Hard-right activists move to 'free-speech' platform after Twitter, Facebook boot them off

United Patriots Front leader Blair Cottrell.
  • Blair Cottrell and Neil Erikson have begun posting on social media platform Gab after being banned by Twitter and Facebook.
  • Gab, which is heavily populated with right-wing extremists, markets itself as ‘The Free Speech Social Network’.
  • New Zealand and Australian Prime Ministers have called for greater regulation of major social media platforms, but questions remain about the darker corners of the internet.
  • Gab co-founder Andrew Torba has previously spoken to right-wing conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, who has also been de-platformed.

Two of Australia’s leading hard-right activists have begun using a messaging service heavily populated with right-wing extremists after being banned by Twitter.

Blair Cottrell and Neil Erikson, who’ve both been booted from Twitter and Facebook in the last month, started publishing material this week on Gab, an alternative that markets itself as ‘The Free Speech Social Network’.

Both men have criminal convictions and have previously promoted neo-Nazi material through their social media accounts. The pair have encouraged their followers to shift over from Facebook and Twitter over to Gab.

The news raises further questions for policymakers and technology executives about how to manage the rise of extremism in the wake of the Christchurch mosque massacre.

Twenty-eight year old Brenton Tarrant has been charged with murder after 50 muslims were gunned down at two mosques in the southern New Zealand city. A manifesto thought to have been penned by Tarrant was distributed on social media shortly before the killings, while the massacre itself was seen live on Facebook.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison are calling for greater regulation of social media platforms. Facebook deleted 1.5 million videos of the massacre in 24 hours.

But questions remain about whether the social media platforms are capable of limiting violent material from being distributed online and to what extent they can stamp out non-violent extremist behaviour on their platforms.

Cottrell and Erikson’s appearance on Gab is a reminder that extremists have other options available.

Gab is heavily populated with hard-right fanatics. Co-founder Andrew Torba has spoken to right-wing conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, who has himself been banned from social media, last year where he spoke about the need for the hard-right to build their own platforms.

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