Months before they cut ties with the extremist-friendly social-media site Gab, tech companies were warned about incitement to violence on the website, according to emails reviewed by The Daily Beast.
The payment processors Stripe and PayPal stopped working with Gab on Saturday after it was revealed that a man who allegedly murdered 11 people at a Pittsburgh synagogue had been an active Gab user who authored violently anti-Semitic posts and shortly before the killing spree, appeared to announce his intentions to his Gab followers. But over the summer Stripe and PayPal received warnings about the site’s role in online hate.
The Twitter user @DeplatformHate has been documenting the far right’s partnerships with Silicon Valley for nearly a year and repeatedly tweeted about Stripe’s ties to Gab in August. After Stripe’s general counsel reached out on August 17, Deplatform Hate sent him and Stripe’s CEO a long email on August 24, documenting the issue.
“Gab is a massive hive mind of neo-Nazis that have actively doxed journalists families that work on stories of neonazi violence,” Deplatform Hate wrote in an August 24 email shared with The Daily Beast, in which he cited white supremacists who used Gab to publish journalists’ personal information, including home addresses.
Deplatform Hate shared the messages on the condition of anonymity, citing harassment by neo-Nazis.
One targeted journalist “had his mother in the Bronx get a bomb threat. You can muddy the story of ‘oh but the first amendment’—you’re a lawyer. You know that doesn’t hold up in the US and that private companies can have moral systems if they’re not discriminating against protected classes. Last time I checked, Nazis weren’t a protected class.”Stripe declined to comment on the email.
“For privacy reasons, we can’t comment on individual users, but you can read our terms of service here, which should answer your direct question,” a Stripe spokesperson told The Daily Beast.
Stripe’s terms of service prohibit “any business or organization that a. engages in, encourages, promotes or celebrates unlawful violence or physical harm to persons or property, or b. engages in, encourages, promotes or celebrates unlawful violence toward any group based on race, religion, disability, gender, sexual orientation, national origin, or any other immutable characteristic.”
While Stripe didn’t ban Gab for violence, it sent the company a warning about hosting porn earlier this month.
Deplatform Hate also contacted PayPal, which also processed payments for Gab until this weekend. The activist emailed the payment company a trove of neo-Nazi Gab posts on July 22, and sent five follow-up emails. PayPal’s response, sent on August 1, said it “will thoroughly review the mentioned website/s and/or auction/s and possible linked PayPal accounts and take further action as appropriate in this case.”
The company’s terms of service prohibit “the promotion of hate, violence, racial intolerance or the financial exploitation of a crime.”
Despite having been alerted to violent content on Gab in July, PayPal was able to cut its ties with Gab on Saturday.
“We welcome and value community feedback. However, ultimately, our dedicated team of professionals handles each case individually. In doing so, our teams perform extensive review and analysis of the website itself, any associated organizations, and their adherences to our Acceptable Use Policy,” PayPal told The Daily Beast when asked about the July email.
“PayPal had been closely monitoring and reviewing Gab and was in the process of canceling the site’s account before the tragic events occurred. PayPal’s policy is not to allow our services to be used for activities that promote hate, violence or discriminatory intolerance. We base our reviews of accounts on these parameters, taking action when we deem that individuals or organizations have violated this policy.”
Some Gab users, including alleged synagogue shooter Robert Bowers, broke Stripe’s and PayPal’s terms of service on a daily basis. Gab’s official Twitter account has gone on its own apparently anti-Semitic tirades. In August, Gab’s then-web host Microsoft Azure told the website to pull two violently anti-Semitic posts by one of its most prominent users, a neo-Nazi. Gab’s official Twitter defended the anti-Semitism by tweeting about Jews.
“Dude named ‘Krassenstein’ doesn’t support free speech. Imagine my shock,” the account tweeted about one of its critics, adding that Krassenstein “should move to Israel or something.” During the same rant, Gab tweeted a Bible verse about “synagogue of Satan,” an ambiguous passage that has been incorporated into various anti-Semitic writings.
On Saturday, hours after Bowers allegedly murdered 11 Jews, Gab boasted that “we have been getting 1 million hits an hour all day,” presumably due to its association with him.
Later that day, Gab lost support from Stripe and Gab, as well as from domain registrar GoDaddy, and web host Joyent. Gab also lost support from blogging site Medium and moved from Microsoft Azure after the company threatened to suspend Gab for violent neo-Nazi posts.
Gab isn’t just losing tech partners. Some of its highest-profile employees have recently abandoned the site.
Utsav Sanduja, formerly the site’s chief operating officer, left the company and deleted his Gab account in June, after users inundated him and his wife with violent threats.
“It wasn’t nice. I had people go after my wife because she works at a synagogue,” Sanduja told The Daily Beast on Monday. He said he didn’t attribute the threats to Gab or to Torba, but called on Gab to implement better tools to combat crime. “There were people threatening to behead me. They had pictures of my head cut off. There were people photoshopping my wife being raped. It’s sick. There’s depravity in humanity and it needs to be acknowledged. I think it’s not a winnable war.”
And on Sunday, one of Gab’s remaining core employees, Chief Technology Officer Ekrem Buyukkaya, also stepped down.
“The attacks from the American press have been relentless for two years now and have taken a toll on me personally,” he wrote Sunday. “I wish Gab nothing but the best and will do everything I can to help them transition to a new CTO.”
The loss of prominent staffers and Silicon Valley partners could prove a major blow to Gab, which was offline on Monday while it transfers to a new web host. In a March annual report to the Securities and Exchange Commission, Gab listed loss of “third party providers” and “certain key personnel” as the company’s potential risk factors.
“We rely on Microsoft Azure’s hosting platform as well as Paypal, Stripe, and other services for payment processing,” the report reads. None of those companies work with Gab anymore.
The company also stated that “our future success depends on the efforts of key personnel and and consultants, especially our founders, Andrew Torba and Ekrem Buyukkaya.”
Despite that, Sanduja said he thinks the site can turn it around if it implements “the right tools, resources, public assistance, and help.”
“Every company has things they can do to reform, and every organization can do better than what they’re doing already,” Sanduja said. “I have no doubt that this is going to be a great learning lesson for Gab and that better things will come. I hate that innocent people had to die.”