What is Gab? It is a competitor to Twitter, yet twice deplatformed from the Internet. Is this justice or simply pure monopoly power pushing out the competition?
The Story of Gab
When I first started writing this article, I thought the story was going to be about Gab, a competitor to Twitter that has been surrounded with controversy since it first appeared in 2017. But a tragic event occurred in Brooklyn, New York on April 12th that changes the focus of this article from Gab to YouTube. The suspect, Frank James, was arrested on April 13th. Journalists quickly discovered that Frank James had a YouTube channel on which he had posted his perspectives on the world around him. Much of what he said were angry diatribes, filled with expletives, directed at both whites and blacks. To say the least, what he had been saying for months was a violation of YouTube’s “terms of service”. His account was soon removed from YouTube after April 12th, denying the rest of us a glimpse into the man who would shoot ten people on a crowded subway, injuring 29 from smoke inhalation.
Well – at least on YouTube his videos were censored. Downloaded to Rumble was a series of videos made by James, posted by a person who calls himself Videomattpresents_2. Beyond reading about what James had said, I viewed what he said. This exercise demonstrates a number of things, least of which is the dynamic of competition and the value of information. But it brings to light many other things as well.
The first question is whether YouTube should be deplatformed? After all, it was the source of violent rants that resulted in a mass crime. Silly proposal?
So let’s turn to Parler after January 6th and my present focus, Gab. Parler was alleged to have been the primary conduit of message traffic during that moment of madness in our history. “Alleged,” but since proven a bit misdirected as evidence emerged that Twitter and Facebook were also significant conduits of communication. Parler nearly paid the death penalty as it was removed from the Apple and Google app stores, Amazon Cloud Services shut down their servers and GoDaddy blocked their DNS service. (You can read more about the Parler case here).
It turns out that Gab was actually the original template for deplatforming. Gab was tied to the shenanigans in Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017. It seemed that Gab was the preferred message app of alt-right activists. Then it was implicated as a platform used by a mass murderer who killed 11 Jews at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh in October 2018. Gab was deplatformed in 2017 after Charlottesville. It was once again censored after the incident in Pittsburgh. Andrew Torba, the owner of Gab, knew at that time he had to re-invent the entire structure if Gab was to survive. I watched an interview of Andrew Torba discussing the Pittsburgh event. He was horrified. But he wasn’t giving up.
What You Find at Gab
When you visit Gab you will be provided the opportunity to follow Andrew Torba. I have found him a rather unique individual, the type I often observe in the IT world. He is incredibly bright and the energy he has placed into his enterprise is what you would expect of an innovator in the IT world. The interesting twist is that he is openly Christian and he is quite conservative. I would say he is also a bit eccentric. Is he anti-Semitic? There is evidence he may be, but I don’t know the guy and this is a rabbit-hole for another article.
Casually viewing the platform, you will discover it is a bit different. First, it does not utilize cloud services. This is quite unique for a major presence on the Internet. Running servers, clusters, and network services for high-demand Internet services is not an easy undertaking. For that reason, cloud services are preferred. They are “scalable,” easy to expand or contract as demand requires. Expertise does not have to be self-contained in a business. The cloud services can provide an array of services, from network infrastructure to server management. Security services can also be provided to some degree and all the physical aspects such as space, power stability and environmental controls can all be managed by the cloud service. Gab is back to the 2000’s, where all the equipment it requires is owned and managed by Gab. This removes any cloud provider from the equation. But it adds considerably to the cost of providing the service. Capital is required to purchase the hardware, whereas a cloud service is usually considered an operational expense.
Second thing you will notice is that Gab utilizes a creative alternative to Paypal or any other credit card service. Gab got pounded by the credit card handlers when it was deplatformed in 2017 and 2018. Other conservative groups have noticed similar patterns with Paypal in particular. As a result, Gab provides three options for purchasing its GabPro package: e-check, bitcoin and the old fashioned pay by mail. We may laugh at this, but it is tragically real to thousands of truck drivers and sympathizers in Canada who had their credit card accounts suspended as well as their bank accounts. The end result is that it affirms a sad truth about the western economy – the banking system can’t be trusted. Gee, I wonder why Bitcoin is in circulation?
