The Brief: Gab is a social media platform that promotes free speech and is known for allowing hate speech. It was shut down by its web hosts after the shooter who killed 11 people at a synagogue in Pittsburgh used the platform to make antisemitic posts.
What is Gab?
Gab is a social media platform based on the idea of hosting free speech without limitations. It dubs itself as a more conservative-friendly version of Twitter and Facebook where people can freely share their views – including hate speech – as long as they do not directly incite violence. It has something between 465,000 and 800,000 users.
Gab calls itself “a social network built, owned and funded by The People with a mission to defend individual liberty and free expression online.”
Members of the far-right including Milo Yiannopoulos (who was banned from Twitter), Richard Spencer, and Andrew Anglin have accounts on Gab. Although the site does not have an official political leaning, it has become a safe haven for the Alt-Right, white nationalists, and Neo-Nazis. Members of these groups can post racist, antisemitic, sexist, and homophobic content more freely on Gab than on other sites.
The suspected shooter in the Squirrel Hill Massacre, Robert Bowers, who killed 11 people at a synagogue in Pittsburgh was active on the platform. Before the shooting he posted the following message on Gab:
HIAS likes to bring invaders in that kill our people. I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics, I’m going in
HIAS is a Jewish organization that protects refugees.
Since the Pittsburgh shooting, PayPal, Stripe, Joyent, and GoDaddy have removed their support for Gab. Since it now has no web-host, Gab has shut down.
Gab CEO Andrew Torba released a statement declaring that “Gab isn’t going anywhere.” He said that Gab will be temporarily offline as they search for a new web host provider. In an interview with NPR, when asked about Bowers’s Tweet, Torba said: “What would you expect us to do with a post like that? You want us to just censor anybody who says the phrase ‘I’m going in’? Because that’s just absurd.”
Social Media, Free Speech, & Hate Speech
Gab’s shutting down highlights the difficulties that social media platforms face when determining how to stop hate speech while still maintaining spaces for open public discourse. Social media networks Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube have all struggled to draw lines between regulating hate speech and allowing for free speech, stirring up criticism that they are too strict or too lenient.
Herein lies a key difficulty in gatekeeping social media platforms. With the sheer amount of information exchanged daily, even with AI technology, it can be difficult to parse out every instance of hate speech being shared online.
All the news about Gab has brought more publicity to the site. Whether or not Gab will be revived, people who want to will likely continue to find spaces where they can share hate speech, fake news, conspiracy theories, and propaganda online with few consequences.