ADL Urges an Investigation of Social Media Platform Gab for Criminal Liability in Capitol Riots

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Rioters in support of U.S. President Donald Trump gather at the west entrance of the Capitol during a protest outside of the Capitol building in Washington D.C. U.S. January 6, 2021.
Rioters in support of U.S. President Donald Trump gather at the west entrance of the Capitol during a protest outside of the Capitol building in Washington D.C. U.S. January 6, 2021. Credit: STEPHANIE KEITH/ REUTERS

WASHINGTON – The Anti-Defamation League on Wednesday urged the Department of Justice and the FBI to investigate whether social media platform Gab and its CEO Andrew Torba intentionally aided or abetted individuals behind last week’s violence at the Capitol.

ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said that “The January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol was perhaps one of the darkest days in American history, but it also was a deliberate and coordinated criminal act.” He noted that “in addition to holding individuals who broke the law accountable, the authorities must fully determine whether social media platforms, particularly Gab, bear a measure of responsibility for the attack as well.”

In an open letter, the ADL described Gab as a platform where white supremacists and extremists gather to plan and organize hateful acts. The organization provided the Department of Justice with examples of communications on Gab before, during and after last week’s violence that may have contributed to violations of federal criminal law, including reported posts on directions to avoid police presence and instructions on which tools could best pry open doors. A message from Torba the day prior to the riots instructed subscribers to document as much of the events as possible.

The ADL also highlighted the use of the phrase “there is no political solution” in post Torba made on the day of the attack – a phrase the organization said is often used online in white supremacist circles to signal that political violence must be used against the U.S. government system. The ADL also noted that Torba posted, “would be a real shame if the people outside stormed the Senate” shortly before rioters broke into the Capitol.

The ADL said that the immunity from liability that Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act affords to social media companies does not apply to federal criminal law, adding that any social media platform or website that intended to aid and abet the riots should be subject to criminal investigation.

“The violent storming of the Capitol on January 6 was not a constitutionally protected act, it was a dangerous criminal activity with no precedent in American history. Tragically there were several fatalities, including Officer Brian Sicknick who was murdered in cold blood,” Greenblatt said. “If Gab or any platform intentionally facilitated such unlawful conduct, it itself may have engaged in criminal acts for which it should be held accountable.”

Torba created Gab in August 2016 to counter supposed left-wing censorship of other social networks.“I didn’t set out to build a ‘conservative social network’ by any means. But I felt that it was time for a conservative leader to step up and to provide a forum where anybody can come and speak freely without fear of censorship,” Torba told The Washington Post in 2016. “Every major communication outlet, every major social network, is run, owned, controlled and operated by progressive leaders, progressive workers in Silicon Valley.”

Gab also welcomed several activists of the so-called alt-right after their Twitter accounts were suspended in the wake of the 2016 presidential election, and welcomed QAnon conspiracy theory accounts after they were kicked off Facebook several months ago.

Google first banned Gab from the Android app store in 2017 following the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville. Several tech companies, including domain name provider GoDaddy and payment companies PayPal and Stripe, later dropped Gab after it emerged that the Pittsburgh synagogue shooter used the service to post antisemitic posts the morning of his attack.

Torba wrote in response to the ADL's letter that Gab "worked diligently with law enforcement and spent several weeks warning our community about this behavior and taking swift action to remove it from our platform in the weeks prior to the protest," adding that "our moderation and legal teams work tirelessly to ensure public safety. Threats of violence and illegal activity have no place on Gab."

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