Surrounding these two elements are an array of services that have evolved: e-mail, Gab TV, e-commerce and analytics. All of this is in-house. In the cloud world, enterprises would most likely integrate with other businesses. E-commerce would be provided by a company that focuses on those operations, payment processing would be a conventional credit card processing service, video services provided by a specialist in video traffic and analytics from a host of other services. Gab has brought all of that in-house. It is a bit ironic that one major figure that has a similar business model is Twitter founder Jack Dorsey who is presently CEO (aka Block Head) of Block, Inc. Block integrates its baseline point-of-sale system (Square) with website development and blockchain/cryptocurrency.
Gab took itself off-line for several months until it reappeared in 2019. It’s rebirth has provided some interesting talking points regarding the power of Big Tech and what steps competitors to Big Tech will need to consider if they hope to succeed.
The argument made by Google and Apple against Gab have some merit. There is a lot of trash talk on Gab directed at race and ethnicity. In the eyes of Google and Apple, that is deemed “harmful.” Gab argues otherwise. It only prohibits speech that advances pornography or actual threats of physical harm. It also points out the hypocrisy of Big Tech, using Twitter as an example. As an article in ArTechnica noted,
But while Twitter officially bans hateful content, it doesn’t do a very good job of policing that content in practice. Twitter hosts accounts like the American Nazi Party, the Ku Klux Klan, and the virulently anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church. And if you search for any racial or ethnic slur in Twitter’s search engine, you’ll find numerous attacks on people based on their race or ethnicity.
The article cited above was written in 2017. All three accounts are now suspended. Yet the article was correct in pointing out the duplicity of Big Tech. It destroys competitors presumably because they violate “terms of service.” Yet they seem to be quite selective on who they punish and equally neglectful of who they don’t punish when spouting off bigotry and hate.
Which returns to Frank James and YouTube. If it is justified that truckers, Parler and Gab should be denied access to the Internet, then why not everybody? The bigger question is whether social media is helpful at all. Are human beings prepared to handle free speech? It was a question once asked in 1775 as the revolutionaries fired the first volleys in Lexington, Massachusetts. The British did not see “citizens” in the colonies, only “subjects.” And one of their primary arguments was that common people could not govern because a commoner could not govern himself. The argument was extended during the presidency of Thomas Jefferson as critics decried the coarse and rude content in the American press. As a modern culture, we have largely been recipients of curated material, whether it was through a major newspaper, radio or cable TV. But the Internet removed the filters. Along with people sharing recipes and pictures of their grandkids, you have a monster spouting hate and vulgarity on YouTube. If Google can’t find these monsters, who can? If they can’t, should the service be available?
So should all message platforms be permitted on the Internet? Big Tech said it should not – if it was a minor player like Gab or Parler. Canada took it a step further where the government said some should not be permitted access because of their views and opinions. GoFundMe shutdown the trucker’s fund-raising account and then GiveSendGo was blocked by the Canadian government.
So should all social media be shut down? My answer is No! YouTube should not be punished. Criticized? Certainly. Censured? No. YouTube is a wonderful conduit of limitless content. I use it from baking bread to following the news of Ukraine. My list of subscriptions include politics, science, outdoors, cooking and music. I like Facebook because it provides an intuitive way to keep in touch with friends (most of which are “old” friends). Telegram has emerged to be a powerful platform for communicating events in Ukraine. Spacelink has circumvented a domain that was once the reserve of governments by positioning satellites over Ukraine and Russia to provide services that by-pass censors.
Yet amongst the vast ocean of good information, there is junk and filth. It is like life. Along our beautiful highways we have litter. Every well-planned city has its landfill.
No – the attack on Gab and Parler is pure economics. It is monopolistic power attempting to curate the world we are to see. When looking back over the past two years, the content that has generated retribution from Big Tech borders on the absurd. It is insulting to reasonable people who have the common sense to check resources and hear both sides of a story. Thank goodness the genie gets out of the bottle when players such as Locals, Rumble, Odysee, Parler and Gab elude the grasp of Big Tech.
I believe we are seeing some adjustments to the marketplace as people are beginning to realize there are other options out there. I remember when the computer world was largely IBM, when the only browser people used was Internet Explorer, when powerful operating systems were not open-source Linux. Yes, there is a “next day.”
It begs the question – if Google and Twitter are no better than anyone else in providing a “safe space” for their users, on what basis do they keep others from competing?
Gab is not yet available through the Google or Apple App stores. Probably will never be.
