Robert Bowers, the man arrested for the deadly shooting in a Pittsburgh synagogue, was an avid user of a social networking site called Gab. His account featured anti-Semitic rants and pictures suggesting a conspiracy by Jews to use mind control on President Trump.
Just before the shooting, he logged onto his Gab account and posted "I can't sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics, I'm going in."
As details broke on the shooting and the suspect's past, the web hosting and tech industry reacted swiftly. PayPal and Stripe closed Gab's accounts, GoDaddy pulled its domain services and Gab struggled to find a web host. Even Gab's account on Medium.com has been suspended, leaving a Twitter account as one of their few routes of communication to the world.
Monday morning, Gab found a host, if temporarily, on Cloudflare.
CEO Andrew Torba posted a one-screen message on the site, saying Gab is cooperating with authorities and won't go away.
"Gab has spent the past 48 hours proudly working with the DOJ and FBI to bring justice to an alleged terrorist. Because of the data we provided, they now have plenty of evidence for their case. In the midst of this Gab has been no-platformed by essential internet infrastructure providers at every level. We are the most censored, smeared, and no-platformed startup in history, which means we are a threat to the media and to the Silicon Valley Oligarchy.
"Gab isn’t going anywhere."
Where did Gab come from?
Torba founded Gab in August of 2016, after his dismissal from a Yahoo incubator for harassment and threatening behavior. Targeting users that felt censored or unwanted by more mainstream social networks like Twitter and Facebook, Gab marketed itself as the social network for lovers of free speech. While Torba invited all and sundry to join his site, Gab's userbase of 400,000-800,000 took on an alt-right character, with Trump memes, conspiracy theories, and ethnic slurs flowing freely.
Earlier this year, a research paper from a coalition of researchers found hate speech and ethnic slurs were common in Gab postings and neo-Nazi groups used the site for conversation and recruiting. Bowers' account featured the tagline "Jews are the children of Satan" and regularly shared conspiracy theories about the Jewish group HIAS, George Soros, and QAnon.
Aside from threats of terror, child pornography, and release of personal information, Gab let users post freely, providing tools for filtering and editing a user's feed, but not stepping in to ban accounts or stop users posting except in the most extreme cases.
Torba remained a standard bearer for Gab's firm commitment to free speech. In a December interview, Torba stated, “What makes the entirely left-leaning Big Social monopoly qualified to tell us what is ‘news’ and what is ‘trending’ and to define what ‘harassment’ means? It didn’t feel right to me, and I wanted to change it, and give people something that would be fair and just.”
At press time, Gab's Twitter account is actively posting about interviews with both press and law enforcement, its struggles finding a web host, and its inevitable return. The pinned statement states "No-platform us all you want. Ban us all you want. Smear us all you want. You can't stop an idea."
Can, or should, social media be saved?
The closest analogy that describes all of social media right now is this: Looking out across the social media horizon, there’s nothing but warehouse fires: So many blazing so hot that the firefighters don’t know where to begin. And whatever they try, nothing works. Click here to find out more.