After a global crackdown on extremist content online, a solitary social media site with virtually no moderation has managed to stay live.
Gab describes itself as the “Free Speech Social Network” and is surging in popularity with US far right conservatives, QAnon conspiracy believers, fundamentalist Christians, racists, and other members of the diverse US political fringe.
But the platform has been criticised in the past for its lax stance on extremist, hateful and violent content.
WHAT IS GAB?
Gab looks similar to Twitter, with users posting 300 character “Gabs”. The posts can be liked, commented on and reposted.
The site is different to Facebook and Twitter in that the functionality is patchy, and the site can time out. Features like the search bar or the groups tab also appear to routinely become unavailable.
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Last week, Gab said it had gained 2.3 million new users in a single week, and had achieved 55 million weekly users, who viewed 100 million pages on the site.
The surge in popularity comes as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram moved to shut down thousands of extremist accounts and groups across their own platforms following the deadly siege at the US Capitol.
Apple and Google also removed another far right social network, Parler, from app stores, before Amazon shut the site down completely by denying them hosting services.
AUSSIE CONSPIRACISTS ON GAB
Australia’s own high profile coronavirus deniers have accounts on Gab, including conspiracist Pete Evans.
The former reality TV chef said in a recent post he’ll be using the platform until Parler was restored. He also claimed he had expertise similar to a Masters degree in virology, journalism, mind control and economics.
Also on Gab is Katie Hopkins, the right wing British commentator who was permanently removed from Twitter in June last year after mocking the Black Lives Matter movement.
Hopkins had more than a million followers when she was banned by Twitter, who said she’d breached their “hateful conduct” policy.
Another name you might remember is Milo Yiannopoulos, the former editor of Breitbart and a once celebrated far right commentator.
Yiannopoulos was cancelled in 2017, after disturbing comments surfaced showing him appearing to condone child sex abuse. He later backtracked and apologised for his comments, saying his “experiences as a victim” of child sexual abuse “led him to believe he could say almost anything on the subject, no matter how outrageous”.
GAB BLAMED FOR MASS SHOOTING
In 2018, a Gab user whose profile included Nazi veneration, and the phrase, “Jews are the children of satan”, allegedly killed 11 people in a mass shooting after posting about it on Gab.
The suspect posted on the platform shortly before entering a synagogue in Pittsburgh and opening fire. The man, who is still awaiting trial, is accused of killing 11 people and wounding six others.
The man had decried US President Donald Trump for being a “globalist” and surrounding himself with Jewish people in Gab posts, and shared other racist content targeting African-Americans.
‘WE REFUSED TO BE DEFINED BY THE MEDIA’S NARRATIVES’
Following the 2018 alleged mass shooting, Gab released a statement saying it’s “policy on terrorism and violence have always been very clear: we a have zero tolerance policy for it.”
But the company rejected criticism that allowing racist and violent rhetoric online had led to violence.
“We refuse to be defined by the media’s narratives about Gab and our community,” the statement said.
“Gab’s mission is very simple: to defend free expression and individual liberty online for all people.”
After the alleged shooting, Gab came under intense scrutiny, and PayPal and Stripe refused to process payments for the company. GoDaddy, who’d previously hosted the company’s domain, removed them from their server, causing a temporary shutdown.
The shutdown is similar to what recently happened to Parler, when Amazon removed the controversial site from their web server.
Gab eventually went back online under new host Epik. Because of this partnership, despite being targeted for its content in recent purges of extremist content, Gab is unlikely to be taken down again.
‘I DIDN’T SET OUT TO BUILD A CONSERVATIVE SOCIAL NETWORK’
Gab was founded by Andrew Torba, a self described “conservative Republican Christian” and a Trump supporter.
Mr Torba previously worked in Silicon Valley and has said Gab is his reaction larger social media sites, which he says are biased against conservative views in an interview with The Washington Post in 2016.
“I didn’t set out to build a ‘conservative social network’ by any means, but I felt that it was time for a conservative leader to step up and to provide a forum where anybody can come and speak freely without fear of censorship,” Mr Torba said.
“Every major communication outlet, every major social network, is run, owned, controlled and operated by progressive leaders, progressive workers in Silicon Valley.”