NewsSarasota, Manatee County


Sarasota Co. ends program that could reward controversial company Rumble with taxpayer funds

Rumble, a video sharing service that's moving headquarters to Longboat Key, has come under fire for allowing Russian propaganda videos on its site
Rumble protest WFTS.png
Posted at 8:11 AM, Apr 12, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-12 18:19:32-04

SARASOTA, Fla. — Sarasota County Commissioners have voted to end the county's Economic Development Incentive Fund, taking an up to $825k rebate for job creation in Sarasota County off the table for Rumble.

They said they felt the incentive was no longer necessary given how many companies wish to relocate to the region.

165 high-paying tech jobs would, under many circumstances, be unanimously celebrated by politicians and members of the public alike.

In Sarasota County, however, a possible agreement to incentivize a company for bringing jobs to the county has become the source of protest and intense debate.

In Nov. 2021, Rumble announced its intent to establish U.S. headquarters in Longboat Key.

The company describes itself as “an independent and privately-owned company in the online video-sharing platform industry with millions of creators.” The website, similar to YouTube, hosts videos from news sources like ABC Action News and Reuters. It also hosts videos from politicians like Governor Ron DeSantis and former President Donald Trump.

But, the platform has drawn scorn in Sarasota County for hosting videos that contain misinformation related to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The site includes a channel from RT (formerly Russia Today), which critics describe as Russian state-controlled propaganda that does not portray Russia’s invasion and potential war crimes accurately.

RT videos have been banned on YouTube and other platforms like Roku. They are not banned on Rumble, however. The website has said it is “immune” to “cancel culture.”

Protesters like Adrien Lucas, who lives in Sarasota, said the company’s relocation to Longboat Key is problematic.

“There are a lot of Ukrainian-Americans who live in this county who aren’t going to accept that,” she said.

But her main concern is the possibility of an agreement that might reward Rumble taxpayer dollars for the jobs it brings to the county. A partnership between the Sarasota County Commission and the Sarasota County Economic Development Corporation (EDC) has allowed the county to incentive job creators with a $5,000 taxpayer-funded credit for each job created. That means Rumble could be eligible for up to $825,000 from the county.

“Rumble is a bad fit for our county tax dollars,” argued Lucas. “The business of Rumble is inappropriate for an economic development reward of our tax funds.”

Two weeks ago, during a March 29 meeting, County Commissioner Nancy Detert made a motion that, if passed, would have instructed the county to “no longer pursue a contract with Rumble.”

“This country is 100% united behind Ukraine,” she said. “It’s the wrong project, the wrong time, the wrong community.”

County commissioners, in a 3-2 vote, rejected Detert’s motion.

But Tuesday, in a unanimous vote, the county ended its Economic Development Incentive Fund, taking an up to $825k rebate for job creation in Sarsota County for Rumble off the table.

Commissioner Christian Ziegler said he supports Ukraine but describes Rumble as a “free speech” platform. He pointed out that other platforms like Twitter and Facebook continue to allow RT and its content. However, unlike Rumble, both offer a disclaimer that RT is “Russia state-controlled media.

Still, Ziegler said it would be unfair for the county to single out Rumble by rejecting a contract that has yet to be finalized.

“We are reacting to political activists who are pushing this issue,” he said. “This is a form of cancel culture.”

However, he and other commissioners did voice support for ending — altogether — the county incentive program with the EDC that rewards companies, like Rumble, for creating jobs.

Ziegler plans to discuss and vote on the idea during a commission meeting Tuesday.

“I don’t think this eliminates the EDC,” he said previously. “It just eliminates this $5,000 program that I don’t think really helps bring jobs here anyway.”

Monday, when contacted by phone, a Rumble spokesperson had no comment about how the company would respond if Sarasota County ends the incentive program.