Just hours after Robert Bowers, 46, opened fire on synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, killing 11 worshippers, the excommunication of Gab social media platform, which Bowers used to post his anti-Semitic rants, began in earnest.
As is widely known by now, Gab, the ad-free social media service that was/is devoted to “preserving individual liberty, the freedom of speech, and the free flow of information on the internet” – the exact things, incidentally, that the invisible comptrollers of the Internet fear the most – is facing an Internet sanctions regime when it became know that Bowers had posted an anti-Semitic rant over their platform.
Gab suffered coordinated sanctions by PayPal, the online payment service, and Joyent, the cloud computing server, two IT powerhouses that refused to continue business relations with the social media platform, even though Gab continues to cooperate with the authorities in the case. Later, Stripe, Godaddy and Medium also joined the boycotters.
Attacking a social media platform for the content that one of its users posted is almost the same as attacking the Ford Motor Company because one of its customers drove their Mustang around town with hateful messages smeared on the window. Gab, just like Twitter, Facebook and all the others, is simply a vehicle for disseminating messages; and, try as they might, they will not always be able to control what their millions of users will write on that vehicle at any given moment. Moreover, such an unpredictable scenario, where a maniac suddenly throws up a social media post just minutes before committing a horrific crime could have happened to any company.
Gab did not create Robert Bowers any more than Facebook, Twitter or Donald Trump did. And as the above post shows, hateful messages left on Gab were not significantly more numerous than that of Twitter, its powerful competitor who would love nothing more than to see its market challenger fall to a million arrows of public acrimony. Yet, it’s only due to sheer luck that Facebook and Twitter, judging by the unfathomable amount of hate speech that regularly features on their platforms, have not suffered the same sort of bad luck as Gab.
To prove the point, let’s play a game in the spirit of a Sarah Jeong ‘joke’. Let’s take one of her past white people Twitter comments and replace the term ‘white people’ or ‘white male’ with another racial identity, like Asian, Black or Russian. Does such a switcheroo reduce you to side-splitting laughter? Probably not. In fact, the ‘jokes’ are downright hateful. Who’s to say they could not have instigated violence against some white people?
Nevertheless, the New York Times, which hired Jeong, 30, as its lead technology writer despite a clear aversion to white people, offered up an apologetic rationale for her past flight from fancy by essentially blaming the very people she hurled vicious insults against: “Her journalism and the fact that she is a young Asian woman have made her a subject of frequent online harassment. For a period of time she responded to that harassment by imitating the rhetoric of her harassers. She sees now that this approach only served to feed the vitriol that we too often see on social media.”
Today, Jeong still has her job, as well as an active Twitter account. There seems to be some sort of trend occurring here, and I am certainly not the first to notice it. We can all agree that hate exists on the internet and it can land on any social media platform at any time. Some of the platforms, however, are 'more equal' than the others and will not suffer industry-wide sanctions, and possible total excommunication, in the event some tragedy follows in the wake of a racist remark by one of their millions of users.
So here is where many individuals find themselves with relation to the IT giants: As more and more creators migrate for various reasons to alternative social media sites, like Gab, where there are no more racists, neo-Nazis or white supremacists than on the other more popular platforms, responsible users who do not subscribe to hate speech are at risk of losing their freedom of speech platform every time an act of violence occurs.
It needs to be remembered that every social media site has the ability to thwart an act of violence if they can recognize the would-be perpetrators in time. Gab did not create Robert Bowers, and his sick ideas would have fermented with or without the ‘enabling’ powers of Gab (whatever that means), or Facebook, or Twitter, or even the Internet. To think that by terminating alternative social media will suddenly remove hate speech or hate thought is a fool’s errand; better to get these services to work together with law enforcement to recognize and prevent acts of violence before they happen.
Here is a short list of the acts of violence that have been aimed at Trump supporters over the last several years, a nice place to start. In total, 613 known events.
The carving up of America between two radically diverse political camps, with Liberals aggressively cordoning off university campuses, classrooms and even restaurants from Conservatives, lacks just one separate room in this rubber-padded insane asylum. And that is a separate internet space, or matrix if you will, where law-abiding internet companies are not lumped into the same loony bin as some of the deranged customers who happen to use their services.
An entirely separate internet architecture needs to be created – pay services, hosting platforms, social media services – that are not bounds by the whims of the ‘free market,’ which as we have learned is not so free after all. In fact, it’s absolutely tyrannical. At the same time, IT companies – made up of men and women who subscribe to their own favorite ideologies, which more often than not are Liberal oriented – are no less susceptible to pursuing political agendas than the government, and to believe for a second they will not take advantage of a tragedy to oust a bothersome competitor from the marketplace would be shortsighted and plain stupid.
Since the internet is currently comprised of two separate and distinct people, from two separate universes, time to act like China and construct an entirely separate internet architecture. Personally, I see no other alternatives.