The platform was created with the goal of offering “freedom of speech to everyone, about everything”
With the recent wave of content removal and banning of accounts belonging to right-leaning voices, both on Twitter and on Facebook, many users are looking for alternatives to those platforms. A network that was created with the promise of “almost total freedom of speech” has been attracting the unsatisfied users. Gab, whose address is Gab.ai, was created as an alternative to Twitter by American engineer Andrew Torba, in 2016, in the middle of the presidential race between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.
Gab has been attracting many Brazilians since mid-August, when the wave of bannings on Twitter and Facebook became more intense. Torba even celebrated the Brazilian invasion.
According to data provided by Alexa, Brazil occupies the second place in number of visitors on the network, which reached 600 thousand users, according to Torba on his Twitter account.
Brazilians are responsible for 26.3% of the network’s traffic, according to Alexa, a company that provides web traffic statistics. The United States are in the first place, with 41.1%, and the United Kingdom in third, with 6.8%.
Among Brazilians who migrated or opened an account there are musician Roger Moreira, of the band Ultraje a Rigor; businessman and politician Luiz Philippe de Orleans e Bragança, direct descendant of emperor Pedro II; volleyball player Ana Paula Henkel; and the organization Movimento Brasil Livre.
Leandro Ruschel, a finance expert, founder of Grupo L&S and self-entitled conservative opened an account on the social network on January, and tells that back then there were few Brazilian users there. “[I joined] when I realized that here in the U.S. there was an increasing censorship being imposed by the companies which control the web, against contents with a conservative orientation. I believe that the increase in censorship in Brazil also caused this migration in search of freedom of speech”, he said.
For Ruschel, who still maintains his profiles in other websites, Gab is still a limited alternative, since it doesn’t have the same functionalities nor the audience of other networks, and its app is blocked on Google and Apple stores. “Another indication of the censorship imposed by these companies”, he stated. He has over 125 thousand followers on Twitter and 5,900 on Gab.
Google banned Gab’s Android app from the Google Play Store, justifying it by saying that for social networks apps to be listed there, they “must display a reasonable level of moderation, including towards content which encourages violence and defends hatred against certain groups of people”.
“It is evident that big web companies are abusing their oligopoly to prevent the free market from functioning and to impose an ideology. It is the biggest risk for democracy in our generation”, Leandro sentenced.
The political commentary webpage “Caneta Desesquerdizadora” opened an account on Gab after having some of its contents taken off the air by Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube, according to the page’s administrators. “We came [to Gab] for some reasons: freedom of speech, so we can post whatever we want; to broaden our reach into a new social network, reducing the dependency on the others”, its authors said.
Over 153 thousand people follow the Caneta Desesquerdizadora profile on Twitter. On Gab, they have around 12,700 followers.
The most popular posts in Brazil are a mixture of right-wing memes, commentaries on the presidential candidates and complaints against the actions from other social networks.
Change of habits
It is not just the wave of content removal that has been causing users to give up on the mainstream social networs. Facebook went through a series of scandals last year, involving the misuse of user information and foreign interference in the American elections, among others, which resulted in the loss of a large number of users.
A survey done by Pew Research Center released on Wednesday (5) showed that more than one in every four Americans deleted the Facebook app from their phones. Besides, 42% of the users stopped using the social network for several weeks, and 54% changed their privacy settings.
How it works
Andrew Torba, who has already worked at Silicon Valley, declares himself a Christian and a conservative, but claims his social network is open to every form of thought. He told the BBC he is not a fan of the alt-right, but believes that the move by Twitter of kicking out activists from this movement is part of a larger trend to curb freedom of speech.
Gab works as a mixture of Twitter and Reddit. It is a microblog that allows posts with a 300-character limit, as well as images and videos. The user may follow profiles and like posts, as well as navigate through specific topics. The platform also has a section for private messages, which are deleted after seven days.
To open an account in the platform, the user must provide a full name, an email and a username.
