We’re no longer living in the 1990’s and the age of computer science major-driven startups which various entrepreneurs grew out of their garages to become transnational conglomerates. Tech groups now permeate every aspect of our lives. Their products document our day to day existence, they keep us in instant touch with each other and follow most of us around in our pockets. It’s an exciting change in humanity’s existence with potential for both great good, and great evil as well.
As these corporations have grown, however, they seem to have forgotten their initial dedication to fostering a culture of entrepreneurship and freedom of speech. Ramping up to a new level of intensity during the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election, the online censorship which some have argued should be an expected “price of admission” users must pay to use social media. But others do not share that view, and the numbers show it.
Online communication forum Twitter, for example, has faced growing business challenges and a falling user base which have only been compounded by their decisions to censor users over supposedly “offensive speech.” As Twitter has stumbled, others moved to fill it’s void. Gab is a competing model to Twitter created by Silicon Valley founder Andrew Torba. Since its beginning in August 2016, Gab has been dismissed by the media as being an “alt right” forum. More recently, Gab’s application to Apple for the creation of a mobile app on Apple’s iOS platform has been been denied. Many right leaning news sources have assumed that the ban is related to Mr. Torba’s public support for Donald Trump.
The decision by Apple to bar Gab from their marketplace appears to be the result of something much more than a simple dislike for its founder’s politics, however. Apple has been increasingly accused of being a monopoly and some have speculated that the precedent set by anti-trust cases such as United States vs. Microsoft Corp. indicates that the group should face more government scrutiny than they currently do. Their overbearing attempts to deny Gab access to the market are interesting given the business trouble’s of Gab’s main competitor Twitter, a corporation who is granted free access to Apple’s marketplace.
Disobedient Media reached out to Gab and spoke with their Chief Communications Officer, Utsav Sanduja about the recent censorship. Far from confirming the notion of Gab as being a far right platform, the interview painted a picture of a corporation which encourages diversity of opinion as a means of promoting objective truth with international operations in many countries where citizens are suffering under government censorship.
The conversation can be viewed here:
Q: Was Andrew Torba really shunned by Silicon Valley circles for support of Trump?
Utsav Sanduja: Mr. Torba had political views which in general were not in line with Silicon Valley’s progressive ideology. He was very professional during his time in Silicon Valley and made a policy of never discussed politics or sensitive social matters. He was very much concerned with business. Members of Silicon Valley would be the ones to bring up the contentious political topics, whether religious, ethnic diversity or other socio-cultural views. What it really it boiled down to was whether or not you supported Trump, because that would automatically result in you being branded as a fascist.
Q: What reasons did Apple give for censoring Gab’s iOS app?
Utsav Sanduja: Apple said our application was “mean spirited” and it was considered to be offensive as it made references to religion, race, gender, sexual orientation, and targeted groups. It was very bizarre because sites such as Reddit, Facebook, Twitter, VK.com which are already on the Apple store all have offensive views which one can find in a simple search. Even so-called “offensive hashtags” can be found. So why is it that these big name, reputable applications are given entry to the store while a start up tech firm is denied entry. We feel that based on that double standard there is more at play than Apple’s standard guidelines, we feel that politics are at play.
Q: Does Gab feel that Apple’s denial to their marketplace might have something to do with Twitter’s business troubles and suspect that Apple is working with other big names to stifle competition? I remember reading that they’d treated VK similarly.
Utsav Sanduja: In regards to VK, they’ve been in the store, and then were denied access, and there was some kind of back and forth between them and Apple. But beyond politics there is classicism at work here. If you are rich, if you are well known and high up in the social hierarchy then you are privileged enough to gain access to Apple’s store. But if are a young startup, if you are not privileged, if you are not wealthy, then you will not face an ice cube’s chance in hell at getting into Apple’s store. So we ask people who are members of the left, good people who supported Bernie Sanders a very simple question: “if this is all about politics, why is it that we get discriminated on the grounds of not having this brand name recognition?” We believe this capitalistic component is at play, and we ask members of the left to look at our cause, that we are their friends, that we want to help small companies and small businesses. We want to help them thrive in an oligarchical, capitalist system.
Q: It certainly seems that the public will resonate far more with the idea that big businesses and insiders are not the friends of young startups and growing businesses.
