Since Twitter and Facebook finally decided to start enforcing their terms of service and removed tens of thousands of violent and deranged Q-posters, there’s been a steady drumbeat from conservative accounts complaining about this heinous assault on their clout. Some, who are not quite odious enough to be banned, but are bad enough that they noticed many of their followers were, have opted to flounce out.
Enter Gab. Started up a few years ago when social media companies inched toward moderating their content and kicked off some transparently bad faith trolls, triggering a similar round of faux outrage from the hatemongers who lost followers or accounts, Gab has predictably become the heir apparent to these forsaken (would-be) free speech martyrs.
At the moment, it seems like it might just take off. Tony Heller, who complained about being censored by “the Nazis at Twitter” way back in 2015, is still flirting with leaving the site, and has been complaining about how Twitter “is a criminal operation” that has “stolen” thousands of his followers and about how much more engagement he gets at Gab.
So we went to take a look, and reader, it’s as bad as you think, and a lot weirder. For example, one of Heller’s popular posts on Friday has over 8,000 likes, 1,000 comments and nearly 2,000 reposts after 14 hours. It is a graph of average gas prices in the US from late October until now, showing a rise and accompanied by text that, together, implies that Joe Biden’s positions on fracking and pipelines increased gas prices before he was sworn in.
A selection from some of the first of those thousand comments in reply include steady streams of spam, thinly veiled anti-Semitism about “Globalists in Foreign Countries”, thinly veiled suggestions of further insurrection and that “a lot of states can agree to secede in unison” to avoid complying with Biden’s Executive Orders, dumb photoshops, and of course, very un-ironic, hard-r use of the n-word. (To be fair, in response, people criticized that user. Not for using racist hate speech, but because doing so makes the rest of them look bad.)
Real lovely community. One person did point out that the larger context of the snippet of graph Tony showed makes it clear that gas prices are simply recovering after they fell because of the pandemic. No one replied.
Then we went to check out the climate skeptic group on Gab. It’s more or less the same as any other stream of climate denial content, from “wow it’s cold somewhere” posts to the classic “global greening” denial line, the same ol’ boomer memes, and of course, anime conspiracy theorists whose “about” section reads “Hardcore conservative environmentalist, cute anime girls enthusiast.” The account is a mix of reposted climate denial, election denial, George Soros anti-semitism, Polish politics, Q+pizzagate, and other conspiracy content, who is also apparently “writing a dissertation about climate change” and posted to “humbly ask for content to mock scientific consensus.” Of the five replies, all were from the same user, and three were pointing them to the Co2Science home page with various degrees of success in making the hyperlink work.
So it’s not exactly a gathering of top minds on Gab.
And on the bigger issue of climate deniers defecting from mainstream social media to alternatives like Gab, we’re not particularly worried. Because while some will definitely jump ship, the professionals need access to the mainstream to do their job.
The same applies to the de-platforming discussion writ large. Bad-faith actors are often happy to retreat to an echo-chamber where they can cause plenty of trouble with their fellow anime conspiracy theorists. But those who are bad professionally, who distort the discourse and deny reality to delay policies unwelcomed by their financial backers, need the access to the mainstream that the Big Social Media offers in order to do their job influencing the wider world.
With no real constituency or grassroots support to effect political change in the real world, online clout is their only ticket to tricking the media and politicians into thinking they’re relevant. That’s why there’s always so much spam in the comments, and so many bots in their follows- they need those artificial, terms-of-service-violating tricks to inflate their influence.
Which is exactly why they should be stripped of it.
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