The Pittsburgh synagogue shooting has put new pressure on Gab, the niche social network where alleged shooter Robert Bowers and countless other white supremacists have been able to network and post their hate-filled messages.
Bowers was an active Gab user, even posting what appeared to be an announcement of the attack shortly before he allegedly shot and killed 11 people, and wounded at least six others, at the Tree of Life Synagogue.
Gab celebrated the attention it received after Bowers’ posts were found, claiming it was receiving a million hits per hour following the shooting.
But the shooting could also isolate Gab from the tech companies still willing to do business with it. In the aftermath of the shooting, Paypal kicked Gab off of its payment platform, a Paypal spokesperson confirmed to The Daily Beast.
And late Saturday night, Gab tweeted that its new hosting provider, Joyent, had pulled its services. "Gab will likely be down for weeks because of this. Working on solutions," it noted, adding in another tweet, "Big tech cannot stop us. The mainstream media cannot stop us."
In a statement on the shooting, Gab said it “condemns all acts of terrorism and violence.” Bowers’ account is no longer available, but Gab said it saved a backup of the posts for law enforcement.
Bowers’ posts on Gab were replete with anti-Semitic slurs and calls for violence against Jews, who he claimed were behind plots to attack white Americans. But those kinds of posts aren’t out of the ordinary on Gab, which has become a hub for racist and anti-Semitic activity on the internet even as more prominent social networks crack down on extremist content.
Founded by Andrew Torba—a Trump supporter who was once kicked out of the prestigious Silicon Valley tech accelerator Y Combinator’s alumni network for calling his colleagues “cucks”—Gab has built catering to right-wing extremists into its business model.
The site even has a frog logo that echoes the alt-right favorite “Pepe the Frog,” and new users start with a profile picture cribbed from the “NPC meme” popular on far-right sites like 4Chan. In a March SEC filing, the company claimed to be positioning itself as a home for “conservative, libertarian, nationalist, and populist internet users.”
“As mainstream social networks continue to crack down on ‘objectionable content’ and censor conservative views, we believe the need for alternative platforms will only continue to rise,” the filing reads.
Gab’s business plan has often meant hosting posts from some of the vilest characters in American politics. White supremacist Chris Cantwell, the infamous “crying Nazi” from the 2017 Charlottesville Unite the Right rally, is on Gab. So is neo-Nazi Andrew Anglin, the publisher of the white-supremacist Daily Stormer website.
Gab was also the back-up social network for white supremacist and former Paul Ryan primary challenger Paul Nehlen after he was banned from Twitter. Even Gab eventually banned Nehlen—not over his attacks on Jews, but because he had posted personal information about a rival alt-right personality.
Gab’s supposed commitment to free speech has frequently led to clashes with tech companies whose services it needs to use to keep the site running. In August, Microsoft threatened to pull its cloud-computing services from Gab over posts in which neo-Nazi Patrick Little said he would destroy Holocaust memorials and said Jews should be raised as “livestock.”
While Torba likes to position Gab as a rival to Twitter and often taunts Twitter with posts on Gab’s own Twitter account, Gab is nowhere near the usership levels of Twitter or other major social media networks. While Twitter has more than 300 million active users, Gab reported having slightly less than 400,000 users as of March.
Bowers’ posts on Gab show that he regularly interacted with other Gab members. He taunted believers in the QAnon conspiracy theory, several of whom have fled to Gab after being kicked off of sites like Reddit. He reposted a Holocaust denial meme from “Pol News Network,” whose more than 23,000 followers make it one of the largest accounts on Gab.
In the aftermath of the shooting, Bowers’ fellow Gab users reacted with praise for the shooter, hatred towards Jews, and fear that the massacre might finally prompt a crackdown on Gab.