In Depth

What is Gab - and why is it so controversial?

‘Free speech’ social media platform used by Pittsburgh synagogue shooter forced offline

Gab logo

A social media platform which advertises itself as a “free speech” rival to Twitter has gone offline, after it emerged that the gunman detained at the scene of a mass shooting in a Pittsburgh synagogue propagated his anti-Semitic views on the site.

Gab users can no longer access the service, after domain provider GoDaddy.com gave its owners 24 hours to find another host.

“The move comes as other companies including PayPal, Medium, Stripe, and Joyent blocked Gab over the weekend,” says The Verge.

Here’s how a little-known corner of the internet found itself at the centre of the news:

What is Gab?

Gab is a Twitter-style social media platform founded by entrepreneur Andrew Torba in 2016. Although its user base is small - around 800,000 active users compared to Twitter’s 336 million - it is “avid”, says CNN.

Crucially, unlike Twitter and other mainstream social media platforms, Gab only removes hateful content if it promotes violence. Users are otherwise free to express racism, sexism, homophobia and other forms of bigotry.

Announcing its decision to stop hosting Gab, GoDaddy.com said the platform had “violated our terms of service” by allowing users to share “that both promotes and encourages violence against people”.

Why is it controversial?

Critics say that Gab’s no-limits ethos provides a dangerous platform for extremists like Robert Bowers, the man charged with murdering 11 people in Saturday’s attack, to spread their toxic ideology and fan the flames of intolerance.

Bowers was a keen user of the site, which he used to spread his anti-Semitic views. His final message - “Screw your optics, I’m going in” - was posted “moments before the murders”, says The Guardian.

The ability to post extremist content without fear of sanction has turned Gab into “an epicentre of extremely anti-Semitic and anti-black content, and conspiracy theories”, says Vox.

However, Gab’s owners insist that their service does not support any brand of political ideology, but simply exists to uphold the principles of total freedom of speech - which, they claim, is sorely lacking on existing platforms.

“We have been smeared by the mainstream media for defending free expression and individual liberty for all people,” the company said in a statement.

Will it be back?

After getting its marching orders from its web host, Gab appears to be struggling to find a new home. In addition, since the Pittsburgh shooting, “it has also been removed from app stores and refused service by payment processing firms”, CNN reports.

A statement posted on the Gab's website on Monday said it would be “inaccessible for a period of time”, but that the company is “working around the clock” to get the service back online.

In an email to Vox, site founder Andrew Torba insisted this was not the end of Gab. “We have plenty of options, resources, and support. We will exercise every possible avenue to keep Gab online and defend free speech and individual liberty for all people.”

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