Gab.com has reported massive growth following the Capitol insurrection, the removal of high-profile conservatives from Twitter, including President Donald Trump, and the suspension of the Parler app on the Google store.
Gab, a social networking website popular among the far-right, was founded in 2016 by Andrew Torba who touts it as a vehicle for free speech.
The layout of Gab is similar to Twitter. It displays trending posts in the center, aggregated news to the right, and a menu and explore section to the left.
In October 2018, Gab had 465,000 to 800,000 users. In July 2020, Fox Business reported that, as of April, the site had over 1.1 million new cumulative registered accounts and 3.7 million monthly visitors worldwide.
This past Wednesday, the day the Capitol was stormed by pro-Trump rioters, Torba told Global News Ink that site traffic jumped 40%. On Saturday, Torba claims the site gained over 10,000 users an hour and had received “12 million visits in past 12 hours” just before 11 a.m.
Torba noted that in 2017, Google removed Gab’s app from the Google Play Store for violating its hate speech policy. It was rejected from Apple’s App Store for related reasons. In 2018, the website was dropped by its original domain host, GoDaddy, when it was revealed that the gunman accused of killing 11 congregants in a Pittsburgh synagogue was a frequent poster on the site.
Google said in a statement when it banned Gab that “social networking apps need to demonstrate a sufficient level of moderation, including for content that encourages violence and advocates hate against groups of people,” to remain on its online store. Apple initially said the ban was because Gab didn’t automatically censor pornographic content but after Gab made changes on that matter, the company said it would uphold the ban because Gab “includes content that could be considered defamatory or mean-spirited.”
Torba also reported that they do not rely on a third-party cloud hosting provider, such as Amazon.
“Over the past four years, we have been banned from multiple cloud hosting providers and were told that if we didn’t like it we should ‘build our own.’ So, that’s exactly what we did,” Torba said.
Continuing, he added “Gab isn’t just building an alternative social network. We’re building an alternative internet. From hosting infrastructure to web browsing and more: Gab is the market leader when it comes to defending free speech against Silicon Valley tyranny online.”
Torba added “If your business is built on the backs of Silicon Valley tyrants (Apple, Google, et al) they can and will attempt to destroy you if and when you become a threat to their interests. They did this to Gab. Then Fortnite. Now Parler.”
“Terrible content of all kinds is available on Twitter and Facebook. Everyone on the planet knows this fact. Yet both companies are on both App Stores. Apple banning Parler is not the neutral implementation of some objective standard, but rather a cynical, politically motivated gesture and evidence of Silicon Valley elites’ disdain for ordinary Americans. The solution, as always, is not government. It is to build your own. People mock this meme, but Gab lives it. While others whine, we build,” he added.
Torba told this publication that it hosts its site on its own servers and has reported problems coping with the recent increase in traffic.
He also said that they built, besides their own email system and in-house payment:
At the time this article was written, Apple and Google didn’t respond to requests for comment.
After this writer tried to make an account and had difficulty, Torba said “Our traffic is up 753% in the past 24 hours. Tens of millions of visits.” He added that he was “spinning up 10 new servers tonight. This takes time.”
While Gab has in recent days been flooded with incitements to violence, the company maintains that its “terms of service absolutely ban all illegal content, including threats, as influenced by American speech laws as well as American legislation and court rulings on the subject.” Illegal content on Gab is not weeded out by algorithms, but by volunteer moderators, a situation that allows for more nuanced policing of content, but is open for ideological bias.
Torba insists that Gab welcomes users “from every race, religion, ideology, and creed.” However, its user base is overwhelmingly conservative. Whether he can expand on this user base and make good on his promise to provide an “unbiased, open-source, and neutral platform” will likely depend on how heavily big tech clamps down on dissident speech from all sides – not just the right.
The Times New York Times reported that users involved in the violent attack on Capitol Hill communicated on Gab with each other about where to meet and which streets to take to avoid the police.
When asked about this, Torba stated “We do not preemptively scan user content for criminal speech. Before the Capitol was occupied by protestors we had no idea what would come from today’s protests in D.C.”
Continuing he said, “The majority of our users use Gab on desktop devices, which obviously are not easy to bring and use at a protest.”
Torba said that Gab was receiving requests for employment from multiple employees in the tech industry stating: “Silicon Valley should see our inbox right now. Looks like half of their employees want to leave and come work for Gab. Panic in SV!” He added: “We are getting resumes from senior-level employees at Big Tech companies. Hearing that many people are putting in their two weeks too. Internal civil war among staff and executives. Panic in Silicon Valley. The house of cards falls. The exodus has begun.”
He continued by saying “I think half of Silicon Valley just reached out looking for a job, I’m not joking. It’s thousands of people. Panic in the Valley! We will be hiring American citizens Will get back to folks as soon as we are able to.”
A Texas Congressman, Rep. Michael Cloud, is among those to have urged his Twitter followers to join him on Gab, as well as Parler since the Capitol riot took place.
Trump did not have an official account on Parler. It is unknown if Trump was approached about an account. Torba decided to take a different route. Torba said “I’m going to be upfront with you: I am in the process of connecting with President Trump’s team as we speak. The President’s Gab account is already reserved with hundreds of thousands of followers.
Torba stated: “Our enemies have silenced the President of the United States as well as millions of law-abiding Americans.
Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram have all banned President Trump’s account. Facebook is scrubbing any and all photos and videos from the protest. Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube are removing the President’s video message that calls for peace.”
“Our task is not an easy one, but neither was the task of our Founding Fathers,” Torba explained. “We must fight to defend free speech on the internet now more than ever. Our country, and indeed the world, depends on it.”
