Internet Culture

Gab, the social network used by Pittsburgh shooting suspect, returns

The site went offline last week after one of its users allegedly killed 11 worshippers at the Tree of Life synagogue.

A guitarist sings outside the Tree of Life synagogue to honor the victims of the Pittsburgh shooting.
Getty Images

Gab, a fringe social network used by the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting suspect, resurfaced on Sunday. 

The social media site, which markets itself as a bastion of free speech amid censorship of extremists on Twitter and Facebook, was intermittently available late Sunday. Clicking on links to the site sometimes would produce error messages, but that didn't seem to stop some of the site's 800,000 users from posting celebratory messages, praising the company for coming back online. Many of them hailed the move as a win for free speech.

"Through the grace of God Gab is back online," Gab CEO Andrew Torba posted on the social media site . "We will never give in. Free speech and liberty will always win."

Gab's return marks the latest turn in the unfolding debate over free speech in the modern age. Facebook, Twitter and Google's YouTube have increasingly cracked down on bad behavior and hate speech on their services. That's driven some of the people banned from those sites to sites like the message board 4Chan and Gab, a Twitter-like alternative social network founded in 2016.

Last week, Gab came under scrutiny when reports surfaced that Robert Bowers, who is charged with opening fire in a Pittsburgh synagogue during religious services on Oct. 27, used the social network to voice extreme anti-semitic views. Eleven people died as a result of the attack.

Two days later, on Oct. 29, domain provider GoDaddy told Gab it had 24 hours to move to another service. GoDaddy said it made the decision after receiving complaints and finding content on Gab that "promotes and encourages violence against people." PayPal, Stripe, Joyent, Shopify and Medium also cut ties with Gab.

Gab isn't the only social network that's been used by extremists. Facebook, Twitter and YouTube all have been used by terrorists and Neo-Nazis, as well. With varying degrees of success, those platforms have tried to crack down on hate speech. Gab, however, markets itself as a bastion of free speech that is more permissive than other sites, which is part of why it's attracted extremists.

Gab also isn't the first site to see its domain register or host pull their services because of its content. Last year, the neo-Nazi site The Daily Stormer temporarily retreated to the dark web after being booted by GoDaddy and Google. Gab, for its part, is operating on the surface web for now.

In a Tweeted audio message, Torba said Gab was able to come back online after working with internet name site, Epik, and should be fully back online Monday. "This coordinate smear by the mainstream media did not work," he said in the message. "This smear is only going to propel us into the stratosphere."

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