App Store and Play Store Ban the Gab App: Everything You Should Know
Over the years, politics and social media have become inextricably linked, and the latest buzz in this regard involves the social network Gab.
This platform has fashioned itself as a proponent of ‘free speech’ and an alternative to big tech platforms such as Twitter and Facebook. It has recently reported a massive increase in users, particularly after the US Capitol’s violence on January 6, 2021.
What are the reasons behind this, and why is Gab, despite its popularity, banned on both Apple’s App Store and Google’s Play Store? Here’s what I found out.
First, what is the Gab app?
Gab was first launched in private beta in August 2016, fashioning itself as a “free speech” alternative to social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook. Founded by Andrew Torba, it went on to release publicly in May 2017. However, it was banned by many service providers, including the App Store and Play Store.
Then, in 2018, after the shooting at a synagogue in Pittsburgh, Gab’s web hosting provider, GoDaddy, denied it access to its servers because the alleged attacker, Robert Bowers, had posted hate messages on the platform.
However, Gab was back within a week, and it is no longer at risk of suspension because it independently hosts its servers.
The website looks and functions in a similar way to Twitter and describes itself as: “A social network that champions free speech, individual liberty and the free flow of information online. All are welcome.”
While open to all, it has majorly attracted and become a haven for those who have been forced off mainstream platforms like Twitter and Facebook. This comes especially after the January 6th attack on the US Capitol and the subsequent removal of prominent right-wing accounts on Twitter and Facebook, including former president Donald Trump.
Another aspect that spurred Gab’s rise in popularity was the fall of Parler, another ‘free speech’ platform that served as a hub for pro-Trump conspiracy theorists and other proponents of far-right ideologies. Parler was forced offline after being removed from Amazon web servers and the App Store and Play Store.
According to NPR, on the day of the insurrection at the Capitol, Gab’s founder Andrew Torba claimed that site traffic jumped 40%. The following Saturday, the site tweeted that it gained over 10,000 users per hour and received “12 million visits in the past 12 hours”. (Gab has since deactivated its Twitter account)
To meet this escalating demand, Gab added more servers, scaled up its database, and optimized its website. But despite its growing popularity, it is still banned from both the App Store and Play Store.
Why is Gab banned on App Store and Play Store?
A Business Insider article claims that more than 25 service providers have banned Gab since its launch. In June 2017, Apple rejected it from the App Store, and in August of the same year, Google removed the Gab app from the Google Play Store for violating its hate-speech policy.
It’s not clear what Gab specifically did that resulted in getting kicked off the store. Still, Google vaguely stated that it was due to a lack of moderation and free proliferation of content that can be deemed inappropriate according to the Play Store’s policy.
Nothing has changed since then, and it’s hardly surprising given the increasingly divisive political climate in the United States and around the world. Interestingly, Gab’s website includes instructions on how to unofficially get the app on your Android or iOS device without downloading from the app stores.
Will Gab be allowed in the future?
Going through the Gab website, I noticed that it misses no opportunity to reiterate how it stands for free speech and the open exchange of ideas. But it’s difficult to define the boundaries between freedom of expression and the purposeful propagation of hateful narratives, fake news, conspiracy theories, and propaganda that stir up real-life violence, crime, and unrest.
Of course, Facebook, Twitter, and other leading platforms are no strangers to any of these and are home to plenty of other inappropriate and hateful content. Still, I suppose they are trying to take action whenever there’s a direct linkage between online behavior and real-world consequences, as seen with the US Capitol insurrection.
There’s a general public consensus that the big tech companies are biased toward the left-liberal way of thought, which has led to the emergence of the alt-tech sphere for conservatives/right-wing extremists. It will take a lot to bridge the widening chasm between these two ideologies. Given this scenario, I don’t see Google or Apple allowing an app like Gab to be available on their platforms.
However, it will continue thriving as an independent entity, and it will be interesting to see how political leadership deals with the possible consequences of this.