Gab, a social media platform that prides itself on allowing free speech in all forms, has been taken down – at least for now. Following the tragic shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue on October 27, Gab's domain provider, GoDaddy, gave the company 24 hours to find a new provider when news broke that the alleged gunman Robert Bowers used the platform to spout anti-Semetic rhetoric just hours before killing 11 people. Now, Gab's founder Andrew Torba is publicly questioning what he believes to be an unfair characterization of the platform he helped build.
"We are the most censored, smeared, and no-platformed startup in history, which means we are a threat to the media and to the Silicon Valley Oligarchy," reads a statement from Torba on the landing page of the now defunct Gab website.
Torba's statement continues, "It doesn’t matter what you write. It doesn’t matter what the sophist talking heads say on TV. It doesn’t matter what verified nobodies say on Twitter. 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."
GoDaddy isn't the only company to swiftly cut ties with the startup. PayPal, Medium, Strip, and the web hosting service Joyent have also distanced themselves. Gab has also been removed from the Apple App Store. According to a statement from PayPal to The Verge, the payment platform banned Gab for "explicitly allowing the perpetuation of hate, violence or discriminatory intolerance."
Torba has spent the last two days defending Gab, responding to critics on Twitter, and retweeting supportive followers including coverage of the story from Breitbart.
The left couldn’t control Gab.— Gab.com🕊 (@getongab) October 29, 2018
The media couldn’t control Gab.
Venture capitalists couldn’t control Gab.
Advertisers couldn’t control Gab.
Whining activists couldn’t control Gab.
Big Tech couldn’t control Gab.
So Gab needed to be smeared and taken offline at all costs.
Gab, first launched in 2016, has been a haven for far-right activists, neo-Nazis, and white nationalists due to its "anti-censorship" stance. "We promote raw, rational, open, and authentic discourse online," Torba told Wired shortly after Gab launched. "We want everyone to feel safe on Gab, but we’re not going to police what is hate speech and what isn’t." The platform has denied catering to these groups, instead claiming that its only interest is protecting free speech. In the spectrum of answers tech companies are giving to the increasingly important question, "What responsibility do social media platforms have to reprimand and rebuke hate speech?" Gab has taken an almost entirely hands-off approach.
Still, it appears that Torba has relished in, and profited from, other platforms' attempts to deter hate speech in the past. Following a sweeping series of alt-right Twitter account suspensions in November 2016, Torba boasted about the increase in Gab users. "In the last eight days alone, we’ve added 60,000 new accounts. And that [growth] does coincide with a lot of the bans that we’re seeing."
In a series of screenshots detailing the back and forth exchange between Torba and Washington Post journalist Drew Harwell, Torba describes himself and his company as a scapegoat in the discourse surrounding the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting. Gab's Twitter feed is filled with tweets characterizing the platform and its CEO as a Silicon Valley martyr suffering for defending free speech whatever the cost.
On Twitter, and in the Gab landing page statement, Torba claims that he and the company have been working with the Department of Justice and Federal Bureau of Investigation by providing Bower's user data. On a now-suspended Medium account, Torba wrote that Gab "unequivocally disavows and condemns all acts of terrorism and violence."
As social media platforms attempt to encourage a healthy dialogue among their users, the debate of when to step in – or whether to step in at all – remains, and it's proving to be a contentious conversation.