The founder of Gab, an alternative social networking service that has attracted far-right groups, said today that the company’s app had been removed from the Google Play Store due to concerns about hate speech.
While already about a year old, Gab has seen its crowdfunding campaign surge in popularity in recent days, thanks to controversies surrounding the racial violence in Charlottesville last weekend and Google’s firing of an engineer over a controversial diversity memo he wrote. The site, which is run on an advertising-free business model, insists it wants to be a politically neutral ground for free speech.
As donations to Gab accelerated in recent days, the founder of neo-Nazi site The Daily Stormer decided to at least temporarily make Gab his site’s new home while he struggled to keep it online after several internet services revoked their support.
Gab has said that it’s been rejected numerous times from Apple’s App Store. But late today, after announcing the company had raised $1 million, Gab executives received this notice from Google:
Breaking news: Google has removed Gab's Android app from the Google Play Store for "hate speech." pic.twitter.com/jPqeEx1ID1
— Gab (@getongab) August 17, 2017
It’s unclear whether the suspension is specifically related to the presence of The Daily Stormer on the app. But it sets a dangerous precedent and raises some uncomfortable questions. Facebook and Twitter, for instance, are riddled with hate speech, even if both companies are attempting to take steps to purge such groups.
So, following this logic, shouldn’t the content on their sites qualify them for removal from both app stores? That was clearly on the minds of Gab supporters:
Would be a shame if more people did this. https://t.co/vZvX3TWnSX
— Gab (@getongab) August 18, 2017
The growing threat to free speech prompted the Electronic Frontier Foundation to pen an editorial asking all sides to consider the consequences of blocking sites that include offensive language:
All fair-minded people must stand against the hateful violence and aggression that seems to be growing across our country. But we must also recognize that on the Internet, any tactic used now to silence neo-Nazis will soon be used against others, including people whose opinions we agree with.
For Gab founder Andrew Torba, this move is likely to fuel his crusade against what he already felt was the overwhelming control a handful of companies, such as Facebook, Google, and Twitter, wield over speech on the internet:
Breaking: Google removes Gab's Android app from the Google Play Store for "hate speech." https://t.co/vdoij2LzDP
— Gab (@getongab) August 17, 2017
Updated at 10:20 a.m. PST to include this statement from a Google spokesperson:
“In order to be on the Play Store, social networking apps need to demonstrate a sufficient level of moderation, including for content that encourages violence and advocates hate against groups of people. This is a long-standing rule and clearly stated in our developer policies. Developers always have the opportunity to appeal a suspension and may have their apps reinstated if they’ve addressed the policy violations and are compliant with our Developer Program Policies.”
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