Over the last few years Twitter has done a lot to curb the abuse and trolling that have come to be a large part of the noise on it. While the politically correct brigade has cheered on every such move, the curbing of free speech has upset many others. Now, a free speech alternative is here and its gunning for Twitter. Not surprisingly, the first to be attracted are US conservatives.
Launched in August, Gab.ai is still in its beta phase with a pretty long list of people waiting to get in. With near-total freedom of speech, this platform is attracting users by the thousands. As of 16 November, when this reporter tried to sign up, he was #127177 on the waiting list. 25-year-old Andrew Torba, a Silicon Valley-based Trump supporter, founded the social network as an alternative to Facebook and Twitter. Gab's hashtag is #SpeakFreely.
"At Gab, we believe that free speech and free thought are under attack. Political correctness has risen up at the expense of freedom of speech and has become a cancer on discourse and culture. We think that people shouldn't treat unpleasant, counter-cultural, or conflicting ideas, words, or behaviors as full-scale criminal offenses," Torba writes in a Medium post.
Gab promises to do away with all of that from the get go. It's a simple website where people can follow others and follows the Reddit model of upvoting and downvoting posts they see on their timeline. There is a tab called 'popular' where the most upvoted posts get featured.
Gab is an upcoming alternative just like Ello was back in 2014. Ello was invite-only but, after a few weeks, it fell flat. Something that Gab is hoping to not repeat. Torba quit his job as the CEO of ad-tech company Automate Ads to take Gab into the big leagues. Only time will tell if that happens.
Sense over censorship
What gives Gab the edge is that it is devoid of censorhsip. Well, except for threats of violence, illegal pornography and releasing personal information without the subject's consent. Gab's solution is self policing. "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? It didn't feel right to me, and I wanted to change it, and give people something that would be fair and just," Torba told BuzzFeed News.
Users can mute others, filter posts based on words that have been flagged and view content only from verified users, if they chose to. Gab will not be stepping in to censor anything and the website's homepage carries this quote from Salman Rushdie -- "What is freedom of expression? Without the freedom to offend, it ceases to exist".
One thing that Torba has been constantly harping on is that Gab is not "an alt-right Twitter replacement" (alt-right is practically a synonym for white supremacists) and he doesn't want it to be a one-sided punching bag. In the future, Torba plans to add features where users can make money off their content. Sort of like tipping.
An open source ranking algorithm
Here's another way in which Gab is going beyond it's big-time competition. "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," writes William Hicks on Heatstreet.
Once upon a time, Twitter's ambition was for free speech and we all know what happened to that. If say, Gab catches on like Twitter and becomes worth billions, will we be seeing the latter go the way of the former?
Gab may be just like an ordinary back-in-the-day Yahoo chatroom but Torba is hoping it stands out in the crowded social media market. For now, he has another problem -- Trump being the president-elect. On Friday, three days after the US elections, Torba was kicked out of Y Combinator, the influential Silicon Valley startup accelerator. This was because he violated their 'harassment' policy. As BuzzFeed reports, "Torba, a fervent Trump supporter, called members of the Y Combinator community "cucks" and told them to "f*ck off" earlier that day in a heated Facebook discussion about racism after the election".
Before being booted out, Torba had a bit of a moment on the Facebook thread:
"All of you: f*ck off. Take your morally superior, elitist, virtue signaling bullshit and shove it.
I call it like I see it, and I helped meme a President into office, cucks".
Let's just see how that affects his social network. Will it fizzle out like Ello or being the third big social network behind Facebook and Twitter? Torba's hoping it will be the latter.