In an email to its users, Gab, the social network well-known as a safe haven for neo-Nazis and the far right, announced that its newest CTO is a former software engineer who spent more than seven years at Facebook.
“Gab is happy to introduce our new CTO, Fosco Marotto,” said the statement from the company, released earlier this week. “With 23 years of industry experience, he brings extensive backend infrastructure knowledge and insights from across the stack that will help Gab scale into the new media giant it is quickly becoming.”
The news that Marotto, who worked as a “production engineer and developer advocate” at Facebook, is joining Gab and bringing the expertise of an industry leader to a fringe app illustrates how right-wing social media companies can attract people from the same talent pools the Silicon Valley giants draw from. It also shows how companies like Gab are trying to professionalize at a time when conservative media pundits and President Trump himself are clamoring for alternatives to services like Twitter and Facebook, which they claim discriminate against the right.
Despite the popular narrative that Silicon Valley companies are dominated by liberals, there are people with further right viewpoints in important positions. Marotto was a key member of a team who developed Parse, a backend toolkit for mobile developers that has gone open source and is used to develop apps. Marotto presented Parse at Facebook's F8 conference in 2015.
Marotto already helped develop Gab’s “free-speech web browser” Dissenter, and by his own admission has maintained direct links to the company for years, while he was employed at Facebook.
“I've been in chat rooms with the Gab team for years,” he said in a Gab post that he made to dispel suspicion from users of the platform who learned of his background at Facebook. “When the Mozilla and Chrome web stores kicked the dissenter extension off the stores, I was the one who built and shipped (the) Dissenter browser on all 3 platforms, in my spare time.”
“I believe in Gab,” he continued. “We must protect and defend free speech and build free speech software and services.”
Facebook has yet to respond to a request for comment about Marotto’s time at the company.
Gab presents itself as a service "that champions free speech, individual liberty and the free flow of information." Putting these unobjectionable ideals into practice, though, has largely involved helping the extreme far right online, facilitating its growth—and the company's—by providing it a readily accessible platform. This is not simply a matter of providing a place where people can express controversial opinions: Two neo-Nazi groups, the Base and Atowwaffen Division, that are under an intense FBI crackdown and are connected to terrorist activities, have actively used Gab as a recruitment platform.
Before opening fire and killing 11 people at a synagogue in Pittsburgh, domestic terrorist Robert Bowers used his Gab profile to post something of a manifesto to other users: “I can't sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics, I'm going in.” The association with Bowers and the shooting led to a slew of companies cutting ties with Gab, but it's again gaining momentum as the recent backlash against mainstream social media services grows.