Gab, the social media service favored by Pittsburgh synagogue mass killer Robert Bowers, will become digitally homeless Monday morning, after its hosting service decided it would stop working with the men who founded the site specifically to afford people like Bowers an online home.
Hosting company Joyent notified Gab’s leaders of the decision on Saturday, the service said on its Twitter account.
Gab was born out of the belief that Twitter and other mainstream services were no longer safe terrain for white supremacists, hardcore anti-Semitic conspiracists, and other voices of hate that have come to dominate the conservative political and media coalition over the past few years.
Bowers was a frequent poster on Gab. The final message on his account — posted hours before he marched into a synagogue during a briss and started shooting people for being Jewish, hinted at what was to come.
“Fuck your optics,” Bowers wrote, invoking a concept common in white supremacist and ethno-nationalist online spaces to express concern that favored politicians like Donald Trump might be blamed if posters engage in the kind of violence that’s a central fantasy in their online chatter.
After turning his weapons on the police who responded to reports of his attack, Bowers killed 11 worshippers and first responders before being taken into custody alive.
Prominent primetime Fox News host Tucker Carlson directly promoted Gab to his viewers about a year after its launch. His employers also gave the site a glowing piece of promotion in 2016.
Conservative media and elected officials have latched onto the false notion that efforts to better police hate speech and threatening behavior online are stalking horses for a secret conspiracy to silence their noble, patriotic friends who happen to say lots of anti-Semitic and violence-tinged drivel online — a forest-for-trees category error that ignores the simpler explanations offered by the increasingly hateful nature of most conservative media coverage of perceived ideological enemies for the past few decades.
Joyent’s decision to get out of bed with Bowers and his ilk will cause Gab to go dark until and unless it can find a new hosting service to work with. Two other tech companies that had previously been happy to take Gab’s money — the payment services sites Paypal and Stripe — also terminated their relationships with the hate speech platform after the “optics” of Bowers’ murders hit national headlines.
Stripe’s decision follows a warning and formal investigation into the site’s users’ conduct launched prior to Bowers’ attack. But the case is illustrative of the money-is-money pragmatism that tech companies have applied to the spawning grounds of right-wing violence across the board.
Gab’s evaporation is more likely to produce a new migration than any real closing of the vast, virulent race-hate frontier online. The hosting company’s decision will kick off a repeat of the same scramble that other past attempts to deny these people country on the internet has spawned: White supremacists and violence-bent right-wing voices will find and then flock to some new vendors and support services, and keep the hate machine pinging along under new banners.
Partly that’s down to the old utopian open-internet ideal, still kept warm by enough tech company leaders that someone will offer people like Bowers a new platform in the name of free speech.
But it’s also a practical matter: racist eyeballs generate revenue for hosting companies and ad sellers. Someone will pop up to tap that vein afresh now that Joyent, Paypal, and Stripe have rediscovered their sense of shame.
The shutdown nonetheless stands in marked contrast to the way Twitter responded to the arrest of Trump-loving mailbomber Cesar Sayoc this week. After it emerged that another user had tried to report Sayoc for threatening tweets weeks prior to his bombing spree, only to have their warning rejected by Twitter support staff, the company tried to cover its tracks by throwing Sayoc’s accounts down the memory hole.
Facebook similarly deleted his posts, and each company — together, the defining forces gatekeeping modern political speech — issued stern statements. Facebook claimed that there is “no place” on their services for the person they’d given a place to for years. In its apology for botching the reports against Sayoc, Twitter said the one tweet that had been reported “should have been removed” and went on to say it wants “to be a place where people feel safe.”
The paired statements underscore the company’s reactive, one-tweet-at-a-time approach to policing deranged users, and offered no new willingness to take sterner, wider action than one-off deletions of threatening content. Although the Twitter safety team’s determination to separate individual threats from threatening individuals remains dogged, the company’s main account tweeted earlier this week that “you are what you tweet.”