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This post is about a particular social media platform and a terrible oversight on my part. I signed up for Gab at least two years ago as I tried to find social media platforms that respected free speech rights and on which I could promote my blog. I haven’t paid for a subscription to “GabPro”, but I’m embarrassed to have completely missed some of the stink emanating from within the platform until recently. It’s not as if it hadn’t been reported, but somehow, I was oblivious.

I knew pretty quickly that Gab was an odd fit for me because so many posters there are on the very religious right. That’s fine, as I’m a strong believer in religious liberty and free speech. My views sometimes conflict with the religious right, but we’re in alignment on some key issues.

I never really scrolled Gab for more than a few moments at any time, having maintained my account there primarily for cross-posting my blog. I joined a particular Gab “fan” group of a band I love, and I have an old friend who happens to be on Gab. I also joined the “Libertarians of Gab” group. Occasionally, something raised my antennae right at the top of my feed, prompting me to look more closely, but I knew this much: like many other social media platforms, Gab is a meme-fest with lots of repetition, so I seldom wasted time scrolling there.

A year or so ago, a Jewish acquaintance on Gab mentioned a few antisemitic posts he’d seen there, but he’s a staunch free-speech advocate and had other reasons to stick with it. At the time, I might have begun to notice a few posters on Gab who were clearly anti-Zionist, but there’s a real distinction between anti-Zionism and antisemitism. Antisemites are bound to be anti-Zionist; the reverse doesn’t always follow. But again, I hadn’t yet found any real fault with Gab itself at that time.

(Note: I’m not hyphenating “antisemitism”, nor am I capitalizing “semitism”, because there is no such thing as a “semite” or “semitism”. The word was concocted by political factions in 19th century Germany in an attempt to “other” German Jews as “Orientals”.)

Over the next several months, however, at the top of my feed, I began to see a few antisemitic posts. Sometimes these amounted to silly assertions, such as the Rothschild family’s supposed world domination, a claim that would be harmless enough if not for indignation that the Rothschilds happen to be Jewish. A few posts were much worse. My knee-jerk reaction to offensive content is to block the poster, as I did a few times.

More recently, in the wake of Kanye West’s crazy tweets about Jews, I was a recipient of a group email from Andrew Torba, the founder and CEO of Gab. Torba, as it happens, is a self-styled “Christian Nationalist”. His email essentially portrayed West as a messenger from God. Here are some excerpts:

God is using Ye, formerly known as Kanye West, for a big purpose…. He talks about the need for our leaders to uphold Christian values, not Zionist ones. Ye is using the influence and talents that God has given him to speak the Truth and glorify Jesus Christ.

It’s interesting that Torba referred to “Zionist” values. Though he is almost certainly anti-Zionist, that’s not really what he meant here. This bit of nut-jobbery, as I learned, had been preceded by many other wild statements from Torba over the years. For instance, over a year ago he tweeted the following and then disabled his Twitter account, a stunt he’s repeated several times:

We’re building a parallel Christian society because we are fed up and done with the Judeo-Bolshevik one.”

The author at the link above, who reviewed some of Torba’s antics, noted that Judeo-Bolshevism was a term thrown around by the Nazis in the 1930s. But even putting that aside, Torba has an unfortunate tendency to paint with an extremely broad brush in promoting his very own brand of identity politics. That point is established clearly in this “Open Letter” to Torba from a “Hebraic-oriented evangelical Christian attorney”. If anything, the letter is far too gentle with Torba. The writer concludes:

“… I do hope you will reconsider your gratuitous exclusionary rhetoric regarding our spiritual cousins in the House of Judah, treating at least the many who share our cultural values and all-important Creationist paradigm with the same basic respect and camaraderie you show to atheists in the MAGA and conservative movements.”

Torba’s perspective seems to be that all Jews are unworthy, or worse. Here’s one of his posts:

From my perspective, Torba’s recent email regarding “Ye” served as a permission slip to antisemites on Gab to engage in blatant hatred of Jews. Since then, I’ve seen truly antisemitic content appear in my feed with increasing frequency, as if it’s being promoted by the platform. I’m not sure it always sinks to the level of brown-shirts on Kristallnach, but it has that nauseating flavor. Much to my dismay, a few of these posts were from users with whom I’d established earlier connections, or it was content they reposted. Others might have appeared on my feed courtesy of an effort to “introduce” users to one another and to promote certain content.

I didn’t save screenshots of the offensive posts I’ve seen on Gab. I probably should have, but here’s a sampling of a few of the wholesome users I’ve blocked:

One recent post expressed anger with so-called “elites”, an understandable sentiment shared by many in an age of corporatist fascism with the imposition of “woke” ideology in many institutions. However, the poster’s real point was to admonish others for not identifying the target of their anger as “the Jews”.

I became aware of another piece of disturbing information about the perpetrator of a mass killing in Pittsburgh a few years ago, and I can’t believe I missed it:

The man accused of killing 11 Jews in the Tree of Life building posted antisemitic messages on Gab before the Oct. 27, 2018, massacre. In his Gab bio, he described Jews as the ‘children of satan.’

Related to these murders, Torba reposted this article on Gab not long ago, from the Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle. It stated that Pennsylvania Representative Dan Frankel was the target of hateful and threatening posts on the platform. Some of the posts quoted at the link are awful.

But why did Torba repost that article? Well, it motivated a large number of Torba’s followers on Gab to subject the Chronicle to a series of antisemitic replies. This would appear to have been Torba’s intent, but he subsequently removed the repost of the article (along with the hateful replies). That’s a familiar pattern.

Torba’s original comments on the Chronicle article included the following:

People are done caring about your eternal victimhood complex … Free speech means the right to offend…Stop conflating offensive memes with ‘threats’…Gab is what free speech looks like, the good, the bad, and the ugly are all included.

Well, you’re right about free speech, Mr. Torba, but subject to an important qualification: “fighting words” are not protected speech under the Constitution. Maybe that’s why you took down your repost, and most importantly the replies. Did you come to your senses relative to the limits of free speech?

It’s not surprising, but the hatred on Gab is not reserved solely for Jews. Since I’ve been on the lookout, I’ve witnessed overt racism of several other varieties on Gab, and I’ve duly blocked those posters. There is also a complement of hatred for individuals falling under the LGBTQ+ banner.

Gab is not the only province of this sort of behavior on social media, but it might be a hotbed. Is it that easy to learn to hate others? Is the distinction between arguing policy versus revilement and ad hominem too subtle for them?

I have Jewish friends across the political spectrum and Jews in my extended family. Few of them are deeply religious. Likewise, many of my friends raised as Christians are not deeply religious. These individuals are entitled to the liberty to practice any or no religion at all. Their choices are no cause for hostility unless they make some effort to impose their views or will upon others. But that kind of theocratic, coercive power seems to be precisely what Andrew Torba and his Christian Nationalist followers on Gab wish to have for themselves.

I’m happy to report that I’ve seen far fewer offensive posts since blocking a number of antisemitic and racist posters. Maybe the platform is “learning” about me. However, there are many well-intentioned people on Gab, and even a few who actively call-out the bigots. I might have to join in that effort. I support Torba’s right to express his views, short of threats or incitement of violence. I have no desire to be affiliated with Torba, however, and I’ll never pay him for GabPro. I’ll remain on Gab for the time being, and we’ll see how the content evolves.