Right-wing platform Gab taken down after Pittsburgh shooting, says it’s been ‘smeared’ by media

Right-wing social media site Gab.com was taken down Sunday night after widespread condemnation of its anti-Semitic content following the mass shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue on Saturday.

The Twitter-alternative service had been on and offline all weekend after it was revealed that Robert Bowers, the man who allegedly shot and killed at least 11 people at the Tree of Life Synagogue, had a history of sharing hateful messages on the platform and posted threats online before the attack.

Domain provider GoDaddy gave Gab 24 hours to move their website to another hosting service, saying it violated their terms of service and promoted violence against people.

“We took the site down early on purpose last night because we knew the media would take the bait and have stories on it for this morning,” Gab said in a tweet on Monday.

“They aren’t very bright people, so it is very easy to predict their actions. Working on transferring to our new host today/tomorrow.”

In another tweet, Gab said people can “smear” the site all they want, but no one can “stop an idea.”

Bowers, 46, was an active user of Gab and other social media sites and posted a variety of anti-Semitic convictions and conspiracy theories online. He reportedly joined the platform in January.

In one post on Gab, Bowers said that the Jewish refugee organization, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS), “likes to bring invaders in that kill our people. I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics, I’m going in,” Reuters and CNN report.

In a statement, the Philadelphia-based social networking service confirmed the profile where the comment was posted belonged to Bowers.

This image shows a portion of an archived webpage from the social media website Gab, with a Saturday, Oct. 27, 2018 posting by Pittsburgh synagogue shooting suspect Robert Bowers. HIAS, mentioned in the posting, is a Maryland-based nonprofit group that helps refugees around the world find safety and freedom.

“Gab took swift and proactive action to contact law enforcement immediately,” representatives from the site told Reuters. “We first backed up all user data from the account and then proceeded to suspend the account. We then contacted the FBI and made them aware of this account and the user data in our possession.”

After Bowers reportedly opened fire on a service at the Tree of Life Synagogue on the corner of Wilkins and Shady avenues in Pittsburgh on Saturday, people were calling for Gab to be shut down.

PayPal Holdings Inc (PYPL.O) banned the website from using its money-sending services on Saturday. Gab said it received notice it would be blocked by another payments website, Stripe Inc, and had switched to a new web-hosting service after Joyent Inc warned it would cut off the website.

Hours after the Pittsburgh shooting, Gab’s Twitter account began tweeting about the incident, defending their platform’s policy of free speech and putting the focus on other social media platforms.

A screen grab from Gab’s site on Sunday, Oct. 28, before the platform was taken down showing user Patrick Little’s anti-Semitic comments.

A day after the shooting, Gab’s explore page featured several anti-Semitic posts that referenced the shooting. The most popular post came from an account titled “White Pride World Wide.” Patrick Little, a Gab user who reportedly made threats against Jews in the past, had his post at the top of the Explore page that said, “Continue naming the Jews as before,” and “Just keep naming the jew, until the expulsion is through.”

Gab was founded in August 2016 during the leadup to the U.S. presidential election. The website marketed itself as being different from other social media websites and as a place for free speech and expression.

The website gained a significant number of followers after Twitter and Facebook did a mass-banning of accounts in November of 2016 for “enticing or engaging in the targeted abuse or harassment of others.” These accounts included accounts that are described as alt-right.

Two months prior to the Pittsburgh shooting, Microsoft demanded that violent threats against Jews be removed from Gab. This was after Gab user Little advocated the “complete eradication” of all Jews. Little removed the posts himself, but added that “we will have no rights until the jews [sic] are expelled.”

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With files from Jessica Vomiero, Michael Hutchinson and Reuters

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