“Our children are counting on us to rise to the occasion and defend freedom just as so many have done before us. At Gab, we are ready to answer that call.”
An influential QAnon supporter, known as Joe M, shared his Gab handle on Parler, writing: “They’re struggling to cope with the traffic, but that’s where you can find me when Parler goes dark. Geronimo.”
Attorney Sydney Powell, the QAnon advocate who helped try to overturn a number of election results with fellow Trump-supporting conspiracy theorists Lin Wood, also urged her followers to join her on Gab before Parler gets taken offline.
On January 9, 2021, Senator Mark Warner released a press release stating:
“U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), former telecommunications entrepreneur and incoming Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, today urged mobile carriers AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon and technology companies Apple, Facebook, Gab, Google, Parler, Signal, Telegram, and Twitter to immediately preserve content and associated meta-data connected to Wednesday’s insurrectionist attack on the United States Capitol.
In all eleven letters to the companies’ CEOs, Sen. Warner emphasized how the rioters took the time to document the event “later posting them to their social media accounts or sharing them via text or mobile messaging platforms to celebrate their disdain for our democratic process.”
“The U.S. Capitol is now a crime scene,” wrote Sen. Warner in his letters to AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon, Apple, Facebook, Gab, Google, Parler, Signal, Telegram, and Twitter. “The FBI and other law enforcement agencies are currently investigating the events of that day, and trying to piece together what happened and the perpetrators involved. The prospect of litigation on behalf of the victims of the mayhem also is highly likely. Messaging data to and from your subscribers that may have participated in, or assisted, those engaged in this insurrection – and associated subscriber information – are critical evidence in helping to bring these rioters to justice.”
To: Senator Mark Warner
Dear Senator Warner,
Thank you for your letter dated 8th of January, 2021.
We do not comment on document preservation requests or specific communications with law enforcement, even where it would be convenient for public relations purposes to do so.
We have this policy in order to preserve the confidentiality of law enforcement investigations and to encourage law enforcement to feel comfortable contacting us in emergency situations or to request the preservation of documents. We hope you will understand why we do not make an exception to this policy here.
You should be aware that we are routinely in contact with federal law enforcement to do our part to ensure the safety of the American people. In the past this has included, where relevant, contacting the FBI directly when we become aware of content which evidences a serious threat to life before federal law enforcement does.
We will act promptly on any document preservation request we receive from federal law enforcement as and when it arrives. Per our policy, we will not comment on specifics of what communications we may or may not have had in this regard. If you, your staff, and/or any other person are aware of specific content on our platform which is pertinent to this request, please contact federal law enforcement who will contact us.
By way of further background about our company, Gab exists to promote freedom of speech, by which we mean all speech which is protected speech under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. No more, no less.
Accordingly, we have a zero-tolerance policy towards threats of violence and unlawful speech. As to controversial but nonetheless legal speech we believe, as Justice Brandeis did, that “sunlight is the best disinfectant, electric light the most efficient policeman.”
We have been boycotted by virtually every company in Silicon Valley because of our adherence to this moderation policy. In their zeal to bend to “woke” political agendas or outside pressure groups, our contemporaries in the Valley forget the social importance of letting off steam and of exposing bad ideas, and bad people, to public scrutiny.
As we are free to use online publishing platform, it is inevitable that criminal actors will seek to abuse our services, as indeed they abuse all online services, including Facebook and Twitter. We work hard to ensure that our services are denied to these bad actors.
For example, in the lead-up to the inauguration, we were made aware of a number of accounts which sought to spread division and fear through the use of unlawful threats. All accounts of this type that have been discovered have been banned on discovery, including at least one account which published threats against a number of U.S. election officials and was the subject of significant media coverage, including media coverage which incorrectly stated that we failed to take action against the subject account.
The Valley’s ongoing boycott of our company makes the job of stopping bad actors considerably harder. We have written to Google, Microsoft, and other companies in the Valley to advise them that their shortsighted boycott – one motivated by partisan political considerations and pressure campaigns – has had the side effect of denying us access to technologies we need such as PhotoDNA.
We have also contacted industry consortia such as Tech Against Terrorism to try to explain our approach to content moderation. The industry’s response to our entreaties has been stone-cold silence. So we forge on, alone, doing what we can and innovating as much as we can to keep our rapidly-growing corner of the Internet safe.
We are cognizant that, in the wake of this incident, the Democratic-controlled Senate is likely to examine regulating platforms such as our own. We strongly encourage you to not believe the vicious smears you might read about Gab which our partisan detractors in the media, who want to abolish American-style free speech, frequently publish. We care greatly about ensuring that our platform is not used for unlawful purposes.
Your reform efforts would be best focused on enacting measures that will make it easier for smaller tech platforms to communicate clearly with law enforcement in emergency situations, something which is currently done, at least in our case, by e-mail or online tip form, and to not focus on measures that would make it impossible to do business and ruin American competitiveness, such as potentially disastrous proposals to repeal or modify Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.
We are confident that, as we grow, we will continue to improve our abilities to moderate our platform appropriately and provide data to law enforcement in a timely fashion while still respecting our users’ privacy rights, as well as providing what appears, after this week’s events on Twitter, to be the last place on the Internet where the First Amendment exists.
“Gab gained more users in the past 2 days than we did in our first two years of existing,” Torba reported.
Parler also shot up to the No. 1 spot on Apple’s App Store after Facebook and Twitter de-platformed Trump.
However, Parler is now going offline after Amazon broke ties with the service, and Parler CEO John Matze said the platform could stay down for up to a week.
The future of Gab is yet to be seen. There is a large demand for this type of site. The question that should be asked is ‘Why are these sites so popular, why is right-wing nationalism so popular in 2021, and what are we going to do about it?’