Protecting “bad” speech

Gab’s business is booming. But despite its token launch last year, the “alt-right Twitter” has decided to say bye bye to blockchain.

Forget dog whistles. Gab.ai prefers frog croaks.

The self-branded “revolutionary” Twitter alternative is having itself a moment. When it isn’t battling Microsoft to keep anti-Semitic calls for violence alive on its website—as it did last month—or going toe-to-toe in June with the “cancerous” crypto exchange Coinbase, the service actually appears to be signing up users at a pretty good clip—like, 10,000 people a day, supposedly.

With plans for an upcoming, big-dollar Security Token Offering and the promise of a truly “free flow of information online,” it certainly grabbed our attention.

But now that the crypto train is losing steam, Gab is losing interest in blockchain.

Andrew Torba, Gab’s founder and CEO, now calls any suggestion that Gab even might be planning to use blockchain in the future “completely inaccurate.”

Torba launched Gab two years ago as a free-speech-absolutist, right-wing antidote to social media. Then, last year, the company announced plans for a security-token offering, saying it was considering migrating to the Ethereum or EOS blockchain to decentralize its platform.

It sure sounded like Gab on a blockchain was the plan, as envisioned in its filing with the SEC, where Gab revealed the initial framework for a “censorship proof, peer-to-peer communication protocol” dubbed the “Exodus protocol.” Likewise, the company’s announcement of its token sale described its long-term vision to “eliminate all forms of special interests and centralized control, including ourselves.” Spoken like true dAppies.

Never mind to all of that now. Forget blockchain, Torba wouldn’t even say whether Gab still plans to decentralize its operation, post token: “We are simply tokenizing our equity,” Torba told us in an email last night. He added that the company has “no plans to build any blockchain technology at this time,” and said that he could not comment further because the token offering was still being reviewed by the SEC.

None of this, by the way, seems to be related to Gab’s growth or its prospects. As Twitter and Facebook come under daily attacks from President Trump and the right for being tools of the left, Gab is rapidly gaining momentum, the company claims.

Some see Gab as a free and open playground of words for all—a censorship-resilient platform tolerant of all opinions and that’s been unfairly maligned by snobby journalists as a bastion for alt-right politics and white nationalists. But a cursory look at Gab’s Twitter feed and a quick read of Torba’s own words belies that assessment (though he has attempted to distance himself from too close a connection to the degenerate fringe of the right.)

Indeed, it’s appeal to anti-semites, sexists, racists and the rest of the dogpatch is as glaringly transparent as Donald Trump’s red-hat brand of populism, which Gab appears to be at least trying to emulate as a formula for its own success. Gab’s logo is a cartoon frog that looks way more like Pepe than Kermit, and Torba has reposted messages from an account called “Hitler Was Right” (Edit: Torba says the account changed its name to “Hitler Was Right” after he had reposted the messages).

Gab’s marketing strategy of pitting itself as the Fox News alternative to Twitter’s MSNBC appears to be working. The old guard has been pushing users away in droves. Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey is publicly acknowledging his company’s liberal slant, and both Twitter and Facebook recently gave the bum’s rush to InfoWars. It’s a great time for competitors to send out the free-speech virtue bat signal and see who comes a’knocking. And some some 10,000 people have come a’knocking per day.

Gab’s polarizing strategy may be distasteful, but it’s working. Confirmation bias is a helluva drug. People enjoy being told they’re right, even when they’re wrong, and who doesn’t like being surrounded by other like-minded trolls? That’s the whole idea of a social network of your own making: follow and friend the people you’d like to hear from and engage with and ignore the rest.

But where’s the fun in that? No, much better to seek out and shout down your ideological adversaries (from the comfort of your laptop, of course, let’s not get crazy), and when that doesn’t work, demand that Principal Jack or Prince Zuck eternally silence your foe.

But what if there was no principal’s office to run to and tattle?

On a truly decentralized social network, the personal politics of a Jack, Zuck, or Torba shouldn’t matter.

For now, through, it seems Gab won’t quite live up to its promise of eliminating all forms of “centralized control” any time soon—something investors who were lured in by such bold claims have a right to know.

Jettisoning blockchain might well be the best move for Gab. The company seems to be doing just fine without it, so why rock the boat with rocky tech? Blockchain butterflies can rest easy knowing that the first blockchain killer app most likely won’t be the immutable preservation of daily affirmations from “Hitler Was Right.”

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