Pro-Trump conspiracy theorists are flocking in droves to fringe social media site Gab, after the QAnon-friendly platform Parler was booted off the internet.
And there are fears that angry Trump loyalists will use the networking site to plot an attack at the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden.
The mass migration to Gab follows the removal of Parler from Amazon’s web-hosting service on Monday (US time) over the site’s links to last week’s attempted coup on the US Capitol.
Shortly before the crackdown, however, hackers stole an archive of Parler’s posts, including any related to the riot.
Amazon’s ban came after Google yanked Parler’s smartphone app from its app store on Friday (US time), with Apple following suit on Saturday.
Since its launch in 2018, Parler has evolved into a retreat for far-right groups eager to escape censorship by mainstream platforms for sharing extreme views.
- Click here for an explainer on the QAnon conspiracy group
Now, as Trump supporters abandon Parler en masse, Gab is reaping the benefits.
On Twitter, it claimed more than 10,000 people have been signing up every hour, and now boasts more than 267,200 Twitter followers.
What is Gab?
Like Parler, Gab is known for its far-right and extremist user base.
Early members included the right-wing provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos and Andrew Anglin, the founder of the neo-Nazi Daily Stormer website.
The site was created in 2016 by CEO Andrew Torba, and markets itself as a “social network that champions free speech, individual liberty and the free flow of information online”.
It has a grim history of white supremacists using it to share hate speech – a trend that has seen the platform banned from the Google Play and Apple App stores.
In January 2018, a user with the name Robert D Bowers joined the site.
Nine months later, armed with an AR-15 style assault rifle and at least three handguns, Bowers opened fire inside a Pittsburgh synagogue, killing 11 congregants and wounding four police officers and two others.
Before it was deleted, a Gab social media account with his name was filled with anti-semitic slurs and references to anti-Jewish conspiracy theories.
The mass killing prompted Gab’s original domain host, GoDaddy, to drop the site, which Mr Torba interpreted as an attack on free speech.
“Gab isn’t going anywhere,” he declared in a statement at the time.
“We will exercise every possible avenue to keep Gab online and defend free speech and individual liberty for all people.”
But even Mr Torba has his limits on what constitutes free speech.
While anti-semitics are given free rein to exercise their “liberties”, lewd images are where the devout Christian draws the line, banning porn from the platform in 2019.
A fan base Down Under
Some of the pro-Trump conspiracy theories circulating on Parler and Gab have been embraced by conservative Australian politicians like Queensland Nationals MP George Christensen.
Mr Christensen has since started a petition to lobby fellow Coalition member and Communications Minister Paul Fletcher to impose laws on social media companies in Australia to stop them “censoring conservatives”.
Tech giants expect more violence in Washington
Meanwhile, in anticipation of further Capitol Hill-style violence before Mr Biden’s inauguration on January 20, Facebook announced on Tuesday it will remove certain content containing the phrase “stop the steal” from its social media platforms.
Twitter suspended more than 70,000 accounts on Monday that were primarily dedicated to sharing QAnon conspiracy content.
But there are fears the social media crackdown on rioters won’t be enough to stop further violence.
Professor Axel Bruns, a digital media researcher at Queensland University of Technology, said it could even backfire.
“It’s got a double-edged effect,” he told TND.
“On the one hand, the more they’re pushed into these smaller, more obscure platforms, the more they lose some of the crowd gathered on Twitter and Facebook.
“So it’s becoming a smaller group, but possibly more hardcore.
“It’s essentially a process of radicalisation in its own right, because what ends up being left is the hardcore who don’t really care they’re being banned.”