The Anti-Defamation League is calling on the FBI and the U.S. Justice Department to conduct an investigation into Gab, the alternative social media outlet which once hosted the antisemitic rants of the Pittsburgh synagogue shooter, to see whether it had a role in planning the January 6 raid on the U.S. Capitol.
“The January 6 attack at our nation’s Capitol was deliberate and coordinated,” the anti-hate organization said in an open letter to the DOJ. “Individuals who broke the law must be held accountable, but we cannot ignore that social media platforms, like Gab, may well bear a measure of criminal responsibility for the attack as well. To the extent Gab intentionally served as a forum for people to plan, coordinate, engage in or otherwise facilitate the criminal activity that took place on January 6, a Department of Justice investigation is warranted.”
However, despite a government crackdown on other social media platforms following the chaos of last week, Gab is actually experiencing a renaissance.
With Twitter’s permanent ban of President Donald Trump and Parler’s removal from Amazon Web Services and the Apple and Android app stores, Gab is seeing a massive influx of new members from the far right.
In a since-deleted Tweet, Gab founder Andrew Torba said that the site is seeing some 600,000 to 700,000 newly registered users a day, and 40 million unique visitors in the past week. Gab also tweeted that “Gab gained more users in the past two days than we did on our first two years of existing.”
Gab hosted the antisemitic rantings of Robert Bowers, the assailant who killed 11 Jewish members of a Pittsburgh synagogue in 2018. It has been sharply criticized for not just its lax moderation of extreme content, but even encouraging it.
Following the Pittsburgh shooting, PayPal, GoDaddy and Medium all terminated their relationships with the site – forcing it to go offline.
Nonetheless, Gab managed to come back online in 2019, operating with a boutique payment processor and using a “forked” version of Mastodon, an open source social media network which allowed them to circumvent bans from Google and Apple. According to the ADL, it is still one of the favorite forums of white supremacists, anti-Semites and other far-right radicals, including those who stormed the halls of the U.S. Capitol this month.
“According to at least one report, directions for which streets to take to avoid the police and which tools to bring to help pry open doors were exchanged in comments on Gab leading up to the attack.” the ADL said in their open letter. They also reported that, ahead of the raid, Torba posted on the site that it “would be a real shame if the people outside stormed the Senate” and also sent out a message to subscribers advising them on how to document the unrest.
“Supported by a founder who encourages hate speech, the social media site appears to be gaining traction among right-wing extremists, including white supremacists.” the ADL group said in an explainer on their site published in October, after they found a proliferation of antisemitic content being once again published on the site, alongside the growing trend of antigovernment extremism. “We’ve seen ample evidence that these groups have the potential to inspire followers to deadly action.”
However, the ADL found in a 2019 joint report with the Network Contagion Research Institute, that de-platforming isn’t always the right answer. “Data suggests that de-platforming on Twitter contributes directly to increased participation on Gab,” the ADL wrote. “Therefore, while it may solve a problem for Twitter, it shifts a version of the problem to other areas of the internet.”
In those areas, such as Gab, those who may have only flirted with extremism on mainstream sites find themselves in an environment where it is far more normalized. As the ADL summarized, “Gab is increasingly empowered by capturing disaffected former Twitter users, suggesting Twitter is a target for their anger, and that Gab’s users now occupy a more hostile environment.”