Gab—the supposed social media platform for free speech, which really just means racists and trolls—is now offline. I am usually trepidatious to write about Gab, because I learned that just discussing its existence gives the white nationalist online haven more credence than it deserves. But I’m going against this rule for this one update.
This weekend 11 people were murdered at a Pittsburgh synagogue in a heinous act of domestic terrorism. It turns out the suspect, Robert Bowers, used Gab frequently to share antisemitic posts. With this, many online services over the weekend began refusing to support Gab’s site. They included Stripe, PayPal, Joyent, and GoDaddy. This, in turn, has taken Gab offline—at least for the time being.
The site’s Twitter account, mind you, remains up. It still has a blue checkmark, which Twitter gave to it for some reason, and has been railing against these moves as silencing free speech. I will not link to these tweets. It is indeed ironic that while Gab’s site is down, it’s using the platform it originally claimed to be silencing its views as a way to communicate with the outside world.
The conversation Gab and its followers want to be having right now is about free speech. They are claiming that their speech is being infringed because these tech platforms are shutting them down, thus silencing them. That’s not the case; free speech does not mean speech without consequences—GoDaddy, Stripe, etc., are not the law and can do what they want (crazy how the free market works!). But to delve more into this argument is to play into Gab’s—and other white nationalists’—hands. And it’s not worth doing.
Instead, I’ll end with this thought: de-platforming works. The reason Gab is calling itself a martyr, and loudly throwing an online tantrum, is because it knows that once it no longer has a way to easily telegraph its users’ hate and a few days pass it will lose all relevance. When hateful and trollish accounts lose their ability to communicate widely on prominent sites—which, mind you, are not god-given soapboxes, but free services provided by private companies that supposedly have terms of services—they no longer have the only thing that kept them afloat: power. This has been proven with the likes of Milo Yiannopoulos and Alex Jones. They all claimed to be warriors of free speech, when they were actually just demanding the power to control the narrative—something for which they have no constitutional protection. And once they lost that ability, their entire online worlds crumbled.
We’ll have to see whether or not Gab comes back online—the error message it presents people now says it’s transitioning to a new hosting service. But while the service flails and tries to get people’s attention by blaming the liberal media for silencing it, it’s important to remember that is not what’s happening.
Late as this may be, I sincerely hope this de-platforming can successfully help stop the radicalization of the next terrorist.