Gab

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Gab is an English-language social media website known for its pro free speech up to around December 2019 when the platform suddenly shifted towards selective censorship. It is operated by the US-based firm GAB AI INC and it is headed by Andrew Torba.

History

Gab was launched as a private beta in August 2016. It opened up to the public in on May 8th, 2017. The site switched to a in-house fork of the ActivityPub-based Mastodon software in July 2019.

Pro free speech stance

Gab has put a lot of weight on it's pro free speech stance it's launch in 2017. It's website, gab.com, has had this tagline, still present as of December 2019, very prominent the front page:

""A social network that champions free speech, individual liberty and the free flow of information online. All are welcome.""

gab.com, quoted December 2019

Looking closer at gab.com/about it's clear that Freedom of speech is a corner-stone of Gabs marketing:

""Political speech protected by the First Amendment is welcome on this instance""

gab.com/about quoted December 2019

The "About" page has a link to Gabs "Terms Of Service" (TOS) at gab.com/about/tos. This page paints a picture which is somewhat different from the story presented on the front page and the "About" page. It says, among other things, that:

"User Contributions must NOT: (..)

  • Be obscene, sexually explicit or pornographic. Note that mere nudity e.g. as a form of protest or for educational/medical reasons will not fall foul of this rule.
  • Infringe any patent, trademark, trade secret, copyright, or other intellectual property or other rights of any other person."

gab.com/about/tos December, 2019

Gab used Community Guidelines to explain their platforms rules before they had a Terms Of Service page. That page had the following quote from January 2nd, 2017 until it was removed when Gab switched to Mastodon in July 2019:

""Legal pornography is permitted, so long as the user clearly marks applicable content as #NSFW (Not Safe For Work). ""

Gabs Community Guidelines changed on May 24th, 2019. The above section allowing "legal pornography" is still there. The only section which changed at this time was the one concerning "International Law". That particular section changed from:

"Non-U.S. residents and citizens must follow the laws of their domicile pertaining to online conduct, communication and content. Gab AI, Inc. will respect the territorial sovereignty of nation-states and their applicable laws pertaining to online communications, though we urge governments of the world to consider Articles 18, 19 and 20 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR)."

to a far more free speech defending stance:

"Gab is based within the United States and does not have any presence outside of the United States. U.S. non-residents and non-citizens must not use the site for any purpose that would, if it occurred within the United States or any unincorporated territory of the United States, be unlawful under the federal law of the United States or under the laws of any state, federal district, territory or unincorporated territory, or municipality of the United States."

Gabs "Community Guidelines" as laid out on May 24th were impressive. Very few social networks and Internet platforms in general take such a hard stance for free speech. The guidelines made it very clear that Gab would defend speech as long as it was legal in the United States. There are many examples of why this was a good thing. If a Gab user were to criticise Islam, something which is illegal in more oppressive states like Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Sweden, and a non-US government were to demand that Gab hand over user-data then Gab would simply say no and refer to the speech's legality in the United States.

Gabs very pro free speech terms lasted from May 24th to June 24th, 2019 - a whole month.

Gab removed it's "Community Guidelines" page and changed it's rather short "Terms of Service" page which had been in place since August 18th 2016 with a much longer "Terms of Service" page on 24 June 2019.

The new TOS in effect since June 24th, 2019 does mention that US law and the First Amendment applies:

"In any way that would violate any applicable federal, state, or local law of the United States of America (including, without limitation, any laws regarding the export of data or software to and from the US or other countries) and is not protected by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution (the “First Amendment”)."

Gab TOS, June 24th 2019, still in effect December 2019

However, the new TOS does have quite a few exceptions listed. One of them concerns pornography which, as the "Community Guidelines" states, was allowed until the new TOS came was put in place. The new TOS has also got this:

"Accordingly, the Company reserves the right to take any action with respect to any User Contribution that we deem necessary or appropriate in our sole discretion, including the following:

  • Take any action with respect to any User Contribution that we deem necessary or appropriate in our sole discretion, including if we believe that such User Contribution violates the Terms of Use, including the Content Standards, infringes any intellectual property right or other right of any person or entity, or could threaten the physical safety of users of the Website or the public.

"

Gab TOS, June 24th 2019, still in effect December 2019

That part does, in effect, mean that Gab reserves the right to remove any user content for any or no reason if the sites owner or anyone working there believes it is "necessary or appropriate". The term "any action" could involve contacting law enforcement and a whole lot of other things.

