The deplatforming of Gab sets a disturbing precedent, as it shows that websites can now be targeted outside of social networks if pressure is applied via the very companies that enable a page’s presence on the internet.
PITTSBURGH — In the wake of the mass shooting at the Pittsburgh Tree of Life Synagogue on Saturday, action has been taken to remove an alternative social media network on which the shooter responsible for Saturday’s massacre, Robert Bowers, had posted. The decision comes not long after a coordinated effort by Facebook and Twitter that deleted hundreds of anti-establishment accounts and pages.
Gab, a Twitter alternative that has thus far been largely dominated by “alt-right” users and those that have been “banned” or “shadow banned” on Twitter, has now been booted by both its hosting company, Joyent, and the domain registrar GoDaddy, after both companies stated that the posts Bowers had made on the social network violated their terms of service. Bowers allegedly posted just minutes before the shooting on the Gab platform, writing “I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics, I’m going in.” Bowers had allegedly blamed the Jewish people for “committing genocide” against white Americans.
Upon learning of the shooter’s account on the platform, Gab deleted the account and backed up the data, which it also provided to the Department of Justice and FBI. In addition, via a statement, Gab disavowed “all acts of terrorism and violence” and said its mission is “to defend free expression and individual liberty online for all people” by offering an uncensored social networking platform.
Gab later noted that its coordination with the DOJ and FBI regarding the shooter’s account helped provide law enforcement with “concrete evidence” and a “clear motive” for the crime, adding that “more speech is always the answer.”
Nevertheless, despite the extent of the cooperation between Gab and the legal authorities, Gab subsequently posted on Twitter that it was “being forced off the internet for the disgusting actions of one man.” Notably, Robert Bowers also had accounts on other social media platforms including Twitter, but those social networks were not targeted for those accounts or any of the posts created by those accounts.
Media reports on the shooting have noted that Gab’s minimal restrictions on user-posted content are related to the decisions from Joyent and GoDaddy to deplatform Gab. In a statement sent to Gab by GoDaddy, the domain name registrar stated that it had “discovered numerous instances of content on your site that both promotes and encourages violence against people.”
Gab’s removal from its hosting provider and domain name registrar could result in the site being down for several weeks, according to posts made by Gab on social media. Currently, the site is inaccessible for users, as the main homepage now only displays a message from Gab’s CEO, Andrew Torba.
In addition, PayPal also severed ties with Gab after the shooting, stating that the company was invoking its right to terminate an account “for any reason and at any time” contained within the PayPal user agreement. Notably, PayPal did not state that Gab had violated any terms of service. Instead, it appears that PayPal had unilaterally decided to terminate Gab’s use of the platform.
The effort to deplatform Gab followed similar threats from Microsoft levied against Gab in August. At the time, Microsoft was providing hosting services to Gab and threatened to cease those services over two anti-Semitic posts it had identified on the social network. Gab subsequently deleted the offending posts and chose Joyent as its new hosting provider.
Beyond social-media pruning: pulling out alternative content by the roots
While Gab’s current user base and its uncensored approach to content are bound to result in controversial content being hosted on the site, the larger context in which its deplatforming occurred has chilling consequences for the public’s free access to information via the internet.
On October 11, Facebook deleted more than 800 pages from its platform for “inauthentic behavior,” even though it admitted that the targeted pages had produced “legitimate” content. Facebook defined “inauthentic behavior” as using “sensational political content – regardless of its political slant – to build an audience and drive traffic to their websites.” In other words, the pages were removed for publishing and promoting controversial political content.
Soon after, Twitter deleted many of the accounts of pages that had been deleted by Facebook, suggesting coordination between the two largest social networks in silencing alternative voices and perspectives. Following these events, some concerned internet users turned to Gab as an uncensored alternative to Facebook and Twitter.
However, the events that have followed the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting show that alternative platforms like Gab – even if they are committed to uncensored content – can still be silenced through pressure from hosting providers and domain name registrars. The deplatforming of Gab sets a disturbing precedent, as it shows that websites can now be targeted outside of social networks if pressure is applied via the very companies that enable a page’s presence on the internet.
Concern over these precedents will likely only grow, as establishment censors recently announced that efforts to silence voices on the internet have only just begun. Indeed, on October 15, Jamie Fly of the German Marshall Fund, a think tank funded by the U.S. government and NATO, announced, “we are just starting to push back” against alternative media and independent voices, adding that the recent Facebook/Twitter purge of users and pages was “just the beginning.”
With the deplatforming of Gab, the self-appointed censors have now shown that their ability to censor spreads far beyond censorship within the dominant social networks to the very internet presence of the sites themselves.
Top Photo | An image showing the Gab logo superimposed over a screenshot of the now-banned social media platform.
Whitney Webb is a staff writer for MintPress News and a contributor to Ben Swann’s Truth in Media. Her work has appeared on Global Research, the Ron Paul Institute and 21st Century Wire, among others. She has also made radio and TV appearances on RT and Sputnik. She currently lives with her family in southern Chile.