The Current

Pittsburgh shooting stresses a need to 'deplatform' sites that spread hate, says tech reporter

Social media networks that allow hatred to spread unchecked should be "deplatformed," according to a technology writer who investigates hate groups.

Make it harder for extremists to congregate online, says April Glaser

Mourners react during a memorial service at the Sailors and Soldiers Memorial Hall of the University of Pittsburgh, a day after 11 worshippers were shot dead at a Jewish synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S., October 28, 2018. (Cathal McNaughton/Reuters)
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Social media networks that allow hatred to spread unchecked should be "deplatformed," according to a technology writer who investigates hate groups.

Service providers shouldn't wait for violence to erupt, but instead take deplatforming measures, such as removing such sites from the internet or refusing to provide web hosting, according to April Glaser, who covers technology and business for Slate.​

"The idea is not to say that we're ever going to fully quash these communities online — they'll always find another place to go — but rather to make them harder to find," Glaser told The Current's guest host Laura Lynch.

"A lot of these people wouldn't find other neo-Nazis otherwise, unless they had these online forums." 
Robert Bowers, 46, was charged late Saturday, Oct. 27, with 29 federal counts, including weapons offences and hate crimes. (Pennsylvania Department of Transportation)

Minutes before Saturday's mass shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, the suspect Robert Bowers posted on chat site Gab.com about the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS), a non-profit that helps refugees and immigrants to the United States.

"HIAS likes to bring invaders in that kill our people. I can't sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics, I'm going in," he wrote on the site, which bills itself as a free-speech alternative to more mainstream networks.

In a statement, Gab said it took "swift and proactive" action to contact law enforcement after learning of the shooting suspect's profile on its site.

"Gab unequivocally disavows and condemns all acts of terrorism and violence," the company said.

Glaser said Gab "was really a place where [Bowers] was able to socialize in hate." 

He joined Gab in January, and had posted messages such as: "Daily Reminder: Diversity means chasing down the last white person."

When people create community around hate, when they can socialize around hate, they develop a politics about hate.- April Glaser, Slate technology reporter

On Sunday, domain provider GoDaddy gave Gab 24 hours to find a new provider. In a message to its users, Gab states it will be inaccessible while it transitions to a new host provider, but it "isn't going anywhere." 

Glaser said that "when people create community around hate, when they can socialize around hate, they develop a politics about hate.

"And as they gain confidence in their anti-Semitism or their racism, there are instances where that has spilled out into the real world."

Dylann Roof killed nine people a church in Charleston, S.C., in 2015. He was sentenced to death in 2017. (Charleston County Sheriff's Office via Reuters)

Glaser pointed to the examples of Dylann Roof, who killed nine people at a church in Charleston, S.C., in 2015, and Anders Breivik, who killed 77 people in Norway in 2011. Both were frequent users of the white-supremacist site Stormfront before their crimes, she said.

"We do see patterns where people who engage in hate crimes are initially active in these online communities where they feel safe, kind of, finding community in their hate," she said.

Listen to the full conversation at the top of this page.


Written by Padraig Moran. Produced by Idella Sturino and Howard Goldenthal.

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