Once known as the new frontier of free speech, the internet seemed destined to be one place on the planet where ideas could be freely expressed, and thoughts could be challenged in open debate. But no more. The unfiltered, Twitter-esque social media platform GAB – a messaging board where censorship does not rule – is about to be tossed to the wolves.
In the wake of the horrific mass murder at a Pittsburgh, PA, synagogue, the web hosting company that provided GAB’s platform has decided to pull the plug, claiming an unspecified “breach of the Joyent Terms of Service.” Given little more than one day of notice, GAB has until the morning of Monday, October 29, to relocate its entire operation to a new platform, with a new provider.
PayPal has also cut ties with GAB. A surprising move considering Facebook has in the past had users live stream actual murders on its platform, yet faced no backlash from the digital pay gateway.
The alleged killer at the Tree of Life Synagogue, Robert Bowers, had posted numerous anti-Semitic sentiments on his GAB feed. Being a company that advertises itself as a haven for free speech, censorship has only rarely reared its ugly head at GAB. Unlike the social media platform’s main competitor, Twitter – where censorship of content is ubiquitous – GAB users are largely left to their own devices and are free to post whatever they please.
Joyent, GAB’s current web host, has taken a step that will have the delegates of political correctness exulting in faux righteousness. By moving to control what speech can and cannot be expressed via their hosting service, the company has become a publisher rather than just a provider of electronic space. This is the thin end of the wedge for companies that provide space for content creators; calls for Facebook, Google, and other tech monopolies to follow suit will soon be on the way.
Yesterday it was Alex Jones, today it is GAB, tomorrow it will be any soul who dares to dream of a world where people can communicate freely.
Many people will be asking themselves: Didn’t Bowers have Facebook and Twitter accounts? And the answer is “yes.” So why is it that Internet Service Providers are not looking to shut down these online behemoths? Simply, because Google, Facebook, Twitter, et al., are their own hosts. These companies are so big that they do not rely on third parties to host their websites and are thus beholden only to themselves.
In the future, unless a company can afford the monumental expense of setting up its very own ISP, it will be subject to the whims and political leanings of its digital masters. This means that no start-up company will be free to operate without becoming a publisher, and being a publisher means you are open to legal action over the content you allow – a definition that will force all small operations to censor or go bust.
The Facebooks, Twitters, and Googles of this world fear no such repercussions. Indeed, anti-Semitic content has been widely viewed and shared on these major league social media platforms without a single action being taken. Prominent black nationalist and Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan has posted and reposted videos of himself stating, “I’m not an anti-Semite. I’m anti-termite,” receiving thousands of “likes” and retweets, all without restriction. Despite examples such as this, the voices who are celebrating GAB’s imminent demise have not called for Twitter to suffer the same fate.
As the nation’s tech giants gain more concentrated power and the country’s leaders await legislative proposals for regulation that may create a virtual monopoly, it is time to ask ourselves if this is the end of the internet as a stage for free speech.
Yesterday it was Alex Jones, today it is GAB, tomorrow it will be any soul who dares to dream of a world where people can communicate freely, express themselves openly, and live in a society where the legality of your own thoughts are not subject to political diktat or capricious whimsy.