Social media is now more than ever a place to socialise and connect with people. Additionally, a significant majority of users get their daily dose of news on their social media feeds. And although most platforms tolerate and even support the freedom of expression, community guidelines and their constant modifications are regarded as subjective and constricting for some people trying to communicate their views.
That belief became even more broadcasted upon the appearance of the fact-checking labels on Twitter. That recent feature shows under tweets deemed as misinformation and directs people to a specially curated page to read more on the issue. The feature was launched to fight misinformation about the coronavirus but quickly emerged under some of President Trump’s tweets about the mail-in ballots.
Another very recent example of social media platforms restrictions once again involves president Trump and the actions taken by Twitter to lock his personal account. His tweets in the event of the Capitol riots were accused of “severe violations of our Civic Integrity policy” and were taken down. He was also banned from posting on Twitter and Facebook, and even his video addressing the attack was taken down from the YouTube platform.
Later, his Twitter profile was permanently suspended.
We have previously discussed some examples of social media platforms restricting or outrightly deplatforming accounts with inapt content. And as this becomes a routine practice, other platforms emerge trying to solve that issue. In other words, the more traditional social media impose censorship, the more competitors appear trying to omit that.
The decline of Parler
Parler is (was) one of these attempts to make freedom of expression online more attainable and they are quickly gaining followers. They are the self-proclaimed “world’s town square” focused on people, privacy and creating an experience when one can “speak freely and express themselves openly”.
For all these reasons, people were flocking to Parler after being banned or in support of someone else’s censoring. However, that ship has sailed, too. After accusations that moderation on the Twitter-like platform was insufficient and violence was encouraged throughout “parleys”, Parler is presently non-existent.
One by one, Google, then Apple and finally Amazon, ousted the company from their platforms.
The growth of Gab and its significance
As said before, forcefully trying to shut down activists will not result in them being quiet. It will rather drive them to another place to gather and conspire. This is more than evident with the popularity of Gab growing in the days after the Twitter bans and even more after Parler ceased to exist.
As reported by its CEO, Andrew Torba, Gab is growing with more than 10,000 per hour and is receiving millions of views on its website.
They started getting so much traction that they even began mocking Twitter:
The material posted on these platforms is of uttermost importance because it can help OSINT analysts scrape crucial information and help law enforcement. As in the case with the Capitol Riot, several private intelligence companies issued warnings prior to the protest because they were monitoring the chatter on social media and had reasonable suspicions. What’s more, a lot of the rioters were identified through social media videos. If it was not for that, some of these people may have found no consequences for their actions.
And that applies to many more cases and even more people. Activists and extremists often take pride in sharing their plans and actions publicly (of course, up to a point). And when they do it but that breaches the rules of the platform, they go to another platform, and a third one, slowly but surely becoming less accessible and harder to discover.
OSINT tools and techniques for Gab
Gab has been around since 2016 and is still withholding. This leads us to believe that the platform is likely to become the new gathering place for the extremists that have been kicked out from mainstream platforms. Although this community will become an echo chamber for extremists ideas, the implications to OSINT will remain valuable.
OSINT analysts have begun to see that in the face of recent events and started preparing for it.
From what we know so far, there are a few resources that can help you find targeted information on Gab. There is still a long way to go but until then, even these pieces of advice can enable you to navigate better through the platform:
• There is the list of techniques assembled by Sin for Secjuice;
• These pieces of advice;
• A small section regarding Gab on OSINT Dojo;
• As well as reKnowledge Digital Investigative Board. Using the add-on analysts can map networks of individuals and groups, and build strong institutional knowledge about those communities. Such granular understanding of these groups' dynamics, rhetoric and agenda has become all the more clear after last week's events at the US Capitol.