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After Synagogue Attack, Web-Hosting Sites Suspend Gab


Now we have more about a social media site where the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting suspect reportedly posted anti-Semitic attacks. Before walking into the Tree of Life synagogue with four weapons, Robert Bowers apparently got fired up with words. He reportedly used Gab, which calls itself an alternative to Twitter and is popular among the far right. Here's NPR's Jasmine Garsd.

JASMINE GARSD, BYLINE: Gab is a site that proudly promotes free speech. It boasts that it lets anyone say anything. But it's been controversial. Critics have called it a home for anti-Semites and white nationalists. Robert Bowers was a user. Before allegedly going on a killing spree, he posted about the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, a group that supports refugees. He said the group, quote, "likes to bring invaders that kill our people. I can't sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics - I'm going in." Andrew Torba is the CEO of Gab. In an interview with NPR, he defended the platform.

ANDREW TORBA: I don't know. Do you see a direct threat in there? 'Cause I don't. What would you expect us to do with posts like that? You want us to just censor anybody that says the phrase I'm going in? Is that what you're proposing here?

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Well, I think that...

TORBA: 'Cause I think that's absurd. And here's the thing. The answer to bad speech or hate speech - however you want to define that - is more speech, and it always will be.

GARSD: When does online free speech become a threat? This isn't the first time the issue has come up in social media. Just last week, it came to light that the man accused of sending explosive devices to prominent Democrats in the media had a history of threatening tweets. Torba says Gab follows strict rules, including no threats. He says he created Gab because he saw no room for conservative points of view on social media. Take Twitter.

TORBA: Where there are thousands upon thousands of people calling for someone to kill Donald Trump, saying they're going to kill Donald Trump, expressing hate towards white people, towards Christians, towards minorities who may now support Donald Trump. They allow hate to be spewed at certain groups and certain people.

GARSD: So where is the line between free speech and inciting violence?

KELLY MCBRIDE: I think the line is where free speech becomes a threat.

GARSD: Kelly McBride is a senior vice president at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies. She says Torba is prioritizing free speech above all other constitutional values.

MCBRIDE: And that is not necessarily what our constitutional framers intended, right? They didn't want the government curbing free speech.

GARSD: Nor did they want citizens to be irresponsible with their speech, she says. Last year, Google banned Gab's app. Apple rejected it. And Microsoft terminated its agreement with it last month. Just in the last 24 hours, at least two web-hosting platforms have suspended Gab. CEO Andrew Torba is not backing down.

TORBA: We're not going anywhere.

GARSD: Torba says Gab condemns the shooting. But he thinks it's now being targeted unfairly. Over the weekend, the social media site was filled with anger, some of it directed at the Jewish community. Jasmine Garsd, NPR News, New York.


INSKEEP: So that was over the weekend. And then last night, Gab released a statement saying it would be inaccessible for a period as it transitions to a new hosting provider.

(SOUNDBITE OF AK AND SUBLAB'S "TRANQUIL") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jasmine Garsd is an Argentine-American journalist living in New York. She is currently NPR's Criminal Justice correspondent and the host of The Last Cup. She started her career as the co-host of Alt.Latino, an NPR show about Latin music. Throughout her reporting career she's focused extensively on women's issues and immigrant communities in America. She's currently writing a book of stories about women she's met throughout her travels.