Alt-social network Gab booted from Google Play Store for hate speech

(Updated with statements from Google and Gab.)

Gab, the conservative social network that has acted as a haven for people banned from the usual platforms, has been removed from the Google Play Store for violating the company’s hate speech policy, the company announced on Twitter. Apple rejected it from the App Store in June for similar reasons.

That policy is pretty straightforward: “We don’t allow apps that advocate against groups of people based on their race or ethnic origin, religion, disability, gender, age, nationality, veteran status, sexual orientation, or gender identity.”

It’s not clear what specifically Gab did that warranted its being kicked off the store, but presumably it would have to be at the level of the app itself, not just someone idly venting hatred on the service. After all, there’s plenty of hate speech on Twitter and YouTube, but those apps are still available despite a crackdown this week following the events in Charlottesville. It seems it was a question of volume and repeated complaints about the content Gab or its community failed to remove.

In a statement, Google didn’t get too specific, but indicated it was a lack of moderation:

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. Developers always have the opportunity to appeal a suspension and may have their apps reinstated if they’ve addressed the policy violations and are compliant with our Developer Program Policies.

This doesn’t mean Google has blocked the app entirely — it can’t do that. You just can’t download it from the Play Store any more. It should still function fine and users will be able to sideload it if they like, and Gab’s Twitter account indicates they’re working on making that easy.

Gab is aimed at people interested in “Western values, individual liberty, and the free exchange of ideas” looking to avoid the “special interests pushing a very specific agenda” in tech. If that dog whistle isn’t loud enough, the investment page lists readers of Breitbart, Drudge and Infowars as the target demographic.

It was founded by Andrew Torba, who in December was removed from Y Combinator’s alumni network (which he had joined after taking part in the program) for his behavior among the other founders there.

I asked Torba whether there had been any recent changes or warnings that might explain the ban. He wrote back:

No there have not been any major changes. We have had an app on the Play Store for months. This is targeted. We have been very consistent with promoting free and lawful expression and speech for everyone for over a year now. We have a diverse community (and also a diverse team that includes our Muslim Co-Founder and Indian CCO) of 225,000 people from around the world. What you should be writing about is Silicon Valley’s war on free speech and individual liberty online. This is the beginning of the alt tech revolution.