Big tech suspensions lead to rise in subscribers of locally created social media platform ‘Gab’

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SCRANTON, LACKAWANNA COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU) — A local social media company is receiving more attention following big tech’s suspensions of the president and other influencer accounts.

Gab.com is seeing an uptick in subscribers. The founder is from our area.

The owner, Andrew Torba, said on Saturday the site has received half a million new users or as they call them “community people.” Gab has been seeing an increase in subscriptions since the U.S. Capitol incident and weeks prior, all while being censored for years.

Torba is the founder and CEO of Gab.com, a social networking company, out of Clarks Summit, that embodies “free speech, individual liberty and the free flow of information online.” Torba says, since 2016 when the company was founded, it has been banned from more than 25 service providers including the ones that recently banned Parler.

“We were the test case for what is happening right now with Parler to the President of the United States and to other people. So we were banned from both app stores, I think three years ago,” Torba said.

In 2018, Gab was in the news after Robert Bowers posted to his Gab account moments before allegedly killing 11 at a Pittsburgh synagogue. We spoke to Torba about that at the time.

“I was horrified to find out that this terrorist, this alleged terrorist was on our site. There are bad people in this world and they are on every social network. They are on the internet,” Torba said.

Weeks before the incidences that unfolded at the U.S. Capitol, Torba says some newly created accounts on his platform were inciting violence against congressmen and government officials.

“First of all we alerted law enforcement, you know, we alerted our community immediately, we removed the content and suspended the accounts,” Torba said.

Torba says his team works at preventing comments that encourage violence which is not protected by the First Amendment.

“Free speech is allowed up until the actual action occurs. It’s called the incitement test,” Dr. Neil Strine, an associate professor of political science and director of forensics at Bloomsburg University said.

Dr. Strine weighed in on the First Amendment and how it impacts social media platforms. He says “big tech” can get away with censorship.

“Twitter and all of the other social media platforms are technically privately owned. They are not bounded by the First Amendment,” Dr. Strine said.

Dr. Strine says “big tech” companies like Facebook, have a responsibility to abide by the First Amendment considering the size of their companies.

We did reach out to Twitter and Facebook about their recent actions against President Trump.

Twitter released a statement saying: “After close review of recent Tweets from the @realDonaldTrump account and the context around them — specifically how they are being received and interpreted on and off Twitter — we have permanently suspended the account due to the risk of further incitement of violence.

In the context of horrific events this week, we made it clear on Wednesday that additional violations of the Twitter Rules would potentially result in this very course of action. Our public interest framework exists to enable the public to hear from elected officials and world leaders directly. It is built on a principle that the people have a right to hold power to account in the open.

However, we made it clear going back years that these accounts are not above our rules entirely and cannot use Twitter to incite violence, among other things. We will continue to be transparent around our policies and their enforcement.

The below is a comprehensive analysis of our policy enforcement approach in this case.

Overview

On January 8, 2021, President Donald J. Trump Tweeted:

“The 75,000,000 great American Patriots who voted for me, AMERICA FIRST, and MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN, will have a GIANT VOICE long into the future. They will not be disrespected or treated unfairly in any way, shape or form!!!”

Shortly thereafter, the President Tweeted:

“To all of those who have asked, I will not be going to the Inauguration on January 20th.”

Due to the ongoing tensions in the United States, and an uptick in the global conversation in regards to the people who violently stormed the Capitol on January 6, 2021, these two Tweets must be read in the context of broader events in the country and the ways in which the President’s statements can be mobilized by different audiences, including to incite violence, as well as in the context of the pattern of behavior from this account in recent weeks. After assessing the language in these Tweets against our Glorification of Violence policy, we have determined that these Tweets are in violation of the Glorification of Violence Policy and the user @realDonaldTrump should be immediately permanently suspended from the service.

Assessment

We assessed the two Tweets referenced above under our Glorification of Violence policy, which aims to prevent the glorification of violence that could inspire others to replicate violent acts and determined that they were highly likely to encourage and inspire people to replicate the criminal acts that took place at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021.

This determination is based on a number of factors, including:

President Trump’s statement that he will not be attending the Inauguration is being received by a number of his supporters as further confirmation that the election was not legitimate and is seen as him disavowing his previous claim made via two Tweets (1, 2) by his Deputy Chief of Staff, Dan Scavino, that there would be an “orderly transition” on January 20th.
The second Tweet may also serve as encouragement to those potentially considering violent acts that the Inauguration would be a “safe” target, as he will not be attending.
The use of the words “American Patriots” to describe some of his supporters is also being interpreted as support for those committing violent acts at the US Capitol.
The mention of his supporters having a “GIANT VOICE long into the future” and that “They will not be disrespected or treated unfairly in any way, shape or form!!!” is being interpreted as further indication that President Trump does not plan to facilitate an “orderly transition” and instead that he plans to continue to support, empower, and shield those who believe he won the election.
Plans for future armed protests have already begun proliferating on and off-Twitter, including a proposed secondary attack on the US Capitol and state capitol buildings on January 17, 2021.
As such, our determination is that the two Tweets above are likely to inspire others to replicate the violent acts that took place on January 6, 2021, and that there are multiple indicators that they are being received and understood as encouragement to do so.”

Facebook and Instagram also released a statement saying: “Over the last several years, we have allowed President Trump to use our platform consistent with our own rules, at times removing content or labeling his posts when they violate our policies. We did this because we believe that the public has a right to the broadest possible access to political speech, even controversial speech. But the current context is now fundamentally different, involving use of our platform to incite violent insurrection against a democratically elected government.

We believe the risks of allowing the President to continue to use our service during this period are simply too great. Therefore, we are extending the block we have placed on his Facebook and Instagram accounts indefinitely and for at least the next two weeks until the peaceful transition of power is complete.”

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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