The biggest modern social networking platforms are rife with censorship, opacity and inscrutable rules governing harassment. Many conservatives feel unfairly targeted and believe their viewpoints are being suppressed.
Enter Gab.ai, a new social networking platform that hopes to be the answer to these pressing issues.
A beta version of the site, which is a lot like Twitter with hints of Reddit, was created in a remarkably short three weeks and has let in a few hundred users for testing. While the site currently only contains basic features, its founder holds lofty goals for the platform. As it stands, the site allows you to write 300-character “tweets,” but also upvote and downvote them like on Reddit.
Gab CEO Andrew Torba, a 25-year-old entrepreneur based in Silicon Valley, was troubled by what he saw as rampant social media censorship. Not only direct censorship of users like Twitter’s banning of conservative provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos but more subtle corporate censorship like Facebook suppressing conservative news in their trending section and Twitter seemingly tampering with trending hashtags.
“Gab is a people-first social network,” he said. “We want to empower the user to generate revenue from their content and not just abuse them for their data.”
Torba was a silent Trump supporter living in liberal California, but decided to “come out” after personally witnessing the violence at Trump’s San Jose rally. He said it’s important for him to be upfront about his political affiliations, but does not want the site to become a one-sided echo chamber.
“It is not an alt-right Twitter replacement,” he said. “Anyone is welcome. This is all about stopping the censorship going on right under our noses.”
Unlike Twitter’s Trust and Safety Council, Gab has an actual plan to protect free speech and curb harassment. The rules protecting free speech are pretty clear. Obviously illegal activity like posting child porn and making death or terrorist threats are not okay, and could get a user banned. Other than that, users are free to speak their minds.
As far as harassment goes, Gab operates under a “self censorship” model. Users will be given the tools to filter out words and topics they don’t want to see on their feeds and remove unwanted followers. The upvote/downvote system also allows the community to weigh in on abusive content.
“Beyond that it should really be about free speech.”
Torba also plans to add functions that will allow users to make money off their content. It would be a tipping system similar to Twitch or “gilding” on Reddit, with Gab taking a small cut.
In order to curb internal censorship of trending topics, Gab would make any type of ranking system it used open source. This would allow third-party developers to not only vet the code for objectivity but improve upon it.
Gab aims to be a refreshing alternative to censorious social media platforms with hidden political biases and arbitrary suspensions. But if Gab blows up and becomes worth billions, could it, too, go the way of Twitter, which also had noble ambitions towards free speech?
“I think that Silicon Valley has bent the knee to venture capital,” Torba said. “While capital is important, businesses should not lose their values in the process. As long as I’m here, we won’t lose sight of that.”