Social network Gab, a less-moderated alternative to Facebook or Twitter that’s popular among far-right figures, is back online after losing its domain registrar and hosting service. The site resumed operations on Sunday, slightly more than a week after a Gab user allegedly shot and killed 11 people at a Pittsburgh synagogue, prompting several companies to stop working with the site.
Gab went offline on October 28th, following news reports that shooter Robert Bowers maintained a site profile full of anti-Semitic tirades. Payment processor PayPal quickly banned Gab for “explicitly allowing the perpetuation of hate, violence or discriminatory intolerance.” It was followed by hosting company Joyent, payment processor Stripe, domain registrar GoDaddy, blogging platform Medium, and e-commerce service Shopify, among others. Gab had previously been banned from Microsoft’s Azure web hosting service as well as Apple and Google’s mobile app stores.
Pennsylvania’s attorney general has claimed he might investigate Gab
Gab.com has now migrated to a new domain registrar, the Seattle-area-based Epik. In a blog post, Epik CEO Robert Monster expressed support for Gab, criticizing the concept of “digital censorship” by other registrars. “Although I did not take the decision lightly to accept this domain registration, I look forward to partnering with a young, and once brash, CEO who is courageously doing something that looks useful,” Monster wrote.
Gab still lists Stripe and PayPal as its payment processors, although Torba has said the site isn’t accepting payments through either. (We’ve reached out to both companies to confirm their current relationship with Gab.) The site frequently returned error messages as of Monday morning.
Gab’s laissez-faire moderation stance got it into trouble long before last weekend. Stripe, for instance, had already frozen Gab’s account for not limiting adult content. But the shooting eroded support for it even more. Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro said last week that he would be conducting “a review” of Gab, although Shapiro’s office did not respond to a request for more details on this statement.
However, Gab isn’t the only site that’s recently been accused of turning a blind eye to potentially violent users. Florida bombing suspect Cesar Sayoc maintained multiple Twitter accounts, and he sent threatening tweets to numerous politicians and journalists, which remained on the site even after one user reported them — a fact Gab has pointed to as evidence as a double standard since Twitter remains online.
Some companies kicked Gab out well before the shooting
Company CEO Andrew Torba has stated that Gab is cooperating with law enforcement to provide information about the synagogue shooter. On Twitter, Gab bragged that a final Gab post by the killer — which referenced an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory and ominously concluded with “screw your optics, I’m going in” — would “likely be a key piece of evidence” for prosecutors. (Bowers allegedly told police that he was targeting Jews, so his motives were established before the Gab profile was discovered.)
The social network’s banner currently includes a small dove, which a now-deleted Gab tweet said was meant to honor the victims of the synagogue shooting. But HuffPost noted that some users started quickly posting anti-Semitic messages. Amid more neutral messages of celebration, Gab’s current “popular” posts include a message from white supremacist Christopher Cantwell who implored users to “please remember it was the Jews who tried to shut this site down.”
Gab has between 465,000 and 800,000 users, which makes it tiny compared to Facebook or Twitter. (It’s more on the scale of alternative social networks like Mastodon.) But along with neo-Nazi news site The Daily Stormer, which was widely deplatformed last year, Gab’s existence has sparked a debate over whether basic web service providers should decide which sites can stay online.