Described as a “digital safe space for the far right” or the “alt-right’s very own Twitter,” social site Gab.ai is suing Google parent Alphabet for alleged violations of antitrust law. The company filed its suit after its Android app was removed from Google Play.
According to the company’s complaint, the Gab app was never allowed on Apple’s iOS App Store. Gab’s app was reportedly approved for Google Play in May 2017. However, the complaint says that Google notified Gab in August that its app was being suspended for violating Google Play’s developer terms.
Gab says its mission is to “put people and free speech first.” The company asserts its objective is to bring together “folks together of all races, religions, and creeds who share in the common ideals of Western values, individual liberty and the free and flow of information.”
It’s difficult to credibly argue, however, that the site isn’t at least partly intended as a network for white supremacists and others like them to advocate extreme positions without fear of “censorship.” Gab was founded in 2016 in response to Twitter suspensions of several prominent far-right figures, such as Richard B. Spencer and Milo Yiannopoulos.
The company’s frog logo is a nod to Pepe the frog, which has become associated with white supremacist, anti-Semitic and neo-nazi hate groups. Gab CEO Andrew Torba told an interviewer, however, that it was a “religious reference, a symbol of exodus and rebirth.”
Gab argues Google’s suspension of its app is an effort to unfairly use its market power to censor positions and speech it doesn’t agree with. In a larger context, the suit is part of the alt-right’s efforts to push back against perceived Silicon Valley “political correctness.” In August Gab crowdsourced $1 million in funding and celebrated with an expletive-laden Tweet decrying “Silicon Valley elitist trash.”
Google says by contrast that this is a straightforward case of violating its developer terms and policies that prohibit apps which “advocate against groups of people based on their race or ethnic origin, religion, disability, gender, age, nationality, veteran status, sexual orientation, or gender identity.”
Google provided us with the following statement about the lawsuit:
This claim is baseless and we’re happy to defend our decision in court if need be. 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. This developer is welcome to appeal the suspension if they’ve addressed the policy violations and are compliant with our Developer Program Policies
With hate groups emboldened by the 2016 election and now more assertively using social networks, online ads and other digital media tools to promote their positions, it creates a challenging climate for digital publishers and platforms to allow legitimate debate and discourse without becoming unwitting tools of hate.