Social-media site Gab.com, which became an internet outcast after one of its racist users was arrested in the mass shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue, is back online thanks to the help of a Seattle-area web company.
Gab announced its return Sunday afternoon, writing: “Can’t stop us, won’t stop us. Free Speech LIVES!” It praised its new domain registrar, Epik.com, which was founded in 2009 and is based in Sammamish.
Pittsburgh shooting suspect Robert Bowers had spewed anti-Semitic hate on Gab and wrote on the site shortly before the synagogue shooting, which killed 11 people, that he was “going in.” Bowers was one of many far-right extremists who had found a home at Gab. After the shooting, domain platform GoDaddy told Gab to find another provider, saying that GoDaddy had investigated and “discovered numerous instances of content on the site that both promotes and encourages violence against people.”
Gab has said it disavows violence and has worked with law enforcement in the wake of the shooting, but would seek to defend free expression online.
Epik founder and CEO Rob Monster echoed that sentiment in brief interviews with The Seattle Times on Sunday. Monster likened his company to a utility provider and said he supports free speech. He praised the operators of Gab and said he believes they will curate the site appropriately.
“I do believe the guys that are on the site are vigilant,” Monster said. Monster said on Epik’s website that his company was serving as Gab’s domain registrar but not its hosting company. KUOW was the first to report on Gab’s new ties to the Seattle area.
Even before the Pittsburgh shooting, Gab had drawn ire and scrutiny for the types of posts and users on the site. In 2016, Gab founder Andrew Torba said the company was seeing a growing user base as Twitter cracked down on racist and hostile users on its site.
Facing criticism for the hateful content on its site, Gab has highlighted other types of users and posts on the platform. As the site returned Sunday, Torba wrote: “We want to see nothing but positivity, peace, and love. It’s time to show the world that we have the best community on the internet.”
In response to that post, one person with a username that included a racist term for African Americans asked Torba to “name the Jews who are trying to shut us down.” Later in the day, the site’s “popular posts” page featured a racist message about the problems Jews create and the benefits of their “absence.”
Monster said in a later interview that he doesn’t support such hateful posts. He said Sunday night that he’s got a call into the CEO of Gab to better understand the company’s plans for curating content. He declined to discuss whether there would ever be content objectionable enough for his company to cut ties with Gab.
“I’m not going to define the red line,” Monster said.
Gab does have some guidelines for its users, prohibiting threats, terrorism, illegal pornography and the posting of confidential information. The company declined an interview request Sunday night but said in a Twitter post that “any True Threats of violence are unacceptable and not free speech, as has always been our policy. No one disagrees on that.”
Monster speculated that some of the “garbage” on Gab may be from people trying to embarrass the company. In describing the need for registrars to focus on performing basic registration tasks, he cited an editorial in the Washington Post – which he described as a “liberal rag” – that discussed the challenges of internet governance.
Founded in 2009, Epik has touted itself as “the leading provider of full-service and all-inclusive registrar and hosting services.” At the end of 2016, the company said it had grown revenues by 80 percent in 2015, with continued rapid growth in 2016. It was also exploring international expansion.
Monster declined to say whether he’s seen any movement of customers either toward or away from his platform since Gab announced that Epik would provide support. Monster said his decision to support Gab “wasn’t motivated by financial incentives.”
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