The users’ freedom, however, have some limitations. The network does not allow threats of violence, terrorism, promoting cruelty acts, threatening language or behaviors which may harm the safety of other individuals.
The network also has a zero tolerance policy against illegal pornography, such as child pornography. Legal pornography is allowed, but the user must mark this kind of content with #NSFW (Not Safe For Work).
Besides, disclosing private information from users, such as addresses, telephones and documents, is also forbidden.
People who create multiple accounts, distribute spam or impersonate another individual or company will also be in violation of Gab’s rules.
A network that promotes total freedom to speak whatever one wants ends up attracting extreme movements, which disseminate hate speech, racism and xenophobia. And also attracts criticism that it is facilitating the spread of hate speech.
In the United States, Gab is usually associated with the alt-right, a movement which idolizes president Trump and deplores the politically correct. The movement is an informal group that includes white nationalists, neo-Nazis, Holocaust denialists, among others. Coincidence or not, the green frog which is the symbol of the social network resembles one of the symbols used by the alt-right, the “Pepe the Frog” meme.
Gab has already faced some situations in which it had to waive its ideal of unlimited freedom of speech in order to remain on the air.
In September 2017, Gab went through “its most difficult and controversial decision so far”, in Torba’s words.
The company which manages the network’s domain, AsianRegistry, asked than an image shared on Gab be removed from the platform for violating the company’s abuse policy, and gave them a 48-hour deadline.
The image in question made fun at Heather Heyer, which was ran over and killed during a protest in Charlottesville, and had been shared by Andrew Anglin, founder of a neo-Nazi website. Gab removed the image, and Torba explained that the montage also violated the social network’s policies, since it had not been marked as having an explicit content.
Anglin reacted by calling the platform a “fraud” and Torba “a free-speech hoax artist”. Other users joined in the criticism and threatened to abandon the platform. Torba then disclosed details of the story and explained he agreed to the request in order to keep the website up, which placated some of the criticism.
More recently, on the eve of the protest commemorating one year of the Charlottesville manifestation, in August, Microsoft threatened to suspend the hosting service it provides through one of its cloud services after a user posted comments which threatened Jews with “ritual death by torture”.
Microsoft claimed such content “incites violence, is not protected by the First Amendment”, and violates the company’s policies. The tech giant demanded the removal of the posts, or it would terminate the website’s access to its hosting service, Azure.
Gab accepted the demand, and Andrew Torba explained his decision in a post:
“Here is the reality. One of Patrick Little’s posts unquestionably breaks our user guidelines – and probably US law. The other is offensive and edgy and something we obviously don’t agree with, but there is much worse on Twitter/Facebook/Reddit about hite people that is allowed to stay.
This is a very serious situation. We need to make real decisions that impact the hundreds of thousands of users on this site and our shareholders, customers, etc. It’s not a game.
Patrick stated multiple times today that he was going to delete the posts himself.
Now he is playing games. He is not a man of his word, so we took action and removed both posts. We had no choice.
We are actively looking into other hosting providers and our longterm goal is building our own infrastructure. Both of these will take time. Time we do not have under Microsoft’s 48 hour game.
We believe this was the best decision for the longevity of the platform and the war against Silicon Valley.”
Both cases show that the measures taken by social networks against content in breach of their discourse policies have begun to be taken as well by tech companies which previously did not manifest themselves regarding such issues.
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Com a recente onda de remoção de conteúdo e banimento de contas de vozes mais à direita no Twitter e no Facebook, muitos usuários mais alinhados estão procurando alternativa a essas plataformas. Uma rede que foi criada com a promessa de “liberdade de expressão quase total” tem atraído os insatisfeitos. O Gab, cujo endereço é Gab.ai, foi pensado como alternativa ao Twitter pelo engenheiro americano Andrew Torba, em 2016, em meio à disputa presidencial entre Hillary Clinton e Donald Trump.