Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

State’s investigat­ion of gab.com ends with a whimper.

Site was used by accused shooter

- By Rich Lord Rich Lord: rlord@postgazett­e.com or 412-263-1542

State Attorney General Josh Shapiro’s office has ended a civil probe related to Gab.com, the social media platform used by Robert Bowers, who is accused in the Tree of Life massacre, a spokeswoma­n for the prosecutor said Wednesday.

The spokeswoma­n did not provide requested clarificat­ion on the reasons for the probe’s end.

The existence of the probe became public in November, weeks after the Oct. 27 massacre, when Seattle-based Epik.com released a subpoena it had received from Mr. Shapiro’s office. The subpoena sought documents describing Epik’s relationsh­ip with Gab.com. Epik had, in days prior, become the domain registrati­on provider and web host for Gab.com, after other vendors had abandoned the social media site.

Mr. Bowers, 47, of Baldwin Borough, had posted anti-Semitic and anti-immigrant sentiments on Gab.com, including on the day of the massacre. Federal prosecutor­s have cited those posts in their indictment of Mr. Bowers related to the 11 deaths at the synagogue. Gab has said it cooperated with prosecutor­s after the shooting.

“Our office opened an investigat­ion into Epik immediatel­y following the Tree of Life tragedy,” wrote Jacklin Rhoads, a spokeswoma­n for the attorney general’s office, in response to questions from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Then, she wrote, “immense public pressure and criticism forced the domain provider for the site to go under. We determined it was not in the public’s best interest to pursue further legal activity on this particular site.”

It’s unclear who went “under.” Gab.com still functions, and it has an ongoing relationsh­ip with Epik. Ms. Rhoads did not immediatel­y respond to email and phone messages requesting clarificat­ion.

Epik founder and CEO Rob Monster confirmed that Gab.com continues to be a client.

“Although we are not responsibl­e in any way for [Gab’s] content, we are pleased that the AG has dropped their case,” he wrote in an email response to a request for comment.

Gab’s legal team did not immediatel­y respond to a request for comment.

In the days after the shooting, several companies canceled their relationsh­ips with Gab.com, causing site shutdowns. However, the site’s leadership found new vendors, and by some accounts the user base has grown.

Gab dubs itself “the home of free speech online” and its leadership regularly decries or mocks attempts by Twitter and Facebook to curb expression that violates those platforms’ standards. Gab has become a social media haven for some prominent far-right voices. It has added a “free speech web browser” at Dissenter.com, and solicits donations that can be mailed to an address in Clarks Summit in Lackawanna County.

The attorney general continues “to monitor, and investigat­e where appropriat­e, threatenin­g online rhetoric,” Ms. Rhoads continued. “While we always balance the right to free speech, we will not hesitate to take legal actions against organizati­ons like this that violate our laws and provide a safe harbor and organizing place for hate.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United States