Gab's abuse of the First Amendment

Editorials featured in the Forum section are solely the opinions of their individual authors.

Three days after a white supremacist shot dead two black men at a Kroger store in Kentucky, an anti-Semitic conspiracy theorist attacked a peaceful congregation in the Tree of Life Jewish Synagogue, killing 11 people and injuring six.

Most articles reporting the shooting mentioned the posts of the shooter, who I do not wish to dignify by naming. Specifically, they reported that he’d posted on Gab about his intent to murder minutes before the shooting began. This is the first I heard of Gab, a social media network that, according to Wikipedia, promotes “free speech.” What I saw instead was that it promoted blatant hate speech, racism, sexism, anti-Semitism, and white supremacy. Hours after the shooting, I saw posts on Gab that praised the shooter and warned Jewish people to beware. I tried finding a button to report them, but one didn’t exist. Gab claims the reason is “free speech.”

Earlier this week, The Washington Post reported that a New Jersey woman, Koeberle Bull, may have stopped a school shooting from taking place after she notified the police about racist and threatening messages she’d received from a man who was planning shootings at two Kentucky schools.

On the other hand, after a radical Trump fan sent pipe bombs to various critics of Trump — including a former President, a Former Secretary of State, a cable news network, and a billionaire — political commentator Rochelle Ritchie revealed that she’d reported his Twitter account to the social media giant earlier this month, after he’d sent her threatening messages. Twitter had taken no action.

We have two cases here: a successful reporting that prevented a tragedy from taking place and a report that the social media organization didn’t take seriously, resulting in mass anxiety and fear. In both cases, we had the option of reporting hate speech.

And then we have the third scenario — like Gab — which, under the garb of free speech, actually promotes hate speech. Free speech is important. Free speech is what lets any civilized nation flourish. But what if, under the name of free speech, people spread hatred and vitriol towards other people?

When I first saw some of the most popular posts on Gab at the moment of my opening it, I was shaken, shocked, and disgusted. Their views were evil, celebrating the shooting and the deaths of innocent people.

These users must be punished. Gab must be punished. Some may think it’s wrong to punish the whole platform for the sins of some of its users, especially when Facebook and Twitter face no consequences, even though they have the same problem of hate speech on their platform. But what if the platform outright refuses to penalize its users for the hate-filled content that they publish? When you allow racist, sexist and anti-Semitic comments to be published on your platform and go viral, you are legitimizing them. Free speech lets people speak their minds and lets those whose thoughts may be from different ends of the political, religious, philosophical spectrums express themselves without fear of governmental repercussions, not for people who actively call for genocide.

Soon after the Charlottesville attack in which a white supremacist drove a car through a protesting crowd, killing Heather Heyer, it was revealed that the attack may have been planned on Discord servers which provided these right-wing terrorists with the necessary anonymity and little regulation. Discord later started taking down servers that espoused Nazi ideology and white supremacy.

People will have radical ideas on issues. Everybody needs to have a chance to express themselves, even if we do not agree with their ideas. But public platforms should conform to community standards.

Laws are essentially codified ethics. Ethics are based on a consensus in society. We cannot continue to refer to ourselves as “civilized” if we refuse to uphold the same body of laws that grant us free speech.

The fact that Gab doesn’t have an option to report hateful content means that it should be taken down. There are other platforms for free speech, ones that ensure that its users are provided with a safe environment where they aren’t threatened for expressing their views.

Any content that explicitly threatens harm towards another individual or a specific group should be thought of as hate speech, and the content on Gab embodies everything that’s wrong with our society. There is a line between free speech and hate speech, and it’s not thin at all.

Please note that I haven’t mentioned the name of any perpetrators in this article. Their names do not matter. It’s the names of those who perished that matter, those who lost their lives to these awful and violent acts. We should remember their names and fight to make this world a better place.

Thoughts and prayers are not going to bring people back. We need real change, and those with the power to make changes should act now before another tragedy like this takes place.