Young entrepreneur Andrew Torba is creating an online media storm with his Twitter-like platform, Gab, where you can say (almost) anything you like, without being banned or silenced. While most social media companies have introduced some form of anti-hate speech policy, Torba has taken a different approach. He argues that, “Hate speech is subjective and an excuse for censorship,” and removing ‘hateful’ content infringes on people’s right to free speech.
The catalyst for creating Gab came after a number of Twitter users from the “alt-right” (a loose group of conservatives who are known for their opposition to feminism, Islam and immigration) were banned from Twitter for “hateful conduct.” The most widely publicised Twitter exile was professional troll and provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos, who was permanently banned from the site after a number of his followers rained abuse on actor Leslie Jones, one of the leads in last year’s all-female Ghostbusters reboot. Milo wrote a scathing review of the film, which led to a large number of Twitter accounts directing racially charged tweets at Jones (an African American), who then left the platform, stating that the attacks had gone too far.
There was outrage on both sides. Some people thought it was too little, too late, on behalf of Twitter. On the other hand, fans of Milo thought he was being unfairly censored.
Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey had this to say after the incident: “People should be able to express diverse opinions and beliefs on Twitter. But no one deserves to be subjected to targeted abuse online, and our rules prohibit inciting or engaging in the targeted abuse or harassment of others.”
He created a social media platform where people wouldn’tbe banned for voicing potentially offensive opinions
Torba is a self-professed “alt-righter” – he supports Donald Trump, loves Milo and considers himself something of a champion for online free speech. He created Gab as a social media platform where people wouldn’t be banned for voicing offensive opinions. It works similarly to Twitter, but with a 300-character limit as opposed to 140 and an upvote/downvote system that filters popular content to the top of users’ feeds. There are different channels to browse like “politics”, “entertainment”, “news” and “sports”, and — as long as you don’t share illegal pornography, dox anyone or make realistic threats — you can say pretty much anything you like. Most notably it lacks any guidelines on “hate speech”, which other social media sites have implemented.
Unsurprisingly, the platform hasn’t been received all too well by the wider online community. For instance, Apple refused Gab’s request to its App Store because it featured “pornographic content” (incidentally, so do many social media sites, including Twitter and Reddit), and Torba claims that financing the project has been difficult. He believes there is something of a conspiracy to undermine his site from Silicon Valley venture capital firms that he claims are politically opposed to the alt-right.
From the Gab blog: “The global elite and far-left are in all-out panic mode over the rise of populism… Silicon Valley and the global media elite have realised that the people are rising up and using their own tools against them to expose the truth and to fight for freedom, sovereignty and national identity among other things.”
But for all his championing of free and open dialogue, Torba has so far struggled to get a diverse range of users on board. The top posts on the politics channel are unanimously anti-Muslim, anti-immigration and pro-Trump. There are ‘Pizzagate’ conspiracy theorists, images of medieval crusaders draped in American flags and celebrations of the Mexican border wall construction. Oh, and the company logo bears a striking resemblance to the alt-right mascot, Pepe the Frog. Its website says, “Gab’s mission is to put people first and promote free speech online. All are welcome on Gab, and always will be.” That may well be true, but at least for the moment, Gab is undoubtedly only the home of Trump’s deplorables.