Utsav Sanduja: Absolutely, the fact of the matter is that these large corporations such as Microsoft, Google, Facebook, Twitter, Apple etc. all work in league together. These groups preach progressiveness, they preach inclusivity, they preach openness. But when it comes to their business, when it comes to capitalism, when it comes to supporting the working class and small businesses they seem to instead push their weight on them. And we do not think that part and parcel of their vision and ideology, their principles of inclusiveness and diversity. In fact is completely to the contrary of what they believe in. And we at Gab are going to expose this contradiction. In fact they are not progressive. To the contrary, they are corporatist. They are very corporatist and very exclusive. We want to tell the people of the world that are of the progressive opinion that Gab is for everyone. We are not an alt right site, we are not a far right site, we are not a right nationalist site. And to those who suspect us in places like Germany, we are not going to bring about the Fourth Reich, I can assure you.
We simply want diversity. We come from a point of view that considers the Renaissance and Enlightenment to be great periods of history where the church was challenged, where traditional orthodoxy and the established order was challenged. We saw great inventions, the rise of figures such as Galileo and Alhazen (Ibn al-Haytham) in the Muslim world. We saw terrific achievement and innovation because free speech was allowed. And then later unfortunately, it was oppressed, and there was a kerfuffle back and force. We want to replicate that intellectuality on social media. We look at political correctness as a way to stifle innovation. We see political correctness as a way to stifle growth and introspection that is very much needed in the 21st Century where technology and humanity is increasingly becoming one.
Q: As a follow up to that: Gab does have a reputation at the moment of being an “Alt Right” website or having a right leaning userbase. What does Gab plan to do in order to reach out to other demographics and diversify that userbase?
Utsav Sanduja: Well to answer that question I need to provide some backstory. As Gab’s Chief Communication Officer, I am responsible for Gab’s corporate affairs globally. I used to work in international journalism myself and was in Turkey, the U.K., India, the United States in various jurisdictions covering human rights and free speech issues. What I brought to Gab was the expansion into the global world. Specifically, in fighting censorship abroad. You’ll be pleased to know that Gab is on the Great Firewall of China, which means we must be doing a good job if the Chinese government does not like us. Our largest growing demographic of our userbase is in three countries in particular which I have been responsible for in my efforts to push Gab in an international direction. We are reaching out to India, Brazil, and the People’s Republic of South Korea. We have found massive amounts of growth there.
In India, many state governments have “majesty laws” which prohibit criticism of the government because it is considered offensive, destabilizing to order. India has laws which prohibit criticism of religious minorities because it would “harm communal sentiment.” There have been numerous censorship requests from various state and municipal governments in India to Twitter asking for speech to be censored. And there are even cases where members of journalists and members of India’s Parliament have been censored by the Indian government and Indian state and municipal governments in the past. So we have given a platform to people in India and they have told us many times over how grateful they are for it. Many of them were always uncomfortable that they had to give their personal information to Facebook and Twitter. Addresses, mobile phone numbers etc. At Gab, all we ask for an email address and nothing more. We don’t ask for more information and if you don’t want to use your full or real name, that is your prerogative. So Gab promotes anonymity in regimes that are promoting censorship.
In South Korea, we have an issue where the government censors particular types of pornography. The government of South Korea is quite puritanist in nature and has a very traditionalist view of pornography, going beyond censoring merely illegal kinds of pornography. And we see many Koreans who are of liberal predispositions who cannot exercise their freedom of expression. So we’ve been giving those Koreans their free rights.
In Brazil there have been numerous examples and cases of people on Twitter and Facebook trying to criticize politicians for corrupt activities only to face data requests from the government and various face various judicial proceedings. We also have operations helping with needs in Germany, Austria, Cameroon, even Thailand, Malaysia and Brunei where users are facing all kinds of censorship on the web and are fleeing to Gab just so they can speak freely in a peaceful, civil manner.
Q: That certainly goes against the narrative being spun in the media about Gab. It is quite concerning that the larger companies are willing to work with foreign governments to encourage censorship.
Utsav Sanduja: Absolutely, and this is what we have been saying from the very beginning: that in the 21st Century, governments and corporations are part and parcel, one and the same. Even intelligence agencies unfortunately are part one and the same. We’ve seen hyper politicization among certain intelligence agencies. We’re seeing a lot of big corporations falling lock and step with governments and governments falling lock and step with the capitalist, exclusive and monopolistic behaviors of large corporations. We’re not really seeing a true democratic system. One of pluralistic ethos. At Gab, when we try to promote such dissident-like behavior – mind you, civil, peaceful, legal dissident behavior in the principles of Mahatma Gandhi. When we follow these view, we’re seeing a lot of hostility to which we don’t understand and are very baffled.
