This week’s Gab screed is in, and another regime topples in the wake of the platform’s offensives (usually emails). The target of the latest screed: the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Protest at the United States Capitol. Congratulations to Congress, you’re a Gab-certified authority figure.
Last week, Gab published a letter from Congress requesting records of posts and messages related to election disinformation, planning an insurrection, violent domestic extremism, and foreign schemes to influence the election. They’d also like to see what Gab did about users promoting the insurrection (communications with law enforcement and moderation efforts, if any), internal communications about the insurrection, and law enforcement requests for evidence, among other records. In other words, this is a standard ask for a committee investigating an insurrection.
Misinformation peddler and Gab CEO Andrew Torba tells Congress, in a line-by-line response, that it should poke around elsewhere. He says that Gab doesn’t track mis- or disinformation, has no retention policies, keeps no records of internal discussion about insurrection concerns, and has no way to know if an account is run by a foreign government. (He does say that Gab found one alleged foreign government account, once, but only because Christopher Krebs’s counsel notified the company. He adds that it backed up the account for law enforcement, then banned it.) Torba argues that it can’t turn over any private communications it’s shared with law enforcement under the Stored Communications Act (SCA).
Congress could check with hacker JaXpArO who easily retrieved records from 31,000 groups, 4 million accounts, and 39 million posts. The content reportedly shows (it was selectively shared with journalists and researchers) an extensive list of white nationalist and conspiracy-mongering users. Messages showed Gab CEO Andrew Torba recruiting anti-Semites and violent user threats in the chat logs such as “@666666: Just so you know, I’m going to terrorize and burn some Democrats places. Come bail me out”.
Despite the company’s official policy stating it has “zero-tolerance policy towards threats of violence and use of our platform for criminal purposes,” Torba makes it sound as though Gab’s not particularly interested in enforcing those rules. The company might not even agree that an insurrection happened at all. (Recent email hed: “New Video From Jan 6th Destroys ‘Insurrection’ Hoax.”) While Gab’s not necessarily mandated to rigorously monitor the platform, Section 230 dictates that platforms must “ensure vigorous enforcement” of federal criminal laws to punish stalking and harassment, among other crimes.
Torba seizes the opportunity, in an introduction, to outline Gab’s free speech doctrine, citing history’s vanguards who’ve been persecuted for their ideas (not for nothing, he’s a persuasive writer, sure to stir a few conservative hearts.). Because, Torba says, Gab has limited and unbiased moderation, it accepts its position as a haven for “people or ideas wide segments of a given population regard as loathsome or evil.” The perception of evilness is dangerously subjective, true. Evilness is also a separate issue from the act of conditioning followers to believe disinformation that endangers their own and others’ health. Gab doesn’t have to stop it, much like nobody has to intervene in a drunken teacher’s lesson on finger fillet. (Relatedly, Gab’s currently fashioning itself as an anti-mask LinkedIn with a job board and guidelines for getting vaccine exemptions.)
While Facebook, Snap, Google, and Reddit have all vaguely said they’ll work with the committee, Gab says it’ll refuse to hand over private user communications which it’s already shared with law enforcement, arguing that Congress would need a warrant or subpoena under the Stored Communications Act. (If Congress wants them, Gab says it’ll have to ask the Department of Justice, which may or may not have already gotten said records.)
Anyway, you have to hand it to Torba for the headlines. A selection from the inbox:
“This Email Might Get You Banned By Big Tech”
“The Real January 6th Story”
“The Total End Of A Free Society”
“The Uncensored Truth About The Vaccine Mandates”
And my favorite so far:
“How To Survive In a Post-Truth World Of Chaos”
Who’s to say.