December 19, 2016 Inside the hate-filled echo chamber of racism and conspiracy theories "The strange world of Gab, America�s new social network of choice for the disaffected."

In the wake of Donald Trump�s presidential victory, it was said that Twitter had helped swing the election for the property developer, reality TV star and insatiable tweeter. But some of his more high-profile supporters on the so-called �alt-right� who have had their Twitter accounts suspended are abandoning the platform in favour of a new social network called Gab.

The self-styled cult iconoclast Milo Yiannopoulos of Breitbart has apparently joined the likes of Trump attack-dog Ann Coulter and the excitable Alex Jones of Infowars in signing up with Gab. There is even a parody RealPresidentTrump account that for a short while presented itself � all too convincingly � as the real thing.

And recently the white nationalist leader Richard B Spencer went so far as to claim that Twitter had sent �execution squads across the alt-right� to purge users with far-right views. He predicted that Gab would be �the place where we go next�. The brainchild of its 25-year-old Christian conservative founder, Andrew Torba, Gab promises to guarantee free speech, no matter how offensive. It is currently in the early �beta� stage of development and there is an extensive waiting list to join. When I applied, wanting to take a look at the site, I was told there were more than 400,000 applicants in front of me, and was advised that it could take a week before I was allowed on.

Instead I used the login of a colleague in America and spent 48 hours in a strange world of Trump worship, white nationalism, racism, conspiracy theory, gun idolatry and crass humour, all of it delivered with the righteous conviction of total certainty. The effect is a little like viewing the world through a circus mirror while being constantly told that this is what reality looks like The site is divided into 11 sections, including news, politics, technology, sport, art and philosophy, although the distinctions can often look arbitrary because a similar, slightly rabid rhetoric informs many of the postings, regardless of heading. Like a lot of social media it feels a bit empty, reminding you of that old Gertrude Stein quote about her hometown of Oakland: there is no there there.

The way it works is that �Gabbers� can vote a post up or down, so that the most popular posting is at the top of the page. At the top of the politics page when I first checked in was a contribution from a poster named �Lord Humungus�. It featured a photograph of Michelle Obama and another of Melania Trump, along with the observation: �I�m proud to soon have a #FirstLady who�s actually pretty and more human than ape.�

That was the extent of the wisdom that had earned top spot in the politics listing. A little way down, Our Talking Points linked to a YouTube video that claimed that the Sandy Hook school massacre, in which 20 children and six teachers were shot dead, was a hoax with the hashtag Newsisfaked! The belief that the shooting was staged, that the grieving parents are professional actors and that President Obama only pretended to cry while speaking about the tragedy are themes that break out across the site like acne.

Distrust of the mainstream media (MSM) is widespread on Gab, with posters often citing blogs, obscure news sites or Russian media for supporting evidence. The attitude is summed up by an image posted on the site of a tombstone with the engraving �2016 RIP Mainstream Media: lied, cheated and overplayed their hand�.

A notable outcome of the new anti-liberal political order that�s taking shape is that both the far right and far left are inclined to venerate the autocratic figure of Vladimir Putin, and in particular his murderous intervention in Syria Several posters brought admiring attention to an interview with Syria�s president Bashar al-Assad on the Russian-state funded Russia Today, in which Assad claimed President Obama was behind the creation of Islamic State.

Not all Gab posters are paranoid conspiracy theorists, Putin-lovers and gun fanatics. There are some innocuous or mildly sceptical posters, and even one or two Democrats. Moreover, Torba insists that the site is open to everyone of whatever political persuasion. However, it�s clear that the overwhelming tone is of a politics that starts with Trump and moves swiftly and hysterically rightwards from there. And unsurprisingly, that politics is cock-a-hoop triumphalist at the moment. On the night of Trump�s victory, Torba wrote on his own site that �Gab is going to be absolutely massive under president Trump�. If the presidential election is the storm that has transformed the political waterfront, then Gab might be seen as a rock pool containing the incoming new life forms hoping to thrive in the storm�s wake.

Without exception, they look to the orange-faced tax-dodger as a kind of saviour figure. And for a while last week, many believed the great man was among them at Gab. The fake Trump account brought forth some heartfelt expressions of solidarity from those who believed, quite understandably, that the next president of the US had joined a meeting place for the deranged right.

As the contributor �Evil Bucket� touchingly put it: �Mr President I know I am just 1 in the millions of people trying to talk to you � But if I had the chance to say anything to you it would be. Help change the culture from a victim culture to a patriot culture.�

Judging by the sentiments expressed by so many Gabbers, it�s as if all their wishes will be granted the moment that Trump sets foot in the White House. It�s not so much that they see him as a brilliantly effective politician � how could they know, he�s never been a politician before � but rather as a symbol or �god-emperor�, as one poster referred to him, of a new era in which liberalism will be ruthlessly expunged from all corners of society.

A lot of it, in other words, is pure fantasy. After a while of reading post after post that insists Russia was not responsible for the Democratic National Committee hack, that Obama is �evil�, that Muslims are bad, that gun control is pernicious, that �liberalism is a plague� and so on, you gain the impression that this outpouring has little to do with any kind of political vision and much more about a release valve for people who probably don�t get out enough.

Gab is that theoretical oxymoron, a right-wing safe space, a refuge where people who feel alienated by the �liberal consensus� can go and mouth off in the happy knowledge that they won�t be banned.

It�s somewhere that you can feel comfortable making disparaging comments about Mexicans, blacks and Jews � as one poster put it, Gab is the place �you can go Jew-baiting without being shut down! And what is more fun than Jew-baiting!!??�.

And if you are someone who doesn�t thrill to that possibility, there are self-censoring facilities that enable you to block content containing words that might offend you. But that would be like travelling to Niagara Falls and steering clear of the waterfall As long as you don�t incite violence, terrorism, show illegal pornography or disseminate the personal information of private individuals, you can say what you want on Gab. And what people want to say turns out to be remarkably predictable, often turgidly offensive and, after prolonged exposure, exceedingly dull.

However, that�s not necessarily such a bad thing. Twitter and Facebook are commercial enterprises that advertise themselves as neutral places of communication, which inevitably brings complications. Some of the fake news that Facebook promoted during the election is thought to have helped the Trump campaign. And Twitter, which has been used to circulate Holocaust denial and other scandalous nonsense, is slowly coming round to a more interventionist monitoring of content.

But with Gab, everyone knows what they�re getting, and if they don�t, they soon will. Besides which, you have to apply to join, wait for a while, and then receive an invite. You therefore have to make a bit of effort to be offended. Who wants to go out of their way to get annoyed when all you have to do is turn on the news?

Perhaps the key question, though, is this: why settle for a fake presidential account when the real one, just as unbelievable, is still active on Twitter?

Oh man… wow! Lol they’re missing all the fun! Hah, and we’re having it at their expense. I posted in reply to the person who posted the article: I didn’t read all of it yet, the first part is probably true though. We’re probably all a bit disaffected! That’s when questions get asked though. That’s when paradigm shifts happen! Racist? hate-filled? no way!” The thing with Gab, is that it’s a bit like well… a parade that everyone gets to march in. Everyone marches differently, some walk, and some dance, but it’s all part of the fun! Oh and actually, although we’re all marching differently, it seems most of us want the same things. OK OK, so it’s still in beta, and you have to wait a while to do your marching.


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