Twitter Reacts to St. Louis Startup Shame

"So that’s what happened to Lockerdome" and other choice Tweets.

September saw the Gateway Journalism Review (GJR) publish an in-depth investigation into how Decide, the famous St. Louis adtech startup formerly known as LockerDome, has been funding news sites is financing and profiting from the alt-right. Their story picked up where EQ left off: following initial revelations by GJR into LockerDome’s connections to the Gateway Pundit, I noted that a quick analysis using the tool SimilarWeb, seemed to link the St. Louis AdTech startup to 40 other alt-right websites.

Since I first reported this in May, I have been researching the extent of the company’s involvement with the alt-right. Due to my own investigations, I was quoted in this latest piece on GJR, as I have found more than 125 alt-right websites or networks that either declare they are using LockerDome (or Decide) through their Ads.Txt file or I am able to visually confirm, with my own eyes, that the ads are running:

“Decide ads can be found on numerous disinformation sites – including some that are listed above — that are not found on the “sellers.json” list. Jonathan Allen, publisher and editor of Entrepreneur Quarterly, which covers the St. Louis tech scene and which has also reported on LockerDome’s alt-right connections, said he had personally found Decide advertising on 110 alt-right sites before he simply stopped counting.”

Nonetheless, my research makes up just a small part of overall story that Paul Wagman investigated, and judging by the reaction to the his article, the story has struck a nerve among St. Louisans. Here are some of the comments (in some cases anonymized by EQ) shared on Twitter, from prominent and recognizable members of the St. Louis business community.

The Over Under

Brevity is the soul of Twitter, so some users took to breaking down the original long form article into digestible nuggets.

NEW: We need to talk about how a small adtech startup — the darling of the St.Louis startup scene — may be quietly powering nearly every major disinformation outlet in the world. Meet @decideinc, formerly known as LockerDome. For YEARS, I’ve been seeing @decideinc ads on every disinfo outlet I research — from Gateway Pundit to Steve Bannon. Their business model? They’re the ad exchange that pulls up when all the other ad exchanges leave due to brand safety violations.

Nandini Jammi, founder of the CheckMyAds Institute

“StL tech biz Decide Technologies, formerly LockerDome, is helping funnel big $ into *dozens* of extremist alt-right websites. Decide Tech also got tax $ through grants, & includes big names as execs, incl Square co-founder Jim McKelvey. Great reporting!”

Charles Jaco, a well-known journalist and public figure who has worked in TV

“My mouth is on the floor due to quotes @paulwagman got from folks in the St. Louis ad tech scene. There are some wild conflicts of interest going on. This is wild: “McKelvey added that he had been told once earlier, even before the GJR contacted him, that LockerDome had been working with alt-right sites. But ‘I don’t comment on politics as I’m on the Fed,’ he wrote. He is a director of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.”

Zack Edwards, User Data & Privacy Researcher

“LockerDome’s partnerships with disinformation outlets mean that the company helps fund and at the same time profit from organizations that are undermining American democracy”

A Twitter user based in St. Louis

Whoa. Decide, formerly LockerDome, is powering alt-right disinfo. This is the company that STLers pointed to as the next Square. The unicorn to save STL. The company serves up ads on a range of websites including the Post-Dispatch, but the most profitable websites are alt-right. Also, apparently a nat’l conservative blog that is run out of the greater STL region earns 6x >> P-D’s online ad revenue.

A Twitter user based in St. Louis

City Shame

Many St. Louisans took to Twitter to express their shame and dismay at the fate of LockerDome, some of whom had previously worked at the startup.

Let’s talk about St. Louis ad tech startup @decideinc being a nationally coodinated alt right disinformation campaign.

A Twitter user

Remember all the local fanfare about Lockerdome on Warsh Ave? Cool tech business? Turns out they have a chummy relationship with numerous right-wing conspiracy sites and the Gateway Pundit is their BFF.

Umar Lee, well-known St. Louis based activist

“The startup Decide Technologies (formerly LockerDome), that had a lot of shine in the St. Louis region, has been funding and profiting off the alt-right. Disgusting.”

A Twitter user based in St. Louis

“Every STL resident that’s in the fight against disinformation needs to read this thread and take appropriate social action. I worked for Gabe’s dad on his start-up back in the day; sorry to see his son take such a dark path.”

Eric Toelke, Founder and President of TOKY Branding + Design

“Holy shit, I didn’t realize the direction LockerDome headed. When they first launched, even prior to moving to Washington Ave., Gabe paid me to freelance write Cardinals baseball for their platform. Christ on a bike did shit change over there!

A Twitter user based in St. Louis

Called It

Many St. Louisans took to Twitter to decry unreasonable working conditions at the AdTech startup, citing long hours, sleeping in the office and not being able to go home.

I can’t say I’m not surprised. Something just seemed off about #LockerDome/#DecideInc in the St. Louis Startup Scene. Only now is it being exposed for being yet another boys club for misogynistic ableists white guys which honestly has been killing the scene for a few years now.

A Twitter user based in St. Louis

Everything they ever did sounded like a scam or a derivative idea of let’s make this the next “fill in there blank” – insert cash here, over and over again to get more cash.”

A Twitter user based in St. Louis

LockerDome/Decide has been garbage since @stltoday wrote a glowing profile of them 7 years ago. Now they’re furthering Missouri’s chief cultural export: GOP misinformation. I’m glad one local news source can look critically at a darling startup.

A Twitter user based in St. Louis

This is just a sample of the conversation evolving on Twitter. Stayed tuned to EQ as we continue to develop this story.