I think most people who regularly use Twitter would be hard-pressed to imagine a version of Twitter that is somehow worse than Twitter, but it exists, and it’s called Gab. Founded by CEO Andrew Torba in 2016, Gab bills itself as a free speech–oriented version of Twitter, created as an alternative to the “entirely left-leaning Big Social monopoly“. The site has acted as a refuge for alt-right figures who have been booted from Twitter and other social media sites for things like hate speech and harassment.
Torba describes Gab as being a site for ‘everyone’, but is a favourite of conservatives and those on the far-right — think of it as like a bizarro version of Twitter where the majority of people believe that Hillary Clinton died and was replaced by a body double. An analysis of roughly 22 million posts on Gab put the levels of hate speech used regularly on the site as being far more than that of Twitter, but less than that of 4chan‘s /pol/, on which people use racial slurs with the frequency with which most people breathe.
To give you an idea of what the website is about, here is quite literally the very first post that showed up for me when I went to Gab this morning:
Unlike Twitter, which uses a moderation team to determine if reported content is abusive, threatening, or constitutes hate speech, Gab puts the onus on the user to prevent their own harassment with user- and keyword-based muting tools. Not everything flies on Gab, though: their ‘community guidelines’ forbid posting spam, posting illegal porn, doxxing other users, violating copyright law, and making threats of violence that “clearly, directly and incontrovertibly infringes on the safety of another user or individual(s)“.
That last clause apparently covers posts made by 46-year-old Robert Bowers, the suspect charged with 11 counts of murder after a shooting at a synagogue in Pittsburgh this weekend. In a now-unavailable Medium post (it appears that Gab’s Medium account has been suspended), Gab announced that they had quickly taken Bowers’ account offline:
Shortly after the attack, Gab was alerted to a user profile of the alleged Tree of Life Synagogue shooter. The account was verified and matched the name of the alleged shooter’s name, which was mentioned on police scanners. This person also had accounts on other social networks.
Gab took swift and proactive action to contact law enforcement immediately. We first backed up all user data from the account and then proceeded to suspend the account. We then contacted the FBI and made them aware of this account and the user data in our possession. We are ready and willing to work with law enforcement to see to it that justice is served.
The site was quick to play down the significance of Bowers having a Gab account:
We refuse to be defined by the media’s narratives about Gab and our community. Gab’s mission is very simple: to defend free expression and individual liberty online for all people. Social media often brings out the best and the worst of humanity. From live streamed murders on Facebook, to threats of violence by bombing suspect Cesar Sayoc Jr. that went unaddressed by Twitter, and more. Criminals and criminal behavior exist on every social media platform.
Bowers’ Gab account is facing more scrutiny than his other accounts, because Gab is where Bowers made his final post just before the shooting took place at the synagogue:
HIAS refers to the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, an American non-profit that was originally founded to aid Jewish refugees but has since expanded its work to assisting refugees around the world.
This seemed to be the last straw for PayPal, which shut down Gab’s PayPal account, removing one of the site’s primary sources of income. In a statement to The Verge, a PayPal spokesperson cited concerns that the site fostered hate speech:
The company is diligent in performing reviews and taking account actions. When a site is explicitly allowing the perpetuation of hate, violence or discriminatory intolerance, we take immediate and decisive action.
This is by no means the first time this has happened to them. The Gap apps have faced frequent reception from the Apple and Google Play stores, for reasons including hate speech and the presence of pornography. Late last year, Torba was forced to take down a post from the founder of neo-Nazi website the Daily Stormer after their domain registrar threatened to cancel their services. A year later, they faced similar threats from hosting service Microsoft Azure over anti-semitic content posted to the site. Earlier this month, payment service Stripe froze Gab’s account, citing concerns over “adult or illegal content“.
In addition to losing PayPal, hosting provider Joyent told Gab that they were giving them the boot over terms of service violations:
Breaking: @joyent, Gab’s new hosting provider, has just pulled our hosting service. They have given us until 9am on Monday to find a solution. Gab will likely be down for weeks because of this. Working on solutions. We will never give up on defending free speech for all people. pic.twitter.com/YvnBOFoQQn
— Gab.com???? (@getongab) October 28, 2018
Likely due to Joyent withdrawing their services, Gab was taken offline around midday, replacing the website with a statement saying that they were working on moving to new web hosting:
Gab.com is under attack. We have been systematically no-platformed by App Stores, multiple hosting providers, and several payment processors. We have been smeared by the mainstream media for defending free expression and individual liberty for all people and for working with law enforcement to ensure that justice is served for the horrible atrocity committed in Pittsburgh. Gab will continue to fight for the fundamental human right to speak freely.
As we transition to a new hosting provider Gab will be inaccessible for a period of time. We are working around the clock to get Gab.com back online. Thank you and remember to speak freely.
I’m sure the white supremacists will find something else to do with themselves in the meantime.Image: Getty Images / Jeff Swensen