Earlier today, a gunman walked into the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and killed eleven people before being apprehended by police. The suspect has since been identified as 46-year-old Robert Bowers, who appears to have had a history of anti-Semitic speech on the social network Gab. Following these revelations, Paypal banned the site from its payment platform — the latest action taken against the troublesome social network by a major technology company.
Almost immediately after the shooter’s identity was revealed by media outlets, screenshots of his profile on Gab appeared, revealing a slew of anti-Semitic rants. Gab released a statement on Medium, saying that it “unequivocally disavows and condemns all acts of terrorism and violence,” but it has long been welcoming of hate speech on its platform. It says that it contacted law enforcement officials after it was notified that Bowers had a profile on the site, and that it turned over relevant information to them before suspending his account.
Paypal is the latest major platform to boot Gab. Apple has refused to host the site’s app in its iOS store, and in August 2017, Google removed the app from the Google Play store, for violating the company’s hate speech policy, while Microsoft threatened to stop hosting the site after a pair of anti-Semitic posts were published on the site in July of this year. With Paypal’s revocation of its services, Gab could be deprived of a major revenue conduit.
Since Paypal’s action, Gab’s Twitter feed has struck out at Facebook and Twitter, saying that it doesn’t “allow terrorists on our platform,” and dismissed the idea that the rhetoric on its platform translates into real-world violence. But researchers have found that anti-Semitic messaging on online platforms is on the rise, and the attempted bombing of prominent Trump critics in the past week has put a spotlight on the role that online rhetoric has played in recent weeks, months, and years.
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