • RT generates millions of views on Rumble, which increases the platform’s value to advertisers. 

In Ohio’s U.S. Senate race, Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan posted an ad that slams Republican J.D. Vance as being on the wrong side of Russia’s war in Ukraine. 

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

Here’s the full transcript of Ryan’s May 10 ad:

Vance: I’ve got to be honest with you, I don’t really care what happens with Ukraine one way or the other.

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

Text on screen: Venture capitalist J.D. Vance’s biggest deal? Social media platform Rumble.

Russia state media uses Rumble for propaganda.

Why doesn’t J.D. Vance care?

J.D. Vance doesn’t care because J.D. Vance profits off Russia propaganda.

In this fact-check, we look at that last part of the ad to see whether Vance profits from Russia propaganda.

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

Broadly, while the financial details are private, there’s some accuracy to Ryan’s statement, based on what’s known about 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 firm has funded a handful of start-ups, primarily in health care and food supply. In 2021, Narya played the lead role in assembling a group of investors to help Rumble expand.

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 attracts. Rumble drew attention in 2020, when it became popular among conservatives for what it promoted as its hands-off approach to moderating content. 

"Rumble’s mission is to restore the Internet to its roots by making it free and open once again," the company said in March.

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

When former President Donald Trump and conservative pundits such as Dan Bongino and Steve Bannon began posting their videos on Rumble, its user numbers soared. 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 a month.

Vance personally invested in Rumble. In his April 2022 candidate financial disclosure, he reported holdings in the company that fall in the range of $115,000 to $300,000. His investment was part of a larger package assembled by Narya that included billionaire Peter Thiel, now a leading backer of Vance’s Senate campaign. The details were undisclosed, but as part of the deal, a top Narya partner joined Rumble’s board. 

How Russian sponsored media came to Rumble

After Russia began its invasion of Ukraine in February, YouTube banned the Russia state-affiliated media outlet RT — formerly Russia Today — from its platform. In response, Rumble became RT’s primary video platform. Ryan’s campaign noted RT’s move as evidence for its claim that Vance is profiting from Russian propaganda.

Scott Radnitz, a specialist in Russia and Eurasian studies at the University of Washington, said RT is largely a propaganda network.

"Some of its content is non-political, but it is backed by the state and much of its content reflects the Kremlin's messaging intended for foreign audiences," Radnitz said. "RT's use as a mouthpiece of the state has been especially evident during the war, as it has echoed the Kremlin's distortions, lies, and conspiracy theories."

When Russian state media said that 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 used Rumble to post its ongoing livestream along with individual video news stories. The livestream has accumulated over 2 million views since its launch. The video stories have much lower numbers. The most popular ones have about 14,000 views.

Other Russian state-sponsored programs have also joined Rumble. They have lower viewer stats than RT.

Calculating whether Vance profits off Rumble

A key part of Rumble’s business plan is to increase its audience, and with that, its advertising revenues. RT and other Russian state-sponsored programs bring viewers to Rumble. 

Tech investor Roger McNamee was an early backer of Facebook. Today, on top of his investment work, he’s part of a campaign to crack down on hate speech on Facebook, Twitter and other platforms. McNamee said that while RT’s viewership is under a million a month, that still helps Rumble’s bottom line.

"The choice by Rumble to stream RT after it had been blocked by YouTube is an unambiguous play for viewers who engage with Russian propaganda," McNamee said. "What matters is the intent of Rumble and the fact that RT generates millions of streams on the platform."

Many of Rumble’s financial details remain private, but as a general rule, rising user numbers increase the company’s value, and to that extent, the investment Vance made in 2021 is, on paper at least, worth more today.

RT has boosted those viewership numbers, but it is far from the most popular producer on Rumble. Bongino’s show, for example, regularly draws about 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 ruling

Ryan said, "Vance profits off Russia propaganda."

Ryan’s claim is based on Vance’s investment in Rumble, the platform where RT posts 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 advertising revenues for Rumble, and RT’s presence adds value to Vance’s investment.

But other programs on Rumble attract many more viewers, and the details on Vance’s investment in the company are not 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 Half True.

Our Sources

Tim Ryan for Senate, J.D. Vance Doesn't Care About Ukraine, May 10, 2022

Rumble, Narya and Peter Thiel Lead Investment in Rumble, May 19, 2021

Rumble, tweet - no censoring, April 13, 2022

RT, tweet - move to Rumble, March 3, 2022

RT, Live stream, accessed May 20, 2022

Russell Brand, The WHO pandemic treaty, May 14, 2022

Dan Bongino, Dan Bongino Show on Rumble, accessed May 23, 2022

NASDAQ, CF Acquisition Corp. Can Deliver Solid Returns as Rumble Merger Approaches, April 5, 2022

Rumble, "Brazil’s Joe Rogan" Monark & Left-Wing Activist Ferréz Cancel YouTube for Rumble, March 31, 2022

Rumble, Rumble to Combine with NASDAQ listed CFVI, Dec. 1, 2021

Rumble, Rumble FAQs, accessed May 20, 2022

Rumble, Investor presentation, December 2021

Rumble, Rumble Sets New All-Time Records, April 6, 2022

Rumble, RT News views, accessed May 23, 2022

InvestorPlace, Rumble Could Work, But Don’t Sleep on the Competition Either, Jan. 19, 2022

Seeking Alpha, Rumble makes play for Joe Rogan, Feb. 7, 2022

Politico, Russia state media turn to Rumble to get out their word, March 24, 2022

Washington Examiner, Rumble maintains position of allowing Russian-owned news on its platform, April 13, 2022

New York Times, Rumble, the Right’s Go-To Video Site, Has Much Bigger Ambitions, March 29, 2022

Globe and Mail, How Rumble, a Toronto-based YouTube alternative, became a refuge for the MAGA crowd (with a US$2-billion valuation), Jan. 9, 2022

U.S. Senate, Financial disclosure report - J.D. Vance, April 1, 2022

Axios, J.D. Vance launches VC fund for startups beyond Silicon Valley, Jan. 9, 2020

Email exchange, Roger McNamee, founding partner, Elevation Partners, May 23, 2022

Interview, Taylor Van Kirk, press secretary, J.D. Vance for Senate, May 20, 2022

Email exchange, Scott Radnitz, associate professor of Russian and Eurasian Studies, University of Washington, May 20 2022

Email exchange, Izzy Levy, communications director, Tim Ryan for Senate, Mary 23, 2022

 

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