Gab's founders deny accusations that their platform is an "alt-right echo chamber." Content on the site suggests otherwise.
The Alt-Right has a new favorite corner of the internet: Gab.ai. The social media site shares commonalities with Twitter and Reddit, borrows a hip minimalist aesthetic and is decorated with quotes from artists like Ai Weiwei and Charles Bukowski.
Unlike those platforms however, the tone of the conversation on Gab, even in categories like technology and entertainment, is uncommonly skewed in one direction. It's in favor of US President Donald Trump, in support of racist causes like white nationalism, and it's opposed to liberal causes like abortion, multiculturalism and feminism.
Gab, which like Twitter allows users to add short posts displayed vertically - and like Reddit lets those users rate content by a system of "upvoting" and "downvoting" - has two key differences: membership is invitation only and, most importantly, the company believes in absolute free speech, which means permitting hate speech.
Gab founder: All are welcome
"We welcome everyone and always will," the founder and CEO Andrew Torba was cited as saying by the Guardian.
Torba insisted that his site is neither a "Twitter for racists" nor "an alt-right echo chamber." But on the site itself, one is hard pressed to find much content outside of the far-right, with the exception of pro-Israel posts.
The biggest trending hashtags are all pro-Trump, such as #MAGA or Make America Great Again, and the #Trump hashtag itself. Most of the content being shared is from conservative outlets such as Breitbart and Fox News. One of the most highly rated posts on the technology page, for example, not only supports the claim that the White House intends to publish lists of crimes committed by immigrants but suggests that all crime statistics should be reported by race, especially "separating Latinos from whites." The post also contains hashtags like #BantheJew and #BanIslam. The only content the platform itself bans are threats of violence or illegal pornography.
Torba says that these posts go hand in hand with free speech. He further denies that the site's frog logo has anything to do with Pepe the Frog, a meme that has been appropriated by white nationalists to promote their causes.
Torba, who says he is a run-of-the-mill "conservative Republican Christian," insists the logo is a biblical reference to the second plague of Egypt.
'I helped meme a president into office'
In the fall, Torba made tech headlines after he was forced to leave the influential Silicon Valley start-up incubator Y Combinator over harassment allegations.
In a Facebook thread with other founders, he told them to "take your morally superior, elitist, virtue signaling bullshit and shove it.
"I helped meme a president into office, cucks," he added, using an insult popular in internet slang that is short for cuckold. When Y Combinator booted him from their ranks, he retorted that they preferred to help "immigrants" instead of "American entrepreneurs."
Torba happily paints himself as a victim, telling Politico that "as a Christian, as a conservative, as a Republican, there are things that I kept to myself for fear of being blacklisted and obviously being a minority political opinion, religious opinion, in Silicon Valley."
In August, Torba claimed Gab already had 130,000 users - among them, well-known alt-right figures like Richard Spencer, Breitbart writer Milos Yiannopolous, Tila Tequila and Michael G. Flynn, the son of President Trump's national security advisor.
In defense of their platform, Gab's top brass is quick to use buzzwords borrowed from both sides of the aisle like "fake news" and declaring war on "mainstream media."
"We don't see human beings as sheep. We trust them," said Gab's chief communications officer Utsav Sanduja, in the same Politico interview. He also said Gab doesn't police what is accurate and what isn't, leaving it up to users to decide.