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With Infowars and Gab blocks, the internet has evolved.

Social network Gab.com has come under attack from large digital industry players following the Pittsburgh synagogue multiple murders. The website was criticised because it was used by the alleged perpetrator, Robert Bowers, to publish anti-semitic remarks.

PayPal was the first company reported to have severed ties with Gab – publicly announcing that it had shut down Gab’s capability to receive money via the payment service. The Verge reported that PayPal cited hate speech as a reason for the action. A spokesperson wrote, “The company is diligent in performing reviews and taking account actions. When a site is explicitly allowing the perpetuation of hate, violence or discriminatory intolerance, we take immediate and decisive action.”

Domain hosting company GoDaddy followed with a decision to sever ties with Gab. On Monday following the shootings, GoDaddy issued this statement. “We have informed Gab.com that they have 24 hours to move the domain to another registrar, as they have violated our terms of service. In response to complaints received over the weekend, GoDaddy investigated and discovered numerous instances of content on the site that both promotes and encourages violence against people.”

Gab.com hit back as best it can

Gab CEO Andrew Torba posted the following angry message on the domain on Monday in response to GoDaddy’s threat.

Gab has spent the past 48 hours proudly working with the DOJ and FBI to bring justice to an alleged terrorist. Because of the data we provided, they now have plenty of evidence for their case. In the midst of this Gab has been no-platformed by essential internet infrastructure providers at every level. We are the most censored, smeared, and no-platformed startup in history, which means we are a threat to the media and to the Silicon Valley Oligarchy. 

Gab isn’t going anywhere. 

It doesn’t matter what you write. It doesn’t matter what the sophist talking heads say on TV. It doesn’t matter what verified nobodies say on Twitter. We have plenty of options, resources, and support. We will exercise every possible avenue to keep Gab online and defend free speech and individual liberty for all people. 

You have all just made Gab a nationally recognized brand as the home of free speech online at a time when Silicon Valley is stifling political speech they disagree with to interfere in a US election. 

The internet is not reality. TV is not reality. 80% of normal everyday people agree with Gab and support free expression and liberty. The online outrage mob and mainstream media spin machine are the minority opinion. People are waking up, so please keep pointing the finger at a social network instead of pointing the finger at the alleged shooter who holds sole responsibility for his actions. 

No-platform us all you want. Ban us all you want. Smear us all you want. 

You can’t stop an idea. 

As we transition to a new hosting provider Gab will be inaccessible for a period of time. We are working around the clock to get Gab.com back online. Thank you and remember to speak freely. 

Andrew Torba, CEO Gab.com

Does Gab deserve to be treated this way?

The big-brand actions against Gab follow recent actions by several large corporations to block the activities of Infowars.com – run by right wing conspiracy theorist Alex Jones.

Gab is described on Wikipedia as “a far right American social networking service, created as an alternative to Twitter”. Multiple publications mirror the description of it as a right wing channel. In April, Vice described it as “the alt-right social network racists are moving to”.

This type of action obviously plays into the hands of free speech advocates who cry “censorship” and complain about mainstream media or government suppressing freedom of expression. Internet corporations are largely in favour of “internet free will”, where the people on the internet generally police themselves or each other. Historically, companies like PayPal would only close accounts of fraudsters rather than on the grounds of general behaviour.

YouTube has often removed content for reasons of copyright or illegal activity and not because of a person’s ideology. The same goes for Facebook and Twitter.

Now, though, we are living in the world of Trump, of Brexit, of nationalist politics, where the language of hate is changing public behaviours and encouraging more people to attack one group of people or another.

Freedom of expression is not freedom to demand a stage

Tackling the censorship argument is easy.

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances”
First Amendment of the US Constitution.

Freedom of religion is interesting in itself, considering the large proportion of Americans who despise the idea of muslims living among them.

But let’s focus on freedom of speech and of the press. The point of that part in the Amendment is to enable ordinary people to question governments without fear of retribution; to allow the press to call power to account; to allow people to protest peacefully in groups.

If the government were to suppress any of these rights, one could argue “censorship” and a violation of constitutional rights. There’s nothing in the Amendment about the right to demand a stage – to demand where you express yourself. If you want to publish your own newspaper or build your own website, you can control what you publish. If you use another person’s media to express yourself, you have no right to complain when that person denies you a stage.

Is that fair though? Regardless of the message, alt-right or otherwise, how does a hosting company decide what is acceptable for a website owner to publish? Just as a telephone company is not responsible for the conversations held by its subscribers, and just as the postal service is not responsible for what people decide to post, GoDaddy is not the messenger just because it hosts a domain name and a website for a hate preacher. So why should it care?

What we are seeing is an evolution in internet standards-setting.

The internet is evolving into an enlightened age

GoDaddy, PayPal, Google, YouTube, Facebook or Twitter could all hold up their hands and say, “We have nothing to do with what these people publish. Everyone has the same freedom, so use it as you will.”

They used to do that but they no longer do. What has changed is that digital media enables people to mobilise extremely quickly around an issue. Public fury can bubble up quickly. If you want to know why it is only alt-right sites being banned by BigCorp.com and not left-wing ones, the answer is simply that majority public opinion is not on the side of the right wing extremists.

In any group of people, you might have the person who complains about everyone else and then complaining about not being listened to. When those people become disruptive and troublesome to the wider group, you have to find a way to shut them up.

For all their complaints about censorship and mainstream media bias, sites like Infowars and Gab are discovering that their time is up, because they are the minority griping from the sidelines, but they have become noisy and troublesome.

Big corporations can suffer real commercial consequences if they are seen to do business with people who spout hatred and advocate violence. Better to cut ties and please the majority of your customers than to risk losing a lot of them.

The internet is becoming enlightened. The global phenomenon that has no borders and hundreds of jurisdictions is beginning to develop some standards. The current ugliness that is politics right now and the ugly acts that have led to violence and death are making everyone, from individuals to corporations to governments, sit up and take action. The internet cannot police itself. At some point society has to set some boundaries of acceptability.

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