We see very amazing, good hearted people from the left who are philanthropists who donate to poor people in Africa and Syria, to children in Mali. They have good hearts, I know they have good hearts, but they look at us with such suspicion and they have this bizarre desire to enact authoritarian measures towards us. So when we see this kind of dissonance by big social groups, governments of the world, by left wing activists who have good hearts we are very baffled. So we are just going to keep pointing out this double standard and this hypocrisy.
Q: This certainly gives us at Disobedient Media a lot of subject matter to start getting this message out through our news portal as we grow. We’d have to echo that mission statement, we seek to fight these narratives of misinformation and deception which are foisted on the public by state and private actors.
Utsav Sanduja: We really would love to field more questions from you. Many of the journalists we deal with have been very political, always hostile, jumping to ad hominems and conclusions, jumping to narratives. As a journalist, I always hold to the tradition of Christopher Hitchens, Charlie Rose, Walter Cronkite, the BBC of the 1950’s. These journalists used to actually believe in free inquiry, the truth. Nowadays journalists are all dogmatic or slaves to big corporate names. And we are just very baffled by what is going on in the practice of journalism. That is something Gab may want to look into and integrate down the road and “make journalism great again.” We may seriously consider going in that direction as a way to genuinely promote free speech and distill thoughts in a pure, objective and pragmatic fashion.
Q: After coming out of law school and watching the election, I’m appalled by the censorship and by the utterly compromised state of journalism today. It doesn’t seem like anyone is able to objectively report facts beyond maybe some whistleblowing groups such as Wikileaks. And it’s odd to me that the only alternative to that are people on the right who are almost conditioned to push a narrative themselves without even realizing it because it’s been so long since we’ve had news organizations who simply report the facts. So that’s why we became involved, not only to hold journalism accountable but to encourage a return to the “golden age” of reporting where journalists stick to reporting the facts with an analysis informed by a fresh perspective that the public won’t get from other outlets.
Utsav Sanduja: Absolutely, you couldn’t say it more correctly. The fact is that on Gab we have members from Germany who are Marxists, from Pegida, members of the Green Party in the United States. We have a lot of populist, pro agriculture parties from India on Gab. We have quite a very distinct ethos of people. We have liberal parties from Malaysia and Indonesia on Gab, members who are of a progressive predisposition from Syria on Gab. We have many secular groups. I just don’t understand what has happened to the established order. They used to, once upon a time, believe in free speech and free inquiry. And it seems to me that they’ve taken one particular political ideology, Political Marxism, and they’ve enshrined it and made it the stage for all discourse. It’s sad that you can’t criticize the Sacred Cow in India and other certain things. For example, we’re viewing the whole pitchfork mentality towards the Russians as crazy and we don’t understand it. Back in the Cold War if one were to make certain salacious allegations against the Russians you’d be called a McCarthyite. Nowadays people from the Democratic Party, people from SPD, people form the Green Party of Germany, from various left leaning parties hear “Russia” and go ballistic. We are just very confused by that and are accepting all kinds of contrarians. This is not a left-right angle for us, this is a establishment vs. populist angle for us.
Q: I can resonate for that. We’ve got a very politically diversified team featuring supporters of Bernie Sanders, even former Communists. We come from all walks and view this issue as being the establishment against the people. I hope to consciously avoid being portrayed as a pro-Trump news outlet because that is not our mission or what we are about. I believe when the focus is on the truth, positive outcomes will result from that.
Utsav Sanduja: It’s very funny to see how the far right and far left actually have so much in common. I see this all the time on Gab. People from very fringe sides of the political spectrum meeting another fringe side of the spectrum and what they have in common is wanting to combat big corporations, big governments, big social media companies and all kinds of regulations. They want to support privacy rights, cryptology, all sorts of individual control and decentralization initiatives. A lot of people just want to determine their own destinies and here on Gab we want to tell the members of the world from all walks of life that we are here for you, we will fight for you. We’re going to champion small journalists, we’re going to champion independent media creators, we’re going to champion music, poetry and art. We’re going to champion all the things you are trying to do in this very sad corporatist and monopolistic world where a few brands have a say on everything. We are here for the people. To conclude, we want to emphasize that Gab is a human rights tool. What Twitter once upon a time believed and preached in during the Arab Spring and the Green Revolution in Iran we actually believe in, even though Twitter backtracked on that belief.