Google blocks social-media app Gab from Play Store, citing hate speech
Prepared by Rose Dallimore ’22
First posted September 9, 2019 3:25am EDT
Last updated September 23, 2019 2:01pm EDT
All Associated Themes:
- Hate Speech
- Legal Action
- Social Media
- Violence / Threats
In August 2017, Google banned Gab, an alternative platform to Twitter, from the Google Play Store for violating the tech giant’s ban on hate speech. Nonetheless, Gab remained accessible by joining other, decentralized social media networks. On July 12, 2019, Google instructed Gab to delete all “objectionable user generated content” or else it would be permanently removed from the Google Play Store.
Andrew Torba founded Gab in 2016 as a reaction to the censorship of largely right-wing content on popular social media platforms, according to Vox. An avowed Donald Trump supporter and former startup professional, Torba intended the platform to serve as a “‘free speech’ alternative to Twitter,” Vox reports. Apple first blocked Gab from its app store in December 2016 for allowing its users to post pornographic content. The service received even more scrutiny in 2018, after it was discovered that the perpetrator of a mass shooting in a Pittsburgh synagogue had been an active Gab user.
In an email sent to Ars Technica, a technology-focused news website, Google expounded on its decision to ban Gab, whose Android app it had originally approved. “In order to be on the Play Store, social networking apps need to demonstrate a sufficient level of moderation, including for content that encourages violence and advocates hate against groups of people,” the email reads.
Gab responded with a lawsuit filed on Sept. 14, 2017, in which it argued that Google, in a move to stymie a “competitor,” was denying the platform access to an “essential facility or resource,” The Washington Post reports.
“Google is the biggest threat to the free flow of information,” Torba said in a statement. “Gab started to fight against the big tech companies in the marketplace, and their monopolistic conduct has forced us to bring the fight to the courtroom.”
Gab dropped its lawsuit on Oct. 22, 2017. It explained its reasoning in a Medium post that has since been taken down. According to techdirt.com, part of it read: “In light of antitrust attorney Joseph Simons being nominated to lead the FTC, Gab has decided to withdraw our antitrust case against Google. … We were encouraged to resubmit our app before the Android store, as opposed to going forth with continued expensive litigation, which would have cost the company a great fortune in both time and resources. Google has instead offered Gab an opportunity to resubmit our application for an appeal to be reviewed for placement on their Google Play Store, which we are in the process of doing as we speak.”
With its emphasis on Free Speech, Gab’s content rules are more permissive than other social media sites. Only threats of terror, direct threats of violence, pornography — and especially child pornography — and doxxing are banned from Gab, according to Vox. As a result, Gab has become a haven, of sorts, for hate speech and conspiracy theories. Its users typically come there after having already been banned from other social media networks.
While Torba says he welcomes “any centrists, progressives, libertarians, or apolitical people interested in trying something new,” a 2018 study of two million Gab posts from August 2016 to January 2018 found that the platform appeals primarily to right-leaning Americans who happen to support Trump, and that “Gab resides on the border of mainstream social networks like Twitter and fringe Web communities like 4chan’s Politically Incorrect (/pol/) board.”
Gab fires back at Twitter, keeps online platforms open
On July 4, 2019, Gab completed its migration to Mastodon, an open-source software platform where interest-based communities can set up their own social media websites, according to The Verge. It announced its decision to “fork” the platform in a May 16, 2019, tweet that has since been deleted. It read, “Would be a real shame if someone forked @MastodonProject, ported over all Gab data, and instantly got Gab into both App Stores + made an open source free speech federation.”
“Because Gab shifted its platform to a decentralized and open-source architecture, it can be accessed by other apps still available on both Android and Apple smartphones, some with nearly identical code to the blacklisted Gab app,” Breitbart reports.
In other words, the new version is meant to bypass restrictions and allow the social network into mobile app stores, including those operated by Apple and Google, from which it had been repeatedly rejected in the past, as reclaimthenet.org writes.
On July 12, 2019, Google told Gab it would have seven days to remove all “objectionable user generated content.” Some observers saw this as an impossible task, given the decentralized nature of the platform.
But, on July 20, the Gab team tweeted out how to access the platform through different channels, and even taunted Google with a tweet that read, “Google’s playing checkers. We already won the chess match,” according to Breitbart. The tweet has since been deleted.