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Albicla: the new right-wing ‘Facebook alternative’ from Poland

They promised to “stop censorship”. It’s been a mess of technical and data security issues

The Facebook ban on news in Australia underscored just how dependent society is on social media giants. Some called for break-ups of Facebook, or the creation of national alternatives. Yet this carries its own risks – as evidenced by the recent launch of “Albicla”, the alt-Facebook out of Poland.

Albicla, a new Polish social media site operated by a conservative newspaper that promises to “stop censorship”, was launched on January 21. The network is connected to Gazeta Polska, a conservative newspaper supportive of the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party. 

Let all be (un)clear

The site’s name refers to albus aquila, which means “white eagle” in Latin with the slogan “Let AlBiCla – Let All Be Clear”. Its launch took place among the deplatforming frenzy that followed the Capitol Hill riots, much like fellow right-wing network Parler (which has since been kicked off the Apple and Google stores).

The platform has been off to a rocky start. Just hours after the launch, users reported problems with receiving confirmation e-mails during registration, as well as serious safety issues.

For a while, it appears it was even possible to acquire the IP addresses and other data of all the users. Last week Albicla recommended all users to change their passwords.

Hackers replaced all the administrative account’s graphics with pictures of rainbows – an apparent reference to the LGBTQ community and the right wing’s intensely homophobic views.

In 2019, Gazeta Polska made international headlines when it distributed “LGBT-free zone” stickers with the magazine, in a period when ‘Law and Justice’ (PiS) counsellors across Poland were pushing resolutions declaring towns “zones free of LGBT ideology”.

Nonetheless, Albicla’s leader Tomasz Sakiewicz, editor-in-chief of Gazeta Polska, a pro-government newspaper, is confident in its mission.

“Albicla is the direct answer to censorship growth on the Internet,” Sakiewicz has said. “Not all the functionalities are ready because we wanted to launch the portal in the last hour of the rule of the leader of the free world,” Sakiewicz continued, referring to Trump’s last day in office on January 20. “It is now up to us to ensure this world continues to be free, particularly online.”

That haste to launch was apparently behind the haphazard role out. Among others, it appeared that whole paragraphs from the terms of service were copied from Facebook (with Facebook links). 

Government support for the “local Facebook”

Poor security and user experience have not been enough to dissuade fans of the government or public institutions. As of February 15, the service had more than 60,000 users. This included some high-profile government entities, including the ministry of health.

Albicla also stands to benefit from its close connections to the Polish government and  was immediately endorsed by high-level members of the government, including Piotr Glinski, the Minister of Culture and National Heritage, and Sebastian Kaleta, a Secretary of State at the Ministry of Justice. 

According to Kantar’s research, the 16 state companies and institutions analysed by the consulting firm increased their advertising budgets to Gazeta Polska by 79 per cent between 2019 and 2020 – a period during which most media have lost advertising due to the pandemic. Since PiS came to power, media critical of the government like Gazeta Wyborcza saw state advertising budgets slashed.

Is Albicla actually a “haven from censorship”? Definitely not. Soon after the launch it had to disable commenting to “protect itself from trolls”. Several journalists (who criticised Albicla) have already had their accounts blocked.

More from The Fix: Polish government moves in on media

Photo by davide ragusa on Unsplash

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