UPDATE: On Jan. 13, Ganahl started posting from the Gab account she created over three years ago. She has since posted three times over the past week. Since our reporting Ganahl also unfollowed QAnon conspiracy theorist Mike Cernovich and Ivanka Trump, adding Gab CEO Andrew Torba instead.

On the same day as Ganahl’s first “Gab,” the Anti-Defamation League called on the Department of Justice to investigate Gab and Torba, claiming they “may well bear a measure of criminal responsibility for the attack.” As USA Today reported, “Torba himself posted to Gab on Jan. 6 that ‘in a system with rigged elections there are no longer any viable political solutions.'”

Since the Jan. 6 insurrection, Gab’s user base has doubled to nearly 3.5 million accounts.

Ganahl did not immediately respond to an email request for comment. This article will be updated with any response received.

ORIGINAL POST:

University of Colorado Regent Heidi Ganahl took to social media last week to announce her new side-gig as a conservative columnist for the Denver Gazette. In addition to posts on Facebook and Twitter, Ganahl shared the news on alt-right site Parler, which is known as a haven for far-right extremists, white nationalists, and conspiracy theorists. Some conservatives are choosing to join it and other “alternative” sites because of their belief that fact-checking efforts by mainstream social media platforms are censoring conservative speech.

Founded in 2018 with funding from conservative donor Rebekah Mercer, Parler positioned itself as a right-wing alternative to mainstream social media sites largely not to ban or remove misinformation or hate speech. The result? A site rife with swastikas, racism, and unsolicited pornography.

Ganahl joined Parker back in June, along with many other Colorado Republicans including Congressmen Ken Buck and Doug Lamborn Sen. Cory Gardner, Congresswoman-elect Lauren Boebert, and House Minority Leader Patrick Neville.

Buck, Boebert, and Neville are all regular users. Gardner appears to have created handles for both his office and his campaign, but never posted to either account. Ganahl’s Dec. 7 post was her eighth post or “Parley” on the site.

A top-down effort by prominent Trump administration officials and allies, including White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), and Eric Trump, drove the site’s initial boom in popularity. New memberships fell off in the fall, but saw another surge on Election Day and immediately after, which was largely attributed to conservatives seeking validation of their belief that Trump would eventually win. Most recent data show that election-related spike in interest falling off dramatically, with fewer new users and less usage by members.

Parler isn’t the only far-right social media site Ganahl has joined, however. Just last month she created an account on newcomer MeWe, a favorite of anti-vaxxers and conspiracy theorists, presumably in part because, as founder Mark Weinstein told Rolling Stone, “there’s nowhere in our terms that says you may not post fake news.” Weinstein later objected to the magazine’s story in a blog post.

Ganahl is also a longtime member of the even more extreme site Gab, which Politico described as an “online cesspool of anti-Semitism.” That site is best-known as the platform used by a Pittsburgh mass murderer before he killed eleven people in a Oct. 2018 synagogue shooting. Ganahl joined Gab in August 2017 but has never posted to the account. She follows just four accounts, including Mike Cernovich, the misogynist promoter of the “PizzaGate” conspiracy theory, the precursor to QAnon. Her “About” section features a quote opposing schools’ censorship of the internet by Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, a Trump supporter who has shared memes questioning the result of the U.S. presidential election. As Regent, Ganahl advocates for students’ freedom of expression, particularly for conservative viewpoints that she believes are stifled at CU, if only due to being held by a distinct minority.

According to Dr. John Jackson, professor at Michigan State University’s James Madison College of Public Affairs and an expert in the history of scientific and academic racism, maintaining a presence on platforms like Parler and Gab opens up elected leaders like Ganahl to questions of judgement.

“It’s reasonable to ask why she feels the need to have a presence on these platforms, particularly when she’s choosing to post on some but not all,” says Jackson, who previously taught at CU prior to Ganahl’s election as regent. “Judgement is imperative in the leader of an institution of higher education. We’re not talking about the freedom of a person to speak in the town square without fear of punishment. That’s the essence of free speech. But when elected officials make public statements on platforms commonly associated with values contrary to the institutions they represent, it’s fair to expect them to explain those choices.”  

Ganahl did not return an email requesting comment. This article will be updated with any response received.

Conservative alternatives to mainstream online sites aren’t limited to social media platforms. Other sites that have gained popularity among conservatives include NewsMax, which has positioned itself to the right of FOX News, and Rumble, which is seen by conservatives as an alternative to YouTube.