The founder of the social media platform Gab said Sunday the far-right site had suffered a security breach, and lashed out at a group of anti-fascist activists who have begun to share a trove of the company's data they say includes private messages from about 15,000 users.
A radical transparency group, Distributed Denial of Secrets, said in an announcement Monday that it acquired a trove of the Gab files, provided to them by an independent activist hacker whose name is not publicly known. The group said it is limiting distribution of the data to researchers and journalists because it includes sensitive and password information, but said that the files include more than 70,000 messages, with the bulk of them posted in recent weeks. NBC News has been in contact with the group and is reviewing the messages.
The hack was first reported by Wired.
Launched in 2016, Gab was one of the first so called “free speech” Twitter alternatives to gain a foothold among extremist, far-right and some mainstream conservative users as other platforms cracked down on hate speech and misinformation. The site has come under fire for its most extreme users — including white nationalists and neo-Nazis, one of whom posted to the site moments before killing 11 people in a Pittsburgh synagogue in 2018.
The hack echoes the woes that Parler, another site frequented by the far-right, has dealt with in recent weeks. After some of its users participated in the Capitol riot Jan. 6, Amazon suspended its web hosting service, saying it wasn’t moderating its users’ violent content. That rendered the site inoperable for several weeks while it searched for a new host.
Gab’s founder, Andrew Torba, confirmed the hack in a message posted to Twitter on Sunday. "The entire company is all hands investigating what happened,” he wrote.
Gab has been named by groups like the Anti-Defamation League as an online headquarters for rioters who may have planned and organized January’s violence at the Capitol. Gab users posted enthusiastically in the days leading up to the Capitol rally. Some of these posts included calls for violence and tips for bringing weapons and avoiding police. Torba also encouraged users ahead of the rally to post footage on Gab.
Torba previously told USA Today that Gab “put an immediate stop to a series of newly created accounts that were making threats of violence aimed at public officials,” but he also has suggested on Gab that it was police going easy on rioters and letting them in the Capitol grounds, not use of Gab, that was responsible. He didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
“Document as much as you can and please know that your content is safe on Gab and Gab TV,” he posted to Gab the day before the riot.
Torba said that the site has seen a surge in user signups in the last month. The increase came as Parler faced a temporary shutdown in mid-January.