Is the Alternative?

When Parler was bounced off Amazon Web Services back in January, it seemed like a good idea to migrate to Gab, since they control their own server network. As YouTube continued its relentless suppression of counter-narratives, Gab TV was one of many good alternatives. And as the war on counter narratives extended to financial services, Gab again beckoned, with a plan to open their own bank.

How’s all that working out?

Independent banking, perhaps Gab’s most ambitious aspiration, still has Torba playing defense. Just last week another bank canceled its relationship with Gab. In a report published by The National File, Torba said “I predict that soon we [Gab] will see the same level of financial persecution used against churches who refuse to go woke and continue to preach God’s Word. Christians and conservatives need to wake up to what is happening in this country. We’re moving beyond simply getting banned from Facebook and Twitter and onto something much worse: they want us banned from the entire financial system.”

Despite setbacks on the financial front, which could eventually prove fatal, if you believe free speech should be free in America, then Gab, and its founder, Andrew Torba, still deserve a lot of credit. Gab TV is up and running, and the original is a throwback to the wild free-for-all that Twitter and Facebook once were. But scale is the challenge, and Gab, for all its integrity, does not reach a lot of people.

Scale is relative, of course. And it isn’t easy to get user figures for Gab. Their global Alexa ranking is 2,208. That’s impressive, but Twitter’s Alexa ranking is 38. To achieve the scale of their monopolistic rival, they have literally a world of ground to make up. According to Omnicore, Twitter is used by 21 percent of U.S. adults, with over 200 million worldwide users. According to The Intercept, as of March 2021, Gab had 4 million users.

Gab TV is off to a good start, but have a look at their view counts. Scroll down to videos posted 24 hours ago and find the one with the most views: Gab TV’s most popular July 12 video, based on counts one day later, has the edifying title “SICK! School Hires Gay Rainbow Dildo Butt Monkey to Teach Small Children How to Stick Stuff Up Your Butt.” Yes, perhaps we need to know what some on the extreme Left is trying to teach our kids, but at 643 views, not too many people got the message.

Gab, just like Parler, Odysee, BitChute, Rumble, and dozens of other alternative platforms, faces an almost impossible challenge. They are competing with three monopolies: Twitter for short form text, Facebook for long form text, and YouTube for videos. Those three companies own their respective markets. Their competitors, and there are many, are competing for the remaining ten percent slice, if that.

As Robert Mariani, writing for The American Conservative, put it back in January, “You Can’t ‘Just Build Your Own Twitter.’ To build an alternate social media website with a dissenting moderation policy, you must first invent the universe. Good luck.”

Another big problem for the alternative platforms, beyond the challenge of inventing a parallel universe, is the stars and constellations they will attract. We value fringe content, all of those odd stars, because if you navigate through them, you will find valuable information. But you have to explore a lot of idiocy as well. The mainstream platforms, for all their sinister manipulation of the narrative, have a huge advantage. Pretty much every nonpolitical attraction, from how to string a guitar to how to repair a washing machine, climb Mount Shasta, or find every old friend you ever knew, is right there. With that critical mass, they’re never going to lose most people.

The monopolies know this. That’s why fighting to make them respect free speech is just as important as supporting the alternative platforms.

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Gab Owns Their Servers. Banking Next?

If you read the nearly 10,000 word entry for Gab on Wikipedia, you might come away convinced it is a haven for right wing hatred. Abundant examples are cited. Founder Andre Torba claims Gab exists to counter, as he puts it, “the entirely left-leaning Big Social monopoly.”

It would be foolish to suggest that right wing hate doesn’t exist, or that right wing haters aren’t active on Gab. But a coordinated campaign to silence Gab, to eliminate it as a viable platform, creates a cure that is worse than the disease.

In late 2020 another alternative platform, Parler, was denied hosting services by Amazon at the same time as Apple and Google removed Parler from their app store. After a few months, Parler limped back to life, but it may never be the same.

The difference between Gab and Parler are two-fold. Both of them – just as has happened with Facebook and Twitter – have had users who posted material that went beyond hate, which is protected speech, to calls for violence, which is not. But Gab’s continuity as a platform for alternative voices has given it credibility with right wing users. In turn, this is because Gab has developed their own internally owned server infrastructure that has expanded apace with the growth of their user base, which happened slower and over a longer period of time than Parler.

Now Gab is under attack by banks, which should come as no surprise. The financial sector, under enormous coordinated pressure from leftist pressure groups, has been cutting off services to individual users – Andy Ngo, Laura Loomer, RedPill78, and Lana Lokteff are just a few examples of content creators who have been banned by payment processors. In Lokteff’s case, she has been put on the MATCH list, blacklisting her from using any financial services.

In response to being denied services by four banks in four weeks, Gab’s CEO Andrew Torba has stated his intention to buy and operate his own bank. Gab has shown extraordinary resourcefulness in keeping its technology infrastructure independent. It will be interesting to see if they can do the same with their financial infrastructure.

As platforms grow, it becomes almost impossible to control what people post. Facebook, with billions of users, lets speech that crosses the line – not just hateful, but inciting violence – at a far greater absolute quantity than Gab. But Facebook, with its almost limitless resources, can maintain massive censorship operations using teams of monitors and programmers. You have that ability when you’re a monopoly, raking in more cash than you can spend. Even if Gab were not outspoken in defense of free speech, they are at an inherent disadvantage.

Meanwhile, Big Tech bias makes platforms like Gab necessary. Consider how NPR distorts the purpose of Gab. They write: “Founded in 2016 as an almost anti-Twitter, the platform embraces far-right and other extremist provocateurs, like Milo Yiannopoulos…”

Stop right there.

Milo Yiannopoulos? If you want to propagandize unfairly against Gab, mention the posts made on Gab by the Tree of Life Synagogue shooter, and ignore the fact that violent psychos slip through the cracks at a far greater volume on the big platforms.

Using Milo Yiannopoulos as an example of why Gab is problematic is a joke. Yiannopoulos has never called for violence. He’s never done anything more than offer takedowns – often grotesquely offensive but usually hilarious – of progressive pieties. The fact that Yiannopoulos has been driven off the mainstream platforms and has found a home on Gab is precisely the reason why Gab, and multiplying sites just like Gab, must continue to exist.

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