Microsoft took one of its few actions to restrict unsafe speech by demanding the microblogging service Gab.ai removed two posts by a neo-Nazi that threatened violence. Gab is known for an expansive, some say extreme attitude towards permitting all forms of speech without moderation.
Gab relies on Microsoft Azure, a popular cloud service offering, to provide the servers and networking behind the service. Microsoft told Gab that it received complaints about “malicious activity” related to two messages posted by Patrick Little, an avowed neo-Nazi, that advocated directly for violence against Jews. Microsoft gave the company two days to remove them or risk suspension.
Little removed the posts himself, noting that it was “a violation of our rights as Americans,” and concluding, “we will have no rights until the jews [sic] are expelled.”
A Microsoft spokesperson said in a statement elaborating on its move, “Microsoft received a complaint about specific posts on Gab.ai that advocate ‘ritual death by torture’ and the ‘complete eradication’ of all Jews. After an initial review, we have concluded that this content incites violence, is not protected by the First Amendment, and violates Microsoft Azure’s acceptable use policy.”
Microsoft said it would extend the two-day period if Gab chose to migrate elsewhere. That appears to be alleviated with the removal of the posts, and the company didn’t elaborate on what might occur if a similar violation occurred in the future. Facebook has an explicit three strikes within 90 days policy for hosted videos, while Twitter can opt to freeze an account until tweets are removed. But Azure isn’t a social network.
In the past, Gab has set some bright lines, banning Andrew Auernheimer, known as “weev,” notorious as both an ostensible troll and griefer, allegedly harassing people online for the joy of it, and in recent years as an apparently non-ironic adopter of neo-Nazi sensibilities. Gab suspended Auernheimer for threats and terrorism.
On the other hand, Andrew Anglin, the operator of Daily Stormer,an online publication aimed at neo-Nazis, maintains his account at Gab. His pinned tweet at the top of his account profile reads, “When you’re ready to start shoving Jews onto a train, remember that name!”
Were Gab suspended from Azure, it might have trouble finding a new home: Google had already blocked the service’s app from its Play store, and its one-time domain registrar booted it last September. (The company sue Google, alleged it blocked the app for antitrust reasons, but withdrew the suit shortly afterwards. It said it found a new registrar.)
In the wake of Alex Jones and his InfoWars conspiracy-based empire being banned and restricted by Apple, Facebook, MailChimp, Pinterest, Spotify, and YouTube, it’s unclear whether a service with a history of controversy could find a new cloud host.
Gab does, however, rely on Cloudflare, which provides a front-end resistance against distributed denial of service (DDoS) and other attacks that can disable a site or access to it. Cloudflare doesn’t technically host content, but acts as a firebreak in relaying content from a site to web browsers.