Emma Grey Ellis, Wired, September 14, 2016
The internet has a speech regulation problem. To a lot of people (including WIRED), harassment and hate speech are corruptions of the democratization promised by the Web, and websites like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram take constant flack for not dealing with the problem adequately enough. To the group calling itself the alt-right, which is really another word for white supremacists, any moderation looks like censorship. Their anger at being supposedly sidelined and silenced has spawned hashtag campaigns, think pieces, and now, a brand-new social media platform, Gab. Its primary schtick is promising an end to censorship. But by sequestering itself, Gab has managed to sideline it members further into an echo chamber so far removed from the rest of the conversation that its message has no chance of reaching unfamiliar ears.
Gab is less than a month old, so it may well flame out like Peach or Ello. But for now, the platform looks like an artifact from a dystopian universe where the alt-right completely took over Twitter. Gab has over 42,000 people on its waitlist, more than 11,000 active members, and among them are nearly all the alt-right’s online kingpins, including the Internet’s self-styled super-villain, Breitbart writer Milo Yiannopoulos himself, who was recently banned for life from Twitter. And Gab’s appeal for that crowd is obvious. The only posting guidelines are no illegal porn, no threats of violence, no terrorism, and no doxing. Oh, and a fifth commandment that literally says “try to be nice.” Everything else is fair game. Notably absent? Any explicit stipulations against hate speech.
“We promote raw, rational, open, and authentic discourse online,” says Gab CEO Andrew Torba. “We want everyone to feel safe on Gab, but we’re not going to police what is hate speech and what isn’t.” Yet in its first weeks, rather than create a free-speech zone where all voices are heard and anyone can say anything to anyone, Gab directly caters to a narrow, conservative, provocateur sensibility. The trending hashtags? Usually stuff like #HillarysHealth and #HitlerPickUpLines. So far Gab is less a censorship-free utopia than an alt-right safe space–which is ironic, considering how much the alt-right loathes the very idea of safe space.