Vox and the Z-Man have posts up on the shutting down of Gab.
There are a few ways of talking about this. First off, we can discuss what is lost by a Gab shutdown. Personally, I’ve never really completely understood Twitter or Gab. It just seemed like everyone linking to everyone else but not actually reading the content. What the actual value of that is escapes me. I tried reading my linked content many times and found it a muddled mess. Maybe that’s what happens when a million people are mixed in a blender together. But I will confess I probably just didn’t know what I was doing. So, all in all from a personal point of view it won’t actually affect me. Now, maybe it has actually been useful for other folks for communication and publicity. If anyone has found it valuable, say so in the comments. But from my point of view it wasn’t very useful.
The next way we can look at it is what can we learn from how it was shut down. Andrew Torba was vehement that he wanted freedom of speech to be the defining characteristic of Gab. That sounds like a laudable ideal. In practice, however, the content became pretty foul. There were some pretty crazy people on the site. Now, it’s unclear how much was just trolling by those looking to destroy Gab and which was legitimate nutbaggery. But regardless, the result was unpleasant and chaotic. Not being a Twitter user maybe I’m just unaware that this is par for the course in a social media arena. If that is so then it sort of reinforces my impression that Twitter and all these social media environments are toxic places that are mostly about battling your enemies for sport. I run a very different type of website. It’s a microscopic place compared to Gab (never mind Twitter). But we have to deal with the same questions of how to regulate the written interactions between real people. I have the advantage that I can monitor the discussions on my own. The scope is possible in a small venue. For a place like Twitter or Gab it becomes expensive and difficult to maintain a consistent policy because of the need for multiple individuals with their individual points of view. With respect to freedom of speech on my site, I tell people they can speak their minds but keep it reasonable. Obviously, that isn’t a highly precise statement. What I’m trying to say is stay within legal and cultural norms. Different people have different perspectives on those and the only standard that I have to decide on what conforms and what doesn’t is my own judgement. But that isn’t too different from any other venue where people interact and debate. I’m guessing that a truly free speech site will always be a sort of giant demolition derby. If your site is perceived as being on the right-wing it is clear that you will be punished whenever the opportunity presents itself so allowing the crazier individuals to let it all hang out will eventually lead to the situation that occurred at Gab. So, the lesson to learn is a fully free speech site is not going to happen in the present environment.
And finally, we can look at what should be changed to avoid this waste of resources. The first thing that comes to mind is an analysis could be done to find out exactly what are the useful functions that a Twitter, Facebook or YouTube serves and how, if at all, they could be replicated in a competing right-wing entity. I am hardly qualified to do such an analysis but I’ll at least attempt to discuss some of the more obvious answers. The two most important functions these sites accomplish is communication and commerce. The sites allow people to find their audience. To the extent that they are right-wing sites I guess that will help pre-select for the audience intended. The second function is allowing content creators to monetize their product. This will be tied into advertising revenue. From what I’ve heard advertising revenues, even on established giants like YouTube and Instagram, are shrinking drastically. What I think this all means is that a viable right-wing social media site will be a site where content providers will pay a fee to obtain visibility and the site will provide amenities like video storage space, band-width and some amount of moderation of the trolls. Eventually, popular content producers will be able to sell advertising on their videos and other content products. To me this seem to be the future of right-wing social media. And it seems like a reasonable model. Eventually the site will develop other ways to monetize its value. Subscriptions like Netflix and Amazon eventually will be the end state.
So that’s my take on what can be learned from the Gab debacle. Experience is the cruelest teacher but the most effective.