Big Technology

‘Free Speech’ Platforms Are Emerging as Facebook and Twitter Suspend Trump

What happens when those spurned by Facebook and Twitter migrate elsewhere?

Alex Kantrowitz
OneZero
Published in
4 min readJan 7, 2021

--

Photo: SOPA Images/Getty Images

Four years ago, startup founder Andrew Torba emailed me about a social network he was building, one that offered users near-absolute free speech. A pro-Trump conservative, Torba saw an opening for his venture after Twitter started removing people for harassment. Wary of moderation, he created an alternative.

“What makes the entirely left-leaning Big Social monopoly qualified to tell us what is ‘news’ and what is ‘trending’ and to define what ‘harassment’ means?” he told me. “It didn’t feel right to me, and I wanted to change it.”

Torba’s network, Gab, debuted a few months ahead of Trump’s 2016 election. Soon after, it grew into an established hangout for right-wing types online. Gab, by its nature, attracted some people with views too extreme for mainstream networks. Before killing 11 people at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh in 2018, Robert Bowers, the shooter, posted about it on Gab. The incident inspired little change.

Aside from reminders that people like Bowers were using Gab, the service was easy — though unwise — to ignore. It wasn’t the main show, Trump preferred Twitter and Facebook, and much of the political fringe in the U.S. still used mainstream social networks. So Gab, and other alternative networks like TheDonald (a banned Reddit community) and Parler (another “free speech” social network), received little mainstream attention. But they and their consequences continued to grow.

As Facebook and Twitter took stronger action against the radical elements on their services — including shutting down QAnon and Stop the Steal groups — the movements, in part, migrated to Gab and its counterparts. In an echo chamber, these networks’ users entered self-reinforcing feedback loops, creating their own realities.

When thousands of rioters stormed the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, it was hardly surprising to see these alternative networks named prominently in stories tracing the events’ origins. Calls to “storm the capitol” recently appeared on TheDonald, according to BuzzFeed News. Thousands of…

--

--

Alex Kantrowitz
OneZero

Veteran journalist covering Big Tech and society. Subscribe to my newsletter here: https://bigtechnology.substack.com.