Before eleven people were murdered at a Pittsburgh synagogue last month, the alleged killer posted on the social media site "Gab." He criticized a Jewish nonprofit and wrote, "I'm going in." That post has put Gab, a conservative alternative to Twitter and Facebook, in the crosshairs. Today, we hear from GAB founder Andrew Torba.
Sharyl: How do you feel knowing that even though you consider yourself a platform for free speech of all kinds, that people liked the alleged synagogue killer use and congregate on your site?
Torba: I was horrified when I found out that he was on the site and uh, I was heartbroken. I'd been heartbroken for two weeks now. I've been praying for the families and I think that this experience has fundamentally changed me as a human being.
Sharyl: We first interviewed Gab founder Andrew Torba last year for this report on media censorship. Torba claims Twitter censors conservatives but not liberals for certain behavior. On Gab, “anything goes,” he says. As long as it’s legal, not inciting violence, and not exposing information like credit cards. Because of Gab’s anti-censorship policy, it’s attracted plenty of detestable users. Some blogs call it “Twitter for Racists,” and the “Alt-Right’s very own Twitter.”
Sharyl: how did you first learn that the alleged synagogue killer had a Gab account and had used Gab?
Torba: One of our users ran a search and discover his account and immediately notified us within that same hour. We took a snapshot of our database and preserved all the data, immediately suspended his account and I picked up the phone and I called the FBI and willingly handed over that data without a warrant or a subpoena or anything like that.
Sharyl: What happened to you and to Gab once Gab was tied to the alleged shooter?
Torba: . Well, I think the media ran one of the most coordinated smear campaigns against myself, my family, our business, and our community of over 800,000 people from around the world. They put my photo up next to this alleged terrorist. Uh, my family's home was broadcast on the local news. We received threats of violence. Anyone who had a Gab account was attacked and smeared. And I think it's really disgusting because if you look at Facebook, you look at Twitter, you look at any of these big social networks, Twitter has over 300,000 ISIS accounts that they've removed over the past couple of years. They also had the alleged mail bomber from a few weeks ago that was on their platform making direct threats of violence to media personalities. And other people on Twitter actually reviewed these posts and found that they were not violating their terms of service. Whereas on our platform, we have a zero tolerance policy for threats and violence and proactively removed that stuff.
Sharyl: If you have a zero tolerance for threats of violence - how did the synagogue - the alleged killer slip through?
Torba: Well, I don't think that he was actually making any direct threats of violence. You know, the last post that he made about four minutes before he went in and committed this horrific tragedy where allegedly was “I'm going in,” right? It wasn't “I'm going to go shoot up the place,” or anything like that. It wasn't a direct threat.
Sharyl: Why isn't it reasonable to say that a site where hateful people, even criminals and killers collect, shouldn't be allowed to exist?
Torba: Well, because hateful people exist in the world and they're on Facebook, they're on Twitter, they're on the entire Internet. And I think that the best answer to hate speech or to bad speech is always going to be more speech. If you push these people off into the shadows, they're just going to go to their local bar and plan violence, and if they can't express themselves through words then I fundamentally believe that they're going to express themselves inevitably through violence, which no one wants.
Sharyl: One article that criticized you said that you quote “spent years recruiting racists,” like yourself on Gab. Gab is only going, I think about two years or so but are you, and is your site racist?
Torba: I'm not racist. I am a classical liberal. I am a Christian man. I am an American nationalist. I'm not a white nationalist. I think there's a difference. And all are welcome on Gab. So certainly when people were being no-platformed, banned, suspended, removed, shadow-banned from these other platforms, of course we welcome them on Gab as long as they followed our user guidelines, as long as they weren't breaking the law, they were welcome. I think we have a responsibility to be proactive to make sure that extremism, as I define it, you know, threats of violence, doxxing, intimidation, terrorizing people has no home on Gab.
Torba says he's cooperated with DOJ on synagogue shooting, immediately turning over material without asking for a subpoena.