What is Gab? Conservative ‘free speech’ social media app surges in popularity after Parler is shut down

Trump supporters are also flocking to MeWe and Rumble after Parler was removed because of violent posts

Following the violent Capitol building riots that shocked the world, President Donald Trump’s accounts were suspended by both Twitter and Facebook in two historic moves.

Twitter, the main social media site that Trump used to communicate with his supporters, announced that its suspension was “permanent”, and explained the decision had been made “due to the risk of further incitement of violence”.

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The latest network to suspend the US President from its services is YouTube.

Conservative and far-right accounts are turning to alternative 'free speech' platforms like Gab (Shutterstock)
Conservative and far-right accounts are turning to alternative 'free speech' platforms like Gab (Shutterstock)

Instead, conservative and far-right accounts are turning to alternative “free speech” platforms like Gab, MeWe and Rumble.

Gab especially has reported an exponential rise in users on its site after Amazon suspended the platform Parler, popular with pro-Trump supporters, from its hosting service.

Here’s everything you need to know about Gab - including why it has previously been shut down.

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What is Gab?

Gab was founded in 2016 as a “free speech” platform with limited censorship rules.

The site says it is a "social network for creators who believe in free speech, individual liberty, and the free flow of information online."

Founder Andrew Torba said he created Gab for an alternative to existing social media platforms - like Facebook and Twitter - which he said were “too liberal” and “biased” during the 2016 presidential election.

He told the Washington Post that “it was time for a conservative leader to step up and to provide a forum where anybody can come and speak freely without fear of censorship.”

The app has a similar layout and function to Twitter.

Gab is known to be used by the far-right, neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and believers of conspiracy theory QAnon.

Why are users turning to it?

The suspensions of President Trump and some prominent far-right accounts on Twitter and Facebook pushed many users onto Gab, which has more relaxed rules on what can be posted.

The bans led some users to feel that the mainstream social media platforms were censoring conservative opinions and ideologies.

Posts on Gab, which would often otherwise be banned on the other platforms, can range from political discussions and memes to baseless conspiracy theories and misinformation.

A description on the site reads: “We believe that users of social networks should be able to control their social media experience on their own terms, rather than the terms set down by Big Tech."

A Texas Congressman, Rep. Michael Cloud, is among one of the politicians to have told his followers to join him on Gab following the Capitol building riots.

He was followed by Attorney Sydney Powell, a QAnon advocate, who also asked users to move over to the platform.

Simon Dolan, a British businessman and entrepreneur who has over 88,000 Twitter followers, jumped on the Gab bandwagon by notifying his followers that he had moved to the network on 10 January.

Why has it previously been shut down?

Gab hit the news in October 2018, after a gunman shot 11 worshippers in Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue.

Robert Bowers, accused of the attack, was an avid Gab user and spent years posting anti-Semitic statements on the platform.

Before the shooting took place, he wrote: “I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics, I’m going in.”

After the shooting, Gab took down Bowers’ account and alerted the FBI - but the social media site was still banned from PayPal’s platform and GoDaddy ceased to host it.

This led to a temporary shut-down of Gab for more than a week, but it moved to another web hosting company and started up again shortly after.

Google had previously removed the platform in 2017 from its app store for violating its ban on hate speech.

What is Parler?

Users migrated to Gab after social network Parler “went dark” when Amazon pulled its hosting services on Monday 11 January.

It said the platform was not doing enough to prevent the spread of posts inciting violence, following the Capitol building riots.

Similar to Twitter, Parler allows users to post messages, or images. Fellow users are able to approve the post - similar to Twitter’s like function - or “echo” the message - similar to Twitter’s retweet function.

The app’s unique selling point is it’s “dedication to free speech” with users able to post anything they desire so long as it’s not unlawful, and not spam.

This dedication has been questioned by many, with several leftist and liberal figures already removed from the platform despite sticking to the rules.

The platform was formed in 2018 by John Matze and Jared Thomson, a pair of Conservative programmers, with Rebekah Mercer among the app’s top investors.

Mercer has previously provided financial backing to Cambridge Analytica, Breitbart News and the 2016 Donald Trump presidential campaign.