The social media website that was pulled offline following an attack on a Pittsburgh synagogue that killed 11 people returned last week after an Issaquah-based registry provider hosted it, prompting a discussion about free speech in America.
Gab, a social media site popular with the far right — including white supremacists, neo-Nazis and conspiracy theorists like Alex Jones — lost its hosting services from GoDaddy last week. The Tree of Life synagogue suspect Robert Bowers posted, “I can’t sit by an watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics. I’m going in,” on Gab shortly before the shooting. However, Gab quickly returned to service after the registry company Epik agreed to host its domain name. The decision has garnered criticism as well as praise.
Epik is owned by Issaquah local Rob Monster. Monster said he decided to host Gab after talking with its founder Andrew Torba, whom he said had recently purchased Gab’s domain name for hundreds of thousands of dollars.
“It is not an issue I took lightly,” Monster said in an interview with the Issaquah Reporter.
Monster said he would not host content that broke the law, and said he believes Gab’s internal user agreement was sufficient. According to Gab’s community guidelines, illegal pornography, threats and terrorism as defined by the U.S. Department of State are prohibited. However, it did not include clauses found in many other social media providers that also prohibit hate speech.
NPR reported on Nov. 9 that Epik was subpoenaed by the Pennsylvania attorney general’s office, but would not say what it was about.
After Gab returned online last week, several anti-Semitic posts were visible on the front pages of many of the sections. One post said Jewish people should be declared as non-humans, while other posts said Jews controlled world economic systems. These are common talking points for neo-Nazis and white supremacists.
Gab was taken offline after losing its hosting services from GoDaddy in the wake of the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting where the accused shooter posted on Gab that he was “going in” before allegedly murdering 11 people. GoDaddy issued a statement to the Issaquah Reporter.
“GoDaddy does not condone content that advocates expressions of hate, racism, bigotry. We generally do not take action on complaints that would constitute censorship of content and limit the exercise of freedom of speech and expression on the Internet. While we detest the sentiment of such sites, we support a free and open Internet and, similar to the principles of free speech, that sometimes means allowing such tasteless, ignorant content,” the statement said.
However, the GoDaddy statement went on to say that it had noted several instances of content on Gab that had crossed the line and encouraged and promoted violence, and therefore violated their terms of service.
Many European nations, unlike the U.S., have laws against hate speech. European laws are designed to suppress violence, hate crimes and racism, and many laws stem from Europe’s experiences in World War II when Nazis seized power and invaded much of the continent. While there are no similar laws in the U.S., private media and communication companies in recent years have begun de-platforming white supremacist and right-wing extremist profiles and websites. Several Proud Boys (a far-right men’s political group) accounts on Twitter and Facebook were purged recently, and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones was banned from these sites as well. Jones has since found a haven on Gab.
Monster said he does not support the hate speech on Gab, but said he believes regulating speech is dangerous. Monster said he did not have any “red lines” that if crossed by Gab users — as long as the speech is legal — would lead him to pull his hosting service.
“It’s messy at times, but the alternative is not good,” Monster said.
This version of this story first appeared in the Issaquah Reporter.