Speaking this week, Microsoft president and chief legal officer Brad Smith explained the company’s decision to threaten Gab.ai with a shut down. In an interview with The Vergecast, Smith detailed why a shut down threat was first issued and why Gab was ultimately still supported.
Gab is a social network which builds itself as a “free speech” platform and a favourite amongst alt-right fans. In its pursuit to defend free speech, Gab has occasionally allowed controversial content to be published.
At the start of August, Microsoft threatened Gab saying it would be removed from the Azure platform if it did not take down two anti-Semitic messages. Microsoft gave the company 48 hours to remove the messages.
Gab could just move to another cloud platform, you may be thinking. However, the network said being removed from Azure could mean the site going down for weeks or even months. Brad Smith admits he did not know the notice had been sent and it came from a decision from a regional executive:
“Literally in that case, in all candor, somebody in our Azure support area in India had received an email from somebody who is in the consulting business who had heard from another company, expressing concerns about some content on Gab.ai,” Smith said.
“While we were sleeping on the West Coast of the United States, an employee in India had sort of turned out an email that went to Gab that said, ‘We’ve spotted some content, and under our policy, you have to address it in 48 hours or you risk being cut off.’”
The content in question pushed for genocidal action against Jewish people. Smith insists the content was so extreme that a review in Redmond led to an agreement with the notice being sent. Brad Smith calls it “a relatively straightforward judgment call because the content was so extreme.”
“Whoever made that call while we were sleeping made the right call,” Smith said.
Gab adhered to Microsoft’s notice and removed the content from its network.