Twitter knockoff Gab became one of the premiere destinations for members of the extremist "alt-right" banned or just looking to branch out from other social media sites like Twitter. Now, it's devolving into a sludgy mess of paranoia and conspiracy theories.
Graphic: Gab.ai logo
Gab, whose logo resembles the Pepe meme appropriated by the far right, was denied Apple App Store placement and later banned from Google's Play Store in the aftermath of a neo-Nazi terror attack in Charlottesville.
It markets itself as a free speech alternative to other platforms like Twitter and Facebook, but its management appears to be growing weary handling the sheer number of racist goons that have taken up residence there. Per a report in the Daily Beast, as the site's users have grown more aggressive, it's resulted in retaliatory action from members of its management team and now everyone is screaming at each other about (almost certainly imaginary) leftist infiltrators.
From day one, the Beast writes, some users have been suspicious of Gab founder Andrew Torba's choice of the url "Gab.ai," which "loosely translates to a Hebrew word meaning an assistant in a synagogue." But recently the drama has escalated much further, with chief operating officer Utsav Sanduja promising to call the police at least twice — once after receiving a picture of a noose surrounded by swastikas, and again to report a message he saw as a death threat:
Last week, Sanduja set off a firestorm on the site, after he perceived Jared Wyand (an alt-righter who was kicked off Twitter, ostensibly for claiming that Star Wars promotes "white genocide") to to be threatening him.
"You have a false sense of security that leads to a leaky mouth in a room full of highly capable men who have their backs to the walls," Wyand wrote Sanduja on Gab. "That's a very large mistake but don't let it stop you. ????"
Sanduja replied that he was reporting the message to law enforcement.
Sanduja told the Beast the message was "clearly designed to intimidate and suppress my right to speech," adding, "The things I do are very dangerous. The reality that is I am trying to liberate people around the world from tyranny, essentially, speech censorship, and our team faces a lot death threats."
(Neo-Nazis and white supremacists generally do not actually believe in free speech, but whatever.)
Backlash built after both Sanduja's threats to call law enforcement and a separate statement he had blocked 5,000 users, and it coincided with a drop in activity and the loss of some high-profile users. But site management believes their issues are being aggravated by "SJW groups" infiltrating the site, the Beast wrote:
In a post last week, Torba alleged a "24/7" campaign of anti-Gab attacks including "malicious actors breaking guidelines on purpose and reporting to LEO [law enforcement officers]," and "massive PSYOPS on our company/us personally."
Sanduja said he and Torba think some of Gab's Nazis are actually fake Nazis, who are just trying to make Gab look bad.
"We have seen instances where there are people who claim to be Nazis, but are in fact on the payroll of various SJW [social justice warrior] groups," and trying to damage Gab's reputation, he said.
Sanduja told the Beast that prominent white supremacists like Richard Spencer and neo-Nazi troll Andrew Anglin are either no longer or much less active on Gab. He added, "We see this significant drop-off in the number of users and chatter, and then all of a sudden we start to see these strange anon accounts created a month ago pretending to be Nazis and talking about killing Jews and all this crap."
So, two possibilities: Either a leftist conspiracy is trying to make Nazis look bad by posting the same kind of stuff that Nazis post, or Gab and its userbase of some of the worst people online are scoring endless own goals with internecine bickering. Hmm.
In a statement to Gizmodo, Sanduja declined to provide any evidence for the supposed SJW conspiracy.
"Gab relies on a number of whistle-blowers working in Silicon Valley, reputable hacktivists, and yes, sometimes journalists, along with members of our community for this information," Sanduja wrote. "Further to this, there have been whistle-blowers from a number of Left-leaning organisations that have corroborated said activities to us in confidence. For their safety and protection, Gab will not give up sources."
But the Center for Investigative Reporting's Reveal recently noted that the white identity movement isn't likely to burn out anytime soon, regardless of the fate of the specific boards they hang out on.
"There's a lot of chaos in ... (the alt-right) now, obviously, but I think they have successfully implanted in a lot of white people, especially angry white young men on the internet, the idea that white identity politics is acceptable," Daily Beast reporter Will Sommer told Reveal. "They have been derailed by a lot of personal issues among their leaders, but hard to imagine that idea going away."
Update 5:15pm ET: In a separate statement emailed to Gizmodo, Torba claimed to have been targeted by users "LARPing as Nazis" as well as ones "openly proclaiming that they are Democrats, Antifa members, or leftists," as well as waves of spam and distributed denial of service attacks:
Over the past several weeks Gab has noticed an increase in accounts that have been recently created and are breaking our common sense user guidelines on purpose. They are threatening and targeting our employees, our families, community members, customers, investors, and donors. Some, but not all, appear to be LARPing as Nazis. Others are openly proclaiming that they are Democrats, Antifa members, or leftists.
There is no one unified ideology here. The common theme is guideline violations on recently created accounts.
Alongside of these attacks, we have also been DDoSed multiple times. There have also been a swarm of spam bots that we have been fighting off. Unlike other social networks we take a proactive approach to removing bots and have no purpose for inflating user counts to deceive advertisers (which we do not have.) We have banned well over 50,000 bots this quarter alone.
Many self-proclaimed members of the alt-right do not like Gab and do not use it. We have suspended self-proclaimed alt-right users for breaking our guidelines around threats of violence and doxing. We have done the same for self-proclaimed communists, Antifa, and Democrats. We enforce our user guidelines consistently and fairly regardless of political ideology.
Torba added that he had heard rumours that a number of groups such as the "New Right" and liberal site Shareblue were paying people to attack Gab, but "We can not directly validate these claims, they very well could be trolling."
Additionally, this post has been updated to clarify that Sanduja said he had blocked, not banned from the site, 5000 users.