After Twitter banned President Trump last week and Apple, Amazon, and Google all outlined plans to deplatform Parler — the social network that became known as a home for the far right and followers of the conspiracy theory QAnon — many Parler users began to post the same notice: “Follow me on Gab.”
That’s the social network born in 2016 in a Philadelphia coworking space, and now based in Clarks Summit, Lackawanna County, in northeastern Pennsylvania, according to SEC filings. It first drew national attention in 2018, after Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue shooter was revealed to be a Gab regular.
As of April 2019, Gab claimed to have 900,000 registered accounts. It’s now counting “600,000 new users per day [and] 39 million visits this week,” Gab chief executive Andrew Torba said in an email Monday morning. He declined an interview request. In other posts, the company said it added 10 new servers to keep up with swelling demand.
Functionality on the site, however, showed signs of straining its infrastructure. Loading speeds slowed to a crawl at times on Monday, and the site was for a time taken down for maintenance. Gab’s claims about its user base have drawn skepticism in the past, in part based on its server capacity: The Southern Poverty Law Center, which calls Gab an “organizing hub for white supremacists,” reported last year that, based on its internet infrastructure, there was “no way” its user base was nearly a million strong.
But many new accounts purported to be affiliated with Trump administration loyalists and Republican media figures have popped up in the last few days. And posts are drawing hundreds or thousands of likes and responses. Some have used the site to promote further militia activity, including an armed response to the Jan. 20 inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden.
After Trump’s Twitter account was removed, Torba tweeted that users should “get in the ark,” leaving Silicon Valley. Some of those who participated in last week’s insurrection were already there, and posted video and photos to Gab. Torba received at least one notice from a federal lawmaker urging Gab to preserve all content that may be relevant to investigations of the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.
“This mob was organized, coordinated, and in many cases broadcast via your communications services and products,” Sen. Mark Warner, a Virginia Democrat, wrote in a letter to Torba last week. “Efforts to bring the perpetrators to justice will inevitably involve digital evidence associated with those products and services.”
Torba, in a public response, claimed that Gab routinely cooperates with, and even proactively notifies, federal authorities when there is “content which evidences a serious threat to life.”