Hours before a shooter burst into the Tree of Life synagogue during Saturday morning Shabbat services armed with multiple guns, he’d paused to post on Gab, the alternative social media platform that’s long been accused of providing a safe online harbor for racists.
“HIAS [Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society] likes to bring invaders in that kill our people,” wrote the suspect, 46-year-old Robert Bowers. “I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics, I’m going in.”
Bowers — who allegedly shot and killed 11 people at the synagogue that day — regularly posted violently anti-Semitic and racist content on Gab. In the wake of the massacre, and with his online extremism under scrutiny, Silicon Valley has scrambled to cut ties with the site, which was founded by its CEO Andrew Torba, a Trump-supporting entrepreneur, in August 2016.
The site is now effectively offline — at least temporarily.
“Gab will likely be down for weeks because of this,” Gab wrote on Twitter. “Working on solutions. We will never give up on defending free speech for all people.”
On Saturday, Gab’s web-hosting service, Joyent, suspended its relationship with the social media site, pending the outcome of a weeklong investigation into whether they violated their policies. That left Gab.com still online — but unable to host any content. Then on Sunday, Gab’s domain provider, GoDaddy, cut ties with the site and gave it 24 hours to transition to a new provider to keep its current URL. That deadline is swiftly approaching for Gab, and without a new domain, the website won’t exist at all.
“We have informed Gab.com that they have 24 hours to move the domain to another provider, as they have violated our terms of service,” GoDaddy said in a statement. “In response to complaints received over the weekend, GoDaddy investigated and discovered numerous instances of content on the site that both promotes and encourages violence against people.”
PayPal also announced that it was barring Gab from using its services after the shooting. (In the wake of the violent Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville 2017, PayPal also moved swiftly to cut ties with the white nationalists who organized the event, which left one dead and dozens injured.)
Stripe, another online payment processor that Gab was using, followed suit. U.S. cryptocurrency exchange platform Coinbase also blocked Gab — seemingly out of nowhere in June — and said the social media site was “contradictory to everything crypto stands for.”
The creation of Gab in August 2016 coincided with the growth of the so-called “alt-right,” the loose conglomerate of white nationalists, neo-nazis, and far-right activists, who found a shared language through racist memes and anti-immigrant rhetoric. In Nov. 2016, amid a spike in hate crimes following the election, Twitter’s CEO Jack Dorsey announced plans to crack down on alt-right accounts. When far-right personalities were booted off Twitter, Gab welcomed them with open arms.
Gab, however, has also fought accusations that the site caters to the far-right, and insists, instead, that it’s only interested in protecting free speech.
As information about Bowers started circulating online in the aftermath of the shooting, Gab released a statement Monday morning condemning his actions and explaining that they took Bowers’ account offline, but backed up his user data. The company also said it had contacted the FBI.
In the same statement, the company said it was being unfairly scapegoated for the shooting.
“Gab is under attack,” the company wrote. “We have been systematically no-platformed by App Stores, multiple hosting providers, and several payment processor. We have been smeared by the mainstream media for defending free expression and providing liberty for all.
The company has also spent the last 24-hours arguing with people on Twitter and responding to its critics.
In a statement posted to the website, Torba also bragged about how the crackdown on his company has only made it more famous. “You have all just made Gab a nationally recognized brand as the home of free speech online at a time when Silicon Valley is stifling political speech they disagree with to interfere in a US election,” he wrote.
Cover image: A person pauses in front of Stars of David with the names of those killed in a deadly shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue, in Pittsburgh, Monday, Oct. 29, 2018. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)