In the wake of the bloody white supremacist demonstration in Charlottesville last month, tech companies decided to finally enforce their policies, pushing back against the rise of extremism online. One service caught in the crackdown was the "free speech" social network Gab, which was booted from Google's Play Store, and now the Twitter knockoff is suing for what it claims is "a straightforward violation of the antitrust laws".
"Google's apps YouTube and Google+ compete directly against Gab. Google's intimate partnership with Twitter, which also competes against Gab, makes Google's control of all Android apps available through the Play Store a serious restraint of trade issue," legal representative for the case Marc Randazza is quoted as saying in Gab's post about the suit on Medium.
The argument that the Play Store breaks anti-trust laws might be hard to argue, as dozens of other social networks' apps are available for download there. Gab also does not give users who haven't paid for Gab Pro ($US5.99 [$7]/month) the option to upload video, which could be used as evidence that it isn't a meaningful competitor to YouTube.
It's no secret that the audience for Gab is trolls, often those who have been kicked off Twitter. And in official capacities, Gab is all too happy to engage in that sort of behaviour itself, harassing journalists when it sees fit. Google's Business and Program Policies for the Play Store outline, broadly, that hate speech and "materials that threaten, harass or bully other users" are disallowed. However, the argument could easily be made that holding developers responsible for user conduct would bar, well, every social network currently in existence from the Play Store.
Regardless, a Google spokesperson called the claim "baseless" and explained, in a statement to Gizmodo, that "in order to be on the Play Store, social networking apps need to demonstrate a sufficient level of moderation, including for content that encourages violence and advocates hate against groups of people. This is a long-standing rule and clearly stated in our developer policies." The spokesperson added that Google would be "happy to defend our decision in court if need be".
Gab CEO Andrew Torba — who was ejected from Silicon Valley incubator Y Combinator for harassment in 2016 — has previously railed against Apple for disallowing his social network's mobile app to appear on its App Store, throwing what can only be described as a hissy fit on Periscope. Randazza would not comment on whether Gab plans to file a similar suit against Apple.
A post by Utsav Sanduja, Gab's Chief Operating Officer. (Image: Gab.ai)
Randazza, a US first amendment lawyer, has gained a name for himself in recent years by representing some of the seedier elements of the internet. Currently his clients include troll history database site Encyclopedia Dramatica and Andrew Anglin, the owner of neo-Nazi site The Daily Stormer. Earlier this year, Encyclopedia Dramatica told Gizmodo over Twitter direct message that Randazza had urged the site to set up its legal defence fund through internet troll Chuck Johnson's crowdfunding site WeSearchr. (Disclosure: Randazza Legal Group represented Chuck Johnson against Gizmodo's former sister site Gawker.)
When asked about this pattern of seedy clients, Randazza gave the following, colourful reply:
When you are a First Amendment lawyer, you go where the need is — and when you go where you are needed, you do not necessarily go where you would go on vacation. If you're a disaster worker and you keep winding up in Gulf of Mexico towns, it doesnt mean you love the Gulf of Mexico... it means that nobody needs a hurricane aid worker in Montana.
During the Bush administration, the need for us was largely for those who produced adult entertainment. The blueballed fuckhead uptight motherfuckers in that administration were obsessed with porn.
During the Obama years, they were less uptight about porn, but started pushing censorship against disfavored political views — it was the revenge of the politically correct. We are dealing with the fallout from that and an extended tantrum from the Left that their ideas have been rejected (much to my surprise as well)
I predict that the wind will continue to shift direction, and who the hell knows who the censorship winds will blow against next? I wouldnt have predicted this environment. No matter where the storm comes from, true First Amendment advocates will remain in the same spot — no matter what direction the attacks come from.
I did not "get deeply involved" in any circle of the Internet. I've been standing on the same Constitutional ground all along, and I have no intention of moving off of it, just because some whiny dipshits want to cry into their tofu about it. So, anyone who has a problem with me defending freedom of expression as embodied by today's disfavored crowd... well, they are free to accept my cordial invitation to them to go fuck themselves.
Randazza certainly seems incensed. Meanwhile, on Gab itself, the "Gab v. Google" news topic tab contains only five posts at the time of this writing, two of which were made by Utsav Sanduja, the company's Chief Operating Officer.