The alt-right is trying to create its own online eco-system—and their racism is getting worseby Morgan Meaker / November 8, 2018 / Leave a comment
Last month, residents of the McAnulty Acres apartment complex in Pittsburgh thought little of the quiet truck driver Robert Bowers.
Later, they’d tell the American press he seemed entirely normal. He was 46. He had dull blue eyes and thin greying hair. He kept to himself but would say hello if they passed him stood outside smokingor on the way to his first-floor apartment.
What his neighbours didn’t know was that online, Bowers possessed a very different personality. On his Gab social media account, he was obsessed with antisemitism, fervently posting vicious hatred of Jewish people.
On the morning of Saturday 27 October, Bowers logged into Gab, sharing a barrage of other people’s antisemitic posts, conspiracy theories and a racist cartoon, before writing his own message. Targeting HIAS, a Jewish NGO which supports refugees, he finished the post with the words: “Screw your optics. I’m going in.”
Minutes later, police say, he walked into Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue, armed with an assault rifle and three handguns, and killed 11 people.
Gab’s place in the worst antisemitic violence in modern American history has drawn focus to a parallel online world where the far-right thrives. As Facebook and Twitter come under increasing pressure to crack down on extremism, “free speech” alternatives have emerged. The alt-right is trying to create its own online eco-system; toxic eco-chambers where racist, antisemitic, anti-Muslim, anti-liberal messages can spread un-checked.
Patrik Hermansson, researcher at anti-fascist organisation Hope not Hate, says people who spend time on these alternative sites have usually been radicalised elsewhere first, sometimes on mainstream social media.
“On mainstream sites, they might get invited or pushed onto alternatives,” he says. “It’s still not a completely separate sphere, but it’s complimentary.”
When Trump supporter Andrew Torba set up Gab, it was an attempt to counter what he called “the entirely left-leaning Big Social monopoly” of companies like Facebook and Twitter. Back in 2016, Conservatives were calling out the tech-world for its left-leaning bias and Torba wanted to offer them an alternative—a social network with fewer rules. “We’re not going to police what is hate speech and what isn’t,” Torba told Wired in the same year.
From the beginning, Gab’s reputation for “free speech” attracted neo-nazis and people who had been banned for using racist language on more mainstream sites. Former Breitbart-writer, Milo Yiannopolous was an…