(LIONEL BONAVENTURE/AFP via Getty Images)
Days after YouTube kicked Kremlin-backed television station Russia Today off its platform, the propaganda network has found a new home on the far-right U.S. social network Gab.
Gab CEO Andrew Torba has welcomed RT with open arms, viewing the state-controlled media outlet as a kindred spirit that’s fallen afoul of Big Tech’s censorship, rather than as a television station that’s refused to report the reality of the horrors the Russian military is inflicting on Ukraine.
While RT has had an account on Gab for over a year, earlier this week the outlet set up a new channel on Gab TV, the network’s video hosting service, which describes itself as a “free speech broadcasting platform.” RT has already posted more than a dozen video reports on its channel, and a Tuesday morning post said that a 24-hour livestreaming service would launch shortly.
Like a number of right-wing figures in the U.S., Torba has been a vocal supporter of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, and publicly supported RT, claiming it’s been subject to the same alleged censorship as American conservative voices.
At the beginning of March, YouTube blocked access to channels like RT and Sputnik in Europe, following a mandate imposed by the European Union. However, on Friday, YouTube announced it was expanding that ban globally.
“Our Community Guidelines prohibit content denying, minimizing or trivializing well-documented violent events,” the company wrote in a statement posted on Twitter. “We are now removing content about Russia’s invasion in Ukraine that violates this policy.”
In an email to members last week Torba claimed that Gab was the “the one place on the internet where you can find RT News,” which is simply not true. RT has long maintained a presence on the Peter Thiel-backed video sharing site Rumble, and made its 24-hour livestream available on the platform earlier this month, following YouTube’s ban.
But Torba believes that RT’s natural home is on Gab, where pro-Russian and pro-Putin viewpoints proliferate and conspiracy theories about the cause of the war, such as the bogus claim that Russia was invading Ukraine to dismantle a network of US-funded biolabs.
Torba’s decision to give RT a platform isn’t a surprise, given that his own posts on the platform have voiced support for Putin’s invasion and shared disinformation. On Monday Torba shared a QAnon conspiracy theory that Trump was mispronouncing the word “China” on purpose to secretly signal that Ukraine was behind the development of COVID-19, a claim for which there’s absolutely no proof.
In an email entitled “Deplatforming of a Nation State” sent to members last week, Torba compared what was happening to outlets like RT and Sputnik as similar to the alleged censorship that his own platform has been subject to.
“The entire nation state of Russia is getting the ‘Gab treatment’ by Big Tech and the globalist regime,” Torba wrote. “By that I mean they are being systematically purged from the internet all within the span of about a week.”
Gab launched in 2016 and has grown to become one of the biggest alternative social media platforms, attracting a mostly right-wing user base. It was de-platformed in 2018 after it was discovered that the suspected shooter in the Pittsburgh Tree of Life synagogue massacre maintained an active Gab account where he shared neo-Nazi and antisemitic content.
While it has been banned from mainstream app stores and hosting services, in recent years Gab has developed a robust set of technologies that allows it to operate independently. Torba says his vision is to "preserve a parallel Christian society on the internet for generations to come.”
In his email last week, Torba wrote that “American right-wing dissidents are no strangers to any of these things,” claiming that “all of these tools of war have been used against us as American citizens for six years now.”
This is part of the well-worn argument that conservatives have trotted out for years now, claiming that social media platforms like Facebook throttle conservative content on its network to promote more liberal views. Not only is there no proof for this, but the publicly available information suggests that right-wing content is typically among the most viewed content on Facebook.
While Gab has been removed from Google and Apple’s app store, that decision was made because it was allowing white supremacist and racist content to proliferate on its platform, not because it was promoting conservative viewpoints.
Torba told his members he believes that U.S. lawmakers should follow Putin’s playbook when it comes to dealing with Silicon Valley.
“Unlike our spineless Republican ‘leaders’ in America, who had total and complete control over government from 2016-2018 and did absolutely nothing to stop Big Tech tyranny, Russia is fighting back,” Torba wrote in the email last week.
“Russia has shut down Facebook and Twitter completely and this is honestly a smart play. Why give the globalist regime insight into what your citizens are talking about?”
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