Gab’s plans to fork over Silicon Valley projects did not end with just Brave.
The “free speech social media network” is evolving, and Gab is taking a whole new approach to its business: find open-source software projects, remove the Silicon Valley baggage, and integrate “free-speech money” with Bitcoin.
But Gab was quick to steal its thunder, teasing that it might do to Keybase what Gab did to the open-source Brave browser (much to CEO Brendan Eich’s chagrin) just a few weeks ago.
Following Keybase’s announcement, Gab CEO Andrew Torba posted on Twitter that his company “can’t wait” to fork Keybase and replace Stellar with a Bitcoin Lightning Network wallet.
And Torba tells Decrypt that it’s something his company is seriously exploring.
“There may be other encrypted chat projects that might make more sense to fork,” he says, “but Keybase is a personal favorite of mine, and their client side app is open source so it made sense to take a look at a minimum.”
As for why Gab would want to create its own Keybase clone, Torba says: Why not? “Why would Gab not want its own encrypted chat platform? We can replace our DM system with a totally encrypted communication tool, which will be a win for our users and their privacy.”
From “Twitter alternative” to developing its own web browser to now, potentially, building an encrypted chat platform, Gab’s new trajectory is clear—with a strong pivot to Bitcoin perhaps coming largely out of necessity.
Since launching in 2016, Gab’s tolerance of all speech (within the limits of U.S. law) on its social media platform has seen it banned from more than a dozen Silicon Valley service providers, including payment processors such as Stripe, PayPal, Square, BitPay, and Coinbase.
In October 2018, after it became known that the man behind the Pittsburgh synagogue massacre was an avid user of Gab’s platform, the controversy spurred debate about the limits of free speech online and whether the networks that host such speech should bear some of the responsibility.
The list of tech companies that want nothing to do with Gab continues to grow, including the crowdfunding platform StartEngine, which Torba plans to sue for having given his company the boot without refunding associated fees. Relying on Bitcoin to process payments has become part of Gab’s core business, and finding creative ways to avoid being silenced has reshaped its business model.
Now, “Gab is a free speech software company,” says Torba. “We may have started out with our social networking product, but we quickly learned that in order to continue growing we would need to also build access technology, like a web browser, in order to distribute free speech products.”
Gab’s CEO says, however, that his company is in no rush to create its own encrypted chat platform and has “plenty of time to explore and research opportunities.”
Indeed, the last time Torba floated an idea like this—like the possibility of forking Brave and creating Gab’s own web browser to circumvent the inevitable bans of its sidebar comments plug-in—Gab delivered on the “Dissenter Free Speech Browser” four months later.
Gab’s Brave fork strips the browser of its Basic Attention Token (BAT) and other ad-network features, with the goal of eventually integrating a Lightning Network wallet. “We have a great partnership with a great company in the space, and we are working together to nail the user and onboarding experience, something that often gets overlooked in the crypto space,” Torba says.
While Brave executives, including the company’s CEO Brendan Eich, didn’t take too kindly to Gab forking its browser, Torba says the feedback so far for the Dissenter browser has been overwhelmingly positive. Though Gab can’t measure precise user numbers, having removed Brave’s tracking feature from its fork, Torba says download figures place them north of 25,000 users since releasing the beta last week.
As for Gab’s refined mission, Torba is explicit and unapologetic about his company’s designs: “Our new company strategy is pretty simple: fork open source projects, expand our team to the tune of hundreds of new engineers instantly by doing so, remove shitcoins from said projects, and add free speech money: bitcoin.”
That is precisely what Gab plans to do with its fork of Keybase, should the company decide to move forward with the idea: “Stellar is a shitcoin,” Torba says. “It's an attempt by the Silicon Valley elite, who missed or dismissed the bitcoin early days, to pump a useless coin that bitcoin will inevitably make even more useless.”
As evidence of Stellar’s elitist sins, Gab’s CEO points to Stripe’s 2 percent ownership of Stellar and its inclusion of “Silicon Valley insiders” like Y Combinator President Sam Altman on the Stellar Development Foundation Board. “We want nothing to do with this garbage, which is why if and when we decide to fork Keybase, the first thing we do will be to remove any trace of Stellar and integrate a bitcoin lightning wallet instead.”
While it may make business sense for Gab to create its own version of Keybase, it’s not hard to see why some of this might be personal for Torba. In late 2016, Gab’s CEO was booted from the Y Combinator alumni network, which Torba blamed squarely on Altman, saying at the time that Altman had been looking for “any way to purge” him from their ranks.
Whatever the reason may be, Gab’s war against Silicon Valley rages on—with Bitcoin as ammunition.