Ed Stetzer on Gab, the Pittsburgh Shooting, and the Danger of Echo Chambers

On Saturday, Robert Bowers entered the Tree of Life Synagogue, killing 11 people and injuring 6. During his attack, he continually shouted anti-Semitic statements, even during a dramatic gunfight with police. He told one officer, “They’re committing genocide to my people. I just want to kill Jews.”

This is horrific. My heart goes out to all of my Jewish friends who are grieving today. I grieve with you.

In light of yet another act of hate, we must understand and process the events leading up to the expression of such vitriolic hate. This depraved way of thinking and acting doesn’t happen overnight, and it doesn’t randomly appear. This type of hate forms over time and within a supportive community that normalizes and cultivates this evil into a fever pitch.

And if we think it can never happen to us, we ought just to look to Pittsburgh.

The role of Gab

In August 2016, the social network Gab was formed in response to censorship of hateful speech on popular social media sites like Twitter and Facebook. Popular alt-right leaders were being banned for harassment and hate speech, and Gab was formed with the misnomer of “protecting free speech.”

For many people, they first heard of Gab this weekend.

But, long before Bowers picked up a gun and put Gab on the front page of the news, the social network was known for being a safe haven for neo-Nazis, those posting perverse pornograhic material, and others promoting hate speech against African Americans and Jews. Gab’s domain has been threatened and moved multiple times in 2016 and 2017, and Apple and Google have denied their app both on pornographic and hate speech grounds.

This is not a place where free speech is protected. Instead, it is a social media outlet for hateful, bigoted racists to share and encourage one another to maintain these beliefs.

Despite being dropped by their content hosting providers, Gab has still been posting defenses of its structure and defending its policies. They are re-tweeting quotes from Winston Churchill about fighting on the hills and the beaches, claiming their social media site did nothing wrong, and using the language of uprising.

And they post even as 11 people are laying in a morgue after being brutally murdered by one of their users who wallowed in the same anti-Semitic pool of waste that is so common at Gab.

We must courageously stand up to this hate and call it what it is: evil.

Echo chambers, chambers, chambers…

Let me be clear: social media does not kill people. People kill people.

But people are influenced, encouraged or discouraged, validated or repudiated by the social circles in which they run. Society affirms or condemns behavior. We have all seen it happen, and perhaps even done it. Perhaps we don’t like when our ‘friends’ on Facebook continually post about something we don’t agree with. So we unfriend them. And then someone else posts a comment we are offended by. So we unfriend them.

Before we know it, we are in a bubble of like-mindedness which feeds and affirms our own beliefs and actions. Don’t get me wrong. I love having my Christian friends fill up my Twitter feed. It feeds my soul, giving me food for thought when the darkness of the world seems so blinding.

But, as I explain in Christians in the Age of Outrage, echo chambers amplify and then often radicalize those who are stuck in them. And when this echo chamber isolation works itself into fever pitch (like it did with Bowers), we can feel our opinions are normalized enough to act.

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Source: Christianity Today