A gift for Gab? Google kicks social networking app for hate speech

A year ago, accusations of Facebook burying conservative news resulted in the company firing its human editors, which led to fake news filling the platform’s news bar. The echoes from this moment in history are still being felt. In the immediate aftermath of the scandal, an alternative social network called Gab opened up, promising to provide a platform for free speech. Today, the same app has been banned from Google Play for violating the company’s policy on hate speech.

A gift for Gab? Google kicks social networking app for hate speech

Gab’s mission statement contains the words “all are welcome,” but if you open a social network in response to perceived censorship on one side of the political spectrum, you’ll almost certainly end up with a membership that’s heavily biased in the opposite direction. And that’s very much been the case with Gab, which has proved a honeypot to those banned from Twitter for myriad offences, and been described as a “hate-filled echo chamber of racism and conspiracy theories”.

Why has the ban only just happened, when the app has had a dubious reputation for some time? Well, with the current political climate, Gab has been getting a bit of extra attention. The firing of Google’s James Damore for speaking out against the company’s equality policies and the tech community’s near-universal condemnation of the far right rally in Charlottesville has created an environment where Gab is picking up donations left, right and centre from those that, in the company’s own words, “share in the common ideals of Western values, individual liberty, and the free exchange of ideas”. This week, it passed the million-dollar crowdfunding mark.

Gab’s response was triumphant:

But that glee may be short-lived. In the fallout from Charlottesville, the now-homeless neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer announced it would be making Gab its temporary home. That seems to be the final straw for Google, which banned the app from the Google Play store citing a violation of its hate-speech policy.

This led to a long and rambling video response from Gab founder Andrew Torba who promised that “we’re coming for your market share, and we’re going to win”.

Earlier in the video, Torba mentions an email leaked allegedly from Apple’s Phil Schiller saying the app wouldn’t be allowed because it “is designed to promote racism”. “My question is why is Twitter on the App Store?” asks Torba. “Why is Facebook on the App Store? These apps are designed to allow two or more human beings to communicate with one another. And somewhere along the line, with two billion people posting billions of posts, I’m sure there is some form of racism in there.”

You can split hairs about the difference between an app whose popularity has skyrocketed in the wake of far-right rallies and a social network that hosts nearly a third of the world’s population, but he has a point here. We know that Twitter is really poor at dealing with hate speech. We know that Facebook advised its moderators not to touch Holocaust-denial content unless there was a specific risk of the company being banned in the country. An app can’t be held responsible for all the content it hosts – and if Google really wants to insist that it does, then it might not want to look too closely at YouTube.

For Gab, it doesn’t matter too much on Android. You can sideload any APK file, meaning that users will be able to carry on chatting away on the platform – all this will have done is provide evidence that their views are being silenced by a sinister cabal of tech companies, something the app’s users already believe. You can sort of see what Google is trying to achieve, but in the short run at least, its only real achievement is giving the paranoid reason to believe their paranoia was well placed. Gab’s echo chamber is about to get much more echoey.

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