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.
Pro free speech stance
""A social network that champions free speech, individual liberty and the free flow of information online. All are welcome.""
""Political speech protected by the First Amendment is welcome on this instance""
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 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. For example, if a person in a repressive country with blasphemy laws 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; The United States has no vague hate speech laws (or none-vague ones for that matter), let-alone any against blasphemy.
"From the standpoint of freedom of speech and the press, it is enough to point out that the state has no legitimate interest in protecting any or all religions from views distasteful to them which is sufficient to justify prior restraints upon the expression of those views. It is not the business of government in our nation to suppress real or imagined attacks upon a particular religious doctrine, whether they appear in publications, speeches, or motion pictures.""
Illiberal Democracies (specifically around the time Gab was founded) often have laws designed to protect the creator of the universe from having his feelings hurt. These laws are/were at the time present in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Scotland, Germany, France, Norway, Italy, Ireland, Spain, Finland, Denmark, Austria, Brazil, Poland, Switzerland, South Africa, and The United Kingdom, at least until 2008, and many, MANY, others.
China, an Athiest nation, also has "laws" against blasphemy, and bans books that might offend religous people, but not because China likes religion; China likes banning things.
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”)."
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:
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.
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.
""We collect several types of information from and about users" (..)
- From third parties, for example, our business partners."
It also states that
- 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
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.