Just because people come for the free hosting doesn't mean that they will stay for the forums. Look at the Escapist. Yahtzee is about 100x more famous and popular than you will likely ever be, yet the forums have been steadily bleeding users since 2012.
Honestly, I keep forgetting that Yahtzee is a thing. He's never talked about on any tech channels, nor on any gaming channels, nor with any streamers. Of course he still does absolutely have a presence, but it's definitely been slowing down hard. As to the Escapist, of course the forums are dying because the site itself is dying due to shit management. Just like Yahtzee, I now have to be reminded that they exist. Further, the forums are not integrated into the site in any capacity and it's also treated like... Not even a second-class citizen. More like a fourth-class citizen. And then there's also the fact that there are about five billion gaming forums out there. There's nothing that makes the Escapist forums stand out in any way anymore. Here's a challenge. Give me a solid reason, any solid reason, to want to make an account and post on the Escapist. To talk to the creators? They don't post there. Because of the lenient rules? LOL Because of the cool badges and quizzes? Oh wait, they're completely gone. To even comment on the videos? No, they use the fucktarded Disqus widget for that. To collaborate on creations? They don't host anything besides their own content.
at the end of the day forums just aren't popular anymore and we need to accept that.
Of COURSE they're not popular. That was never in question and is part of what we're trying to fix. Although they ARE still in use in one form or another. In fact, if you think about it, you can still find forums in pretty prominent positions on the internet. Just as an example, most MMOs have official forums. Steam games all have forums. Almost all Linux distros use forums. NexusMods uses forums. Naturally, all this still doesn't compare at all to the behemoths like Facebook and Instagram. Nevertheless, forums are down, but they are not out, and they are not just going to go away with a wave of Google and Facebook's wand.
Dumping money to attract people to a site like this is like trying to get people to join your Usenet Newsgroup.
I've seen people join sites for far less than what Sanctuary offers. And consider this. Even in our pretty slow and weakened state here, we STILL managed to attract a few new users. And that was without any paid advertising or any extra hosting offered. There's also the fact that the very ideals and goals of Sanctuary breeds discussion. It raises eyebrows. Even some controversy. People may love Sanctuary, or they may hate it, but either way, one thing Sanctuary is not is boring.
Also you seriously underestimate peoples apathy. Nobody is going to step up and save the site if you get arrested.
Of course nobody's gonna be able to save intosanctuary.com itself if the site goes down, I go to gay baby jail, and the domain gets seized. But that's not the point. Sanctuary, at its very core, is an idea. Yes, I have crafted a service around that idea, but the idea doesn't actually need me or the site to be there. It doesn't need the intosanctuary.com domain to exist in people's minds. Sure, not many people are gonna wanna or even be able to host their own site, but regardless, even if only three people out of the total community actually started successor sites, that's still quite formidable. I mean, look at KiwiFarms. As reprehensible as they are, look how many people are sticking with that site even though they're constantly getting blasted on all sides.
Ultimately, I understand what you're feeling. In fact, I daresay maybe even more than you do. Sanctuary has had few major wins for a long time and it's pretty fucking disheartening. Nevertheless, I can't help but feel like the site itself is not the problem but instead, how I deliver and advertise it. Or should I say, how I sometimes don't for whatever reason.
In the meantime, "manual" advertising can be done on reddit by posting in groups that would be interested, r/FreeSpeech
Just don't make it so blatant of an advertisement that it gets removed as spam.
Usually, I like to get mod approval first before I go all in on manual Sanctuary advertising, unless I actually have legitimate content to contribute.