Dissenter is the latest brainchild from entrepreneur Andrew Torba and the team from controversial social media platform, Gab.
At its core, Dissenter is a website that allows users to share and comment on content from around the internet – regardless of whether the page allows comments. While this isn’t necessarily a groundbreaking development in and of itself, when coupled with a browser extension, available through Firefox or Google Chrome, it becomes a browser tool that allows users to view and leave comments without having to leave the page.
The developers tout the site as the “comment section of the internet”, claiming the tool will prevent censorship and promote free speech, bringing back the "Wild West" days of the web. In an email to Gab users they wrote, “Dissenter puts the power back in the hands of The People to shine a light on propaganda, lies, censorship, corruption, and sophistry across the web.
“Dissenter launches at a time when comment sections are no longer available on every mainstream news site and blog, YouTube is shutting down comment sections while also demonetizing channels over their comment sections, and social media censorship is the worst it has ever been.
“Dissenter creates a new layer on top of the entire internet. One that is powered by The People, not Silicon Valley or the mainstream media.”
While Gab and its new sister service are branded as free speech platforms, open to users of all political persuasions, they are home almost exclusively to the loose constellation of conservatives associated with the alt-right movement that emerged during the 2016 election of US President Donald Trump.
Gab is a Twitter alternative created amidst claims Twitter was unfairly censoring and banning conservative voices.
Since its inception, the platform has been mired in controversy for hosting white nationalist communities among other groups associated with the far right.
Specifically, the “free speech haven” came under fire late last year after reports Robert Bower, the gunman responsible for the Tree of Life synagogue mass shooting in Pittsburgh, was actively sharing and promoting anti-Semitic content via the service.
His last post on Gab before the shooting read, “I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics, I’m going in.”
Gab responded in a statement following the attack saying it had “zero tolerance” for violence or terrorism and was “saddened and disgusted by the news” from Pittsburgh.
Critics of the site argue it provides support networks for white nationalists and foments far-right extremism.
Domain hosting giant GoDaddy, along with PayPal, Stripe and Joyent, refused service to Gab after the controversy, resulting in it going down for nearly a week. It was saved only when two companies, digital security provider Cloudflare and domain provider Epik, both led by free speech absolutists, extended their services to the ailing social media platform.
Similarly, Dissenter, so far, and perhaps unsurprisingly considering its relationship to Gab, is primarily a tool for the far right. User names like “Liberals Get The Bullet Too” and “Get CNN Out Of Airports” are commonplace, and rather than the enlightened and constructive commentary one might expect from a “free speech haven”, a good deal of comments are just blatant trolls, or so often, just straight up abuse.
For a not uncommon example,
A few bad apples, ey?
The tool itself is not a bad idea. At Penthouse, we support free speech and any platform that promotes it. But can Dissenter truly be “the comment section of the internet”? Or simply a safe space for extremists to vent their anger or trolls to do whatever it is that trolls do. It would be interesting to see it grow and encapsulate a wider audience, but for now, it’s still the one-dimensional playground for the far right.