Offer to Elon Musk
A bit tongue-in-cheek, Torba invited Elon Musk to drop the Twitter bid and instead join Gab. He did this through an e-mail posted on April 15th, 2022. I don’t see Musk and Torba in the same room, but stranger things have happened. Musk is a system development guy, and he can see that there is a lot in Gab that is structurally unique and self-sustaining. When making this proposal, Torba noted some other philosophical aspects regarding Gab:
- You also have to consider that bringing free speech to Twitter isn’t as simple as buying it. Apple and Google do not allow free speech, so if you stop the censorship they will kick Twitter from both app stores. We already solved that problem and overcame it.
- Twitter operates in countries where mass censorship is required by law. They have offices in these countries. They have no choice but to comply with the censorship demands of those countries or risk being shut down, fines, etc. We understand this very well and have dealt with it, telling those countries to get lost.
- Another problem Twitter has that we don’t: total dependency on ad dollars. Gab’s business model is not 100% dependent on advertising. We have several other revenue streams including GabPRO, the Gab Shop, and GabPay our payment processor.
- What we are missing at the moment is an ISP. I fear that the next big leap of censorship is at the ISP1 level, with ISP’s blocking access to Gab.com. You solve that problem with Starlink. Together we can build infrastructure for a free speech internet.
- I am willing to offer you a Board seat along with equity in the company in exchange for you selling your Twitter position and investing $2B into Gab. My offer is my best and final offer.
The Good and the Bad
In regards to this discussion, what is “bad” is the medium itself. It is a digital highway that is open to billions of human beings. Human beings do amazing things. They are creative, funny, intelligent and beautiful. But they are also mean, coarse, and downright stupid. All of that is for us to see in social media. We need to ask the deeper question of whether social media should be permitted – period. The alternative that people are pointing to is arbitrary censorship by unseen and unaccountable people.
The “good” in all of this is that we have this vast storehouse of information on what people are thinking. Why do they think this way? Gab and Rumble are catching heat because they allow Russian television to post videos and chats. Yet by glancing at this information, I gain insight into what the Russian people are being fed. It is part of the reality they perceive and it is that reality we must consider if the Ukrainian war is to be won.
Gab exists because Twitter, in particular, meddled with censorship. I despise what most of the victims espouse. Yet amongst those on Gab who were truly hateful, there were many who were simply fed up with the meddling from Big Tech censors. Big Tech has been particularly prone to enforcing standards based on subjective perceptions, such as so-called “hate” speech and “misinformation,” where people are being blocked for taking particular positions on mask mandates, expressing concerns over vaccines, “election integrity” and morality. And since they don’t trust Twitter or Facebook or YouTube, they look elsewhere and Gab has been a popular alternative destination.
Gab has also been highly innovative – and anyone who seriously hopes to be around in this market in ten years needs to take a hard look at what they are doing. Musk himself has insinuated the same thing regarding Twitter. It is not just the free speech problem, it is also a problem of adaptation and innovation. You see this evolving at Gab, not Twitter.
Yes – if Gab and Parler are to wear the Scarlet Letter, then so should YouTube and Twitter. If they are not so different, then GoDaddy, Paypal and the rest need to come up with a better reason for deplatforming.
“Who Is Gab Founder Andrew Torba?”, Huffington Post, by Caitlin Dickson and Christopher Wilson, October 30, 2018.
“Gab’s CEO deactivates Twitter account after wildly antisemitic tirade,” Daily Dot, by Mikail Thalen, October 20, 2021
“Visa personally blacklists pro–free speech social media founder, wife”, LifeSite, by Dorothy McClean, July 7, 2020
“Gab Is in Full Meltdown, and Founder Andrew Torba Blames the ‘Deep State’”, The Daily Beast, by Kelly Weil, January 30, 2019
“Apple Bans Gab from App Development After Company Makes Antitrust Case to DOJ”, Breitbart, by Lucas Nolan, June 17, 2019
“Google explains why it banned the app for Gab, a right-wing Twitter rival,” ARS Technica, by Timothy B. Lee, August 18, 2017
1 ISP – Internet Service Provider
2 videomattpresents_ has since unplugged his account at Rumble. But you can find plenty of content regarding Frank James presented by various publishers at Rumble.
© Copyright 2022 to Eric Niewoehner