James Allsup / YouTube Gab is Censoring Free Speech Why 1540773683.jpg...
James Allsup / YouTube

Robert Bowers, the suspected gunman in the massacre at Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, reportedly killed 11 people and wounded six others when he entered the place of worship Saturday morning. “All Jews must die!” he reportedly yelled while shooting at random.

Bowers was apparently an avid user on Gab, the “alternative” social media site where many members of the alt-right (including white supremacists) convene. When Andrew Torba, an avid Donald Trump supporter, launched Gab in 2016, people compared it to sites like Facebook and Twitter, but were drawn to the less restricted atmosphere. Unlike on mainstream sites, Gab uers could post hate-filled ideologies with abandon.

Unsurprisingly, it’s become an echo chamber for the alt-right. Research even backs it up; Gab is essentially a breeding ground for white, male extremism.

Alt-right bloggers including Milo Yiannopoulos and Paul Joseph Watson are popular users on the site. Gab also hosts content from Alex Jones (of InfoWars, conspiracy theory fame), whose material has been banned from Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.

What connects Bowers and Gab? A profile that seemingly belongs to him had a considerable history on the site. Before entering the synagogue and allegedly committing mass violence, an account that appears to belong to Bowers posted a message, which read: “I can’t sit by an watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics. I’m going in.”

And this wasn’t a one-time sentiment. His profile included many anti-Semitic and anti-refugee comments, as well as conspiracy theories. Since the attack, Gab says they have backed up the data from the suspect’s profile and suspended his account.

Gab responded to the massacre with “disgust,” and gave a statement about the attack:
“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.”

Of course, Gab also functions on a platform where (almost) anything goes. “We believe that the only valid form of censorship is an individual’s own choice to opt-out,” their service terms read. They claim their “mission is to put people and free speech first.”

Technically, the platform prohibits calling for acts of violence against others, threatening language, behavior that infringes on the safety of others, and illegal pornography, among other things. But when hate-speech goes unchecked, where is the line?

Gab tried to justify their policies by calling out hate-speech on other platforms:

While hate-speech and harassment are certainly problems on other social media sites, there is at least the possibility of being banned for hate-speech and threats.

Gab also tweeted that they’re being dropped by several affiliates:

This isn’t the first time companies have stepped away from Gab. In August 2017, for example, Google removed the Gab app from the Google Play Store. Why? The app violates Google’ s ban on hate speech.

Before Google, Apple actually blocked Gab’s app from their store twice. First, on the basis of pornography being found in the app. Then, they cited hate speech.

Allowing your platform to become a feeding ground for right-wing extremists and trolls might not carry the full responsibility for where all of that hate can lead, but it is certainly complicit in that hate festering, growing, and spreading.

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This is a Creative Commons article. The original version of this article appeared here.

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