back to

The alt-right has its own new digital safe space


The corporations that own leading social media platforms including Facebook, Reddit and Twitter are considered by the alt-right to be liberal Stalinists that “purge” any user who doesn’t conform to the web 2.0 titans’ liberal ideology. They’ve found refuge in a platform called Gab, founded by a 25-year-old conservative Christian. Read Amanda Hess on Gab and the alt-right in partial below, in full via New York Times.

When the white nationalist leader Richard B. Spencer was suspended from Twitter recently, he hopped over to YouTube to address his supporters. “Digitally speaking,” he said, Twitter had sent “execution squads across the alt-right.” He accused Twitter of “purging people on the basis of their views,” calling it “corporate Stalinism.” Then he mapped out a path forward. “There’s obviously Gab, which is an interesting medium,” he said. “I think that will be the place where we go next.”

Gab is a new social network built like a hybrid of Twitter and Reddit — posts are capped at 300 characters, and the crowd votes to boost or demote posts in the feed. But Gab’s defining feature is its user guidelines, or rather, its lack thereof. Gab bans illegal activities — child pornography, threats of violence, terrorism — and not much else. “Facebook, Twitter and Reddit are taking the path of censorship,” Utsav Sanduja, Gab’s chief communications officer, told me via email. “Gab does not.”

Think of Gab as the Make America Great Again of social sites: It’s a throwback to the freewheeling norms of the old internet, before Twitter started cracking down on harassment and Reddit cleaned out its darkest corners. And since its debut in August, it has emerged as a digital safe space for the far right, where white nationalists, conspiracy-theorist YouTubers, and minivan majority moms can gather without liberal interference.

This election laid bare the ideological divide on social media, and since the election, the rift has deepened. Just as dejected Hillary Clinton supporters have come together in Pantsuit Nation — a “secret” Facebook group of nearly four million members — some on the right have found their postelection online oasis in the invitation-only Gab.

Gab’s 25-year-old founder, Andrew Torba, dreamed up the site after reading reports that Facebook employees suppress conservative articles on the site. Mr. Torba — who previously created Kuhcoon, a system for running automated Facebook ad campaigns (it’s now called Automate Ads) — is a rare conservative Christian tech C.E.O. Gab is a corrective to what he dubs “Big Social,” and it’s based on what the company calls “a pluralistic ethos of mutual respect and toleration of dissonant views.”

When other social sites push out disruptive users, Gab opens its arms. Recently, Twitter beefed up abuse rules to police not only threats but also hate speech “against a race, religion, gender, or orientation.” (The move presaged the purge that swept up Mr. Spencer.) And Reddit erased a community called #Pizzagate, where conspiracy theorists had gathered to spin lies about Democratic pedophiles operating out of a D.C. pizzeria. On Gab, the topic is always trending.

All the big-name Twitter castaways have resurfaced here: In addition to Mr. Spencer, there is Milo Yiannopoulos, the Breitbart editor who was barred from Twitter for siccing trolls on the “Ghostbusters” actress Leslie Jones; Pax Dickinson, the former Business Insider chief technology officer who rebranded himself as a victim of P.C. culture when he was sacked for posting sexist tweets; and Tila Tequila, the reality TV star who was booted from Twitter after posting racial slurs and pro-Nazi stuff. Gab has also attracted the cutting conservative commentator Ann Coulter; the right-wing media guerrilla Mike Cernovich; and the disinformation king Alex Jones, founder of Infowars. Gab now hosts 98,000 accounts, with tens of thousands more hopeful members on a wait list.

*Image of Milo Yiannopoulos via depauliaonline