Crusade Against Pornography

Gab silently changed their Terms Of Service to forbid Pornography in June 2019. Nobody really cared or noticed until Andrew Torba, using Gabs Twitter account getongab, started a violent crusade against pornography in December 2019. The messages posted on Twitter were not only defending Gabs ban of such content, Andrew Torba argued that pornography should be forbidden by law. He also posted messages supporting a ID requirement to view adult content online.

Differences between Gab, Twitter and other social media sites

The San Francisco-based social network Twitter is known to censor content and ban account for posting "hate speech". There is no such thing in US law (though some European countries do have vague laws around the concept). What is deemed as "hate speech" is a floating line in the sand. It is very subjective and it essentially means any content a moderator hates seeing.

Gab is, in effect, doing the exact same thing Twitter is doing: Censoring things either the owner or the moderator hates seeing. In Twitters case it's mostly logical and rational post about political subjects people with no critical thinking skills can't argue against. In Gabs case it's pornography. The content they censor differs, the governing principles are essentially the same on Twitter and Gab. Both are on a very slippery slope of censorship. Put simply, both Gab and Twitter arbitrarily decide what is and is not allowed on their platforms.

Gab has marketed itself as a free speech platform. Their censorship of content the owner and employees there hate seeing would not be a small non-issue if they did not market their platform as one where the US Constitution decides what is and is not allowed. You can't have it both ways. Gab is either a free speech platform or it's not; and it's clearly not.

If Gab wants to be a Christian Social Media Platform instead of a Free Speech Social Media Platform then that's fine and it would be their choice. That is not how they are promoting and marketing Gabs platform.

Privacy Policy

The Privacy Policy at gab.com/about/privacy, put in place on June 24th 2019 (when the TOS changed and the "Community Guidelines" were removed) and still in effect as of December 2019, are disturbing and very similar to the "Privacy Policy" other social media sites like Facebook and Twitter have. It states, among other things, that:

""We collect several types of information from and about users" (..)

  • From third parties, for example, our business partners."

It also states that

"We may disclose personal information that we collect or you provide as described in this privacy policy:

  • To our subsidiaries and affiliates.
  • If we believe disclosure is necessary or appropriate to protect the rights, property, or safety of Gab AI Inc, our employees, our customers, or any other person."

Affiliates could mean any third party.

Gabs privacy protection policy is not strong. Some parts of it makes it seems like Gab has a strong pro-privacy stance while other parts of it make it very clear that they are willing to hand user-data over to any third party they may be "affiliated" with.

Gabs weal privacy protection policy may have to do with them being a purely US company. The European Union takes online privacy and data protection very seriously, the US does not. Gab Inc is a US-based company with on offices or servers in the EU so they do not have follow the rules multi-national corporations like Facebook and Twitter either follow or selectively follow (some will have different policies depending on what country you are in).

Gab Trends and E-Mail Spam

Gab has started a spin-off service called Gab Trends which does not appear to be based on what is trending on Gab. Gab started sending e-mail spam to all e-mail addresses registered on their site shortly after this service launched.

Gab has a Preferences area where personal preferences can be configured. This section has a dedicated page for Notifications where Receive e-mail from Gab.com with announcements and other information can be checked or un-checked. Gab ignores this setting. The spam mails from Gab do have a "unsubscribe" link. Clicking this link results in a landing-page with the text "If you want to turn Gab News emails back on you can do so in your account settings." and a link to the notification settings. This indicates that they do re-subscribe people based on that setting but do not unsubscribe people based on it. It defaults to checked when new users register.

Verdict And Conclusion

Gab has much in common with both Twitter and fediverse social media instances based on the mastodon software. It has less censorship than a lot fediverse instances and about the same level of censorship as other fediverse instances like mstdn.io. It doesn't really have much of an advantage compared to other fediverse instances when it comes to free speech.

Gab does have one major disadvantage compared to other federated social media sites: A lot of sites running mastodon refuse to federate with Gab. The "reasoning" is typically nonsensical. That makes little practical difference, the effect is that people who are using a majority of fediverse sites will not be able to see posts from Gab. This is something we used to solve by posting links to our articles on both Gab and mstdn.io. It is quite possible that we will stop posting at both sites since Gab isn't as pro free speech as we'd like - and their privacy policy is unacceptable. The primary reason we feel compelled to keep on posting there too is that Gab does have users who are, for various reasons, walled off from most of the supposedly federated fediverse.

You can follow us on social media sites running fediverse-compatible software like Mastodon and Pleroma at @LinuxReviews@mstdn.io.


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