Updated at 6:50 a.m. ET Monday
The alternative social media network that was reportedly used by the suspect in the deadly shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue is now down.
Gab.com is a social network that touts itself as an alternative to Twitter and Facebook to give conservatives a platform for free speech. But it also has been criticized for providing a platform for anti-Semitism and white nationalism. The site has come in for increased scrutiny since the shooting.
As of Monday, the site displayed a message saying it had been “systematically no-platformed by App Stores, multiple hosting providers, and several payment processors.”
“We have been smeared by the mainstream media for defending free expression and individual liberty for all people and for working with law enforcement to ensure that justice is served for the horrible atrocity committed at Pittsburgh,” it said.
The platform’s future is newly in doubt because an account linked to Robert Bowers, the 46-year-old Pittsburgh resident charged in the shootings, wrote on Gab Saturday morning: “HIAS likes to bring invaders in that kill our people. I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics, I’m going in.” HIAS is a Jewish nonprofit that has the goal of helping immigrant refugees.
In an interview with NPR, Gab CEO and founder Andrew Torba defended his website and condemned the shooting in Pittsburgh. He said the site has a rule about removing direct threats, but he suggested that Bowers’ post didn’t sound like a concrete threat.
“I don’t know. Do you see a direct threat in there? Because I don’t. What would you expect us to do with a post like that? You want us to just censor anybody who says the phrase ‘I’m going in’? Because that’s just absurd,” Torba said. “And here’s the thing: The answer to bad speech, or hate speech, however you want to define that, is more speech. And it always will be.”
PayPal confirmed to NPR that it had cut off the website from its payment system, and two web-hosting sites also severed ties with Gab over the weekend. Torba told NPR he would work to keep the platform going. But hours later, Gab.com was down with a statement posted.
“As we transition to a new hosting provider Gab will be inaccessible for a period of time. We are working around the clock to get Gab.com back online,” according to the statement on Gab’s website.
The mechanics of what caused the website to be taken down were not clear early Monday, but websites depend on support from web-hosting providers. It was also not clear how long the site would stay down.
A casual scroll through Gab’s message boards while it was up over the weekend revealed plenty of anti-Semitism, racism, Nazism and sexism running through its messages, along with conspiracy theories. The site boasts plenty of standard social media fare as well, including messages about music, art and sports.
As NPR’s Alina Selyukh reported last year, “many members of the far right and others who feel their views are stifled by mainstream sites like Twitter and Facebook” have gravitated toward Gab, with its promise of few restrictions on speech.
The site often responds to critics by pointing blame at Twitter, Facebook and other social media sites for the speech that can be found on those platforms.
Gab said later on Saturday that its hosting provider Joyent pulled its service for the site effective Monday, meaning “Gab will likely be down for weeks because of this.”
The site’s community standards have loose restrictions without an explicit ban on hate speech. They do, however, ban users from “calling for the acts of violence against others” and “threatening language or behavior that clearly, directly and incontrovertibly infringes on the safety of another user or individual(s).”
Bowers used anti-Semitic slurs on Gab and called Jews an “infestation” and a “problem,” according to the Anti-Defamation League. He also used the common white supremacist slogan “1488” in his profile, the group says, combining the classic white supremacist “14 words” with 88, which is code for “Heil Hitler.”
Gab was headquartered in Philadelphia as of March and also listed an address in Clarks Summit, Pa., in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission in September. It says it has two employees.
Gab launched in private beta in August 2016 before opening to the public in May 2017, according to a fundraising page for the site. Since then it has grown from 300,000 users in November of last year to about 800,000 today, the company says.
In a filing with the SEC in March, the site’s operators said they expected to appeal to “over 50 million conservative, libertarian, nationalist, and populist internet users” who use sites such as Breitbart, DrudgeReport.com and InfoWars.com as people leave social networks that “censor conservative views.”