Students are no strangers to emerging social media trends – as avid smartphone users, young adults are likely to pick up on new dating apps, new mobile payment apps (e.g. Venmo, Cashapp) and even new social media platforms. However, students may be unaware of a different kind of social platform that took hold in 2018 – a platform that touts its commitment to free speech and open dialogs for radical discussions.
Gab was founded by Andrew Torba after he claimed to witness excessive censorship on other social media platforms. The site works with little to no moderation, and post interaction occurs similar to Reddit posts, where users can upvote posts they agree with.
With no site-wide moderation, Gab’s only form of censorship exists in user settings, where the user can mute certain words or phrases they don’t want to see.
Torba described why he created the site in an interview with BuzzFeed News in December 2017: “What makes the entirely left-leaning Big Social monopoly qualified to tell us what is ‘news’ and what is ‘trending’ and to define what ‘harassment’ means? It didn’t feel right to me, and I wanted to change it, and give people something that would be fair and just.”
From the beginning, the platform has stated that its target audience remains conservative, libertarian, nationalist and populist internet users around the world – and that its competitors are Breitbart and Infowars.
With this target audience, it is no surprise that the platform has had become a host for extremist, anti-Semitic and racist behavior. Perhaps the most infamous case involved a verified user of Gab that killed 11 people in a Pittsburgh synagogue.
Many of this user’s posts on Gab included anti-Semitic rants and conspiracy theories. These elements persist through much of the platform’s content.
As a result of this content and the Pittsburgh shooting, Google and Apple rejected the Gab mobile app from their stores, and domain host sites like GoDaddy and Joyent dropped support for the site. The website remained down for a week as the company scrambled to find a digital distributor to get them back off their feet – where a company named Cloudflare stepped in.
The digital security provider Cloudflare is often employed to protect websites from denial of service attacks, and was the subject of media attention after it ended support for neo-Nazi website the Daily Stormer.
The company later released a statement saying they would not attempt to control any form of speech on the internet and is now providing service to Gab.
Financial problems have also stricken the platform, and according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, several thousand investors utilized the JOBS Act of 2012 to crowdfund their support for the company. Despite these investments, revenue for Gab has fallen heavily since PayPal and Stripe stopped supporting the platform as well.
One thing key to remember from this: there exists a corner of the internet for all views and opinions. What subsisted in the far corners of 4Chan threads now thrives on an official platform for nationalists and radicalism, all as a result of the freedom of the internet. Anti-Semitic and racist behaviors now pervade on the platform, allowing individuals to form a collective voice of festered vitriol for ethnic and minority groups.
The internet remains a largely unregulated place, but social platforms can provide their own framework of rules to govern their users and manage hate speech. What happens when a no-rules platform emerges specifically to cater to the radical opinions of certain white radicals? The answer is Gab.