WBD067 Audio Transcription
Gab's Andrew Torba on Why Bitcoin Is Free Speech Money
Interview date: Thursday 17th Jan, 2019
Note: the following is a transcription of my interview with Andrew Torba from Gab.com. I use Rev.com from translations and they remove ums, errs and half sentences. I have reviewed the transcription but if you find any mistakes, please feel free to email me. You can listen to the original recording here.
In this episode, I talk with Andrew Torba, CEO of Gab.com. We discuss free speech, censorship, the First Amendment, the deplatforming of Gab.com by Silicon Valley giants and payment processors and why Bitcoin is free speech money.
“The first amendment is not there to protect popular speech, it is there to protect unpopular speech.”
— Andrew Torba
Peter McCormack: Hi there, Andrew. Thank you for coming on the show. So, you obviously know my show is primarily a Bitcoin show. And every now and again I will have an interview, which is not with somebody in the traditional Bitcoin community: not a developer, not a maybe an investor, but somebody who’s come from, kind of, out of nowhere. And what’s happened with Gab.com is that I’ve seen so many posts starting to bear on Twitter and started to see all this stuff about censorship. And so, I thought, right, I think I need to talk to these guys. And I’ve done a bunch of research, and I think it’s going to be one of these ones where during the research and during the interview, I’m going to learn something and my opinion’s going to change. So, I think a really good start would be can you give me your background, and then give me the background to Gab and how this all comes together?
Andrew Torba: I come from a small town in Pennsylvania, I now live rurally in Pennsylvania. So, being in San Francisco was a bit of a culture shock and as a conservative, as a Christian, I felt very out of place being there and felt that I had to keep my political views, my religious views, my opinions, really to myself. So, I was in this mode of self-censorship for a few years as I was building that first company. The ad site company, we were working with Facebook, with Twitter, with Google on their ads products, so I had a lot of friends, had a lot of close relationships with folks that work at Facebook, Twitter, and Google during the 2015 presidential election cycles, as things started to heat up, I had noticed that there was a lot of censorship going on: on Reddit, on Twitter, on Facebook, et cetera. I just witnessed this personally because I was an active member of the Donald Reddit/subreddit community, witnessed a lot of shady stuff going on there from Reddit.
I was an active Twitter user, witnessed a lot of shady stuff going on there with manipulation in terms of trending topics, and people being shadow band and weird things going on that really had never happened before up until this point because these platforms had always preached free expression, and we’re of all about free speech. At one point Twitter called themselves the ‘free speech wing’ of the free speech party. The media praised Twitter during the Arab Spring. In fact, they called the Arab Spring, the Twitter revolution, right? But you know, now we start to see these populist movements going on around the world, first with Brexit and then with Donald Trump and now all across Europe and in Brazil, with Jair Bolsonaro etc. And these big tech corporations and the media are freaking out, and they no longer support freedom of expression. They no longer support the free flow of information.
So, my tipping point was when a whistle-blower from Facebook’s trending topics product came forward and said, “We’re actively suppressing conservative news, conservatives sources, conservative ideas, news, trending topics, a product that is used by over a billion people every month, and is what people see as news. I said if someone’s got to do something, right? There is no real alternative. Consumers have the illusion of choice. You know, most people don’t realise that Facebook owns Instagram and WhatsApp and Facebook groups and messenger and all those top apps in the app store are all owned by one company. So, there’s not really a choice outside of the Silicon Valley companies in their ideological echo chamber for community building, right? Or a social networking atmosphere of social news. So, that was the premise of how Gab got started, and we launched into beta in August 2016. So, I guess that’s a little background on me and how Gab got started and what inspired me to start gap.
Peter McCormack: And why do you think this censorship of conservative opinion is happening?
Andrew Torba: Well, anytime you have censorship, it’s when better ideas are winning in the free marketplace of ideas, right? So, if your ideas are garbage, which a lot of the globalist and progressive ideas are, and the winning ideas are starting to overtake your poor ideas, and people aren’t eating dog food that they’re being spoon-fed from the propaganda machine, on the TV or in mainstream media outlets or mainstream blogs, they have no choice but to censor the prevailing dominant ideas that are winning in that free marketplace of ideas. So, I think that is a big part of it, is they don’t want to lose their control, they see the people are empowering themselves, they have access to knowledge, they have access to information in a way that has never been possible in human history. And I think a lot of the people in power are very threatened by that because they can no longer control the narratives, they can no longer spoon feed the public narratives that they’re just, supposed to accept as reality on face value. We have independent journalists: anybody with a mobile phone in their hand becomes a journalist that is on the scene actually reporting what is going on, not reporting a particular narrative or a particular agenda, but objectively hears what’s happening, and I think they’re really threatened by that. So, I think that’s a big part of why this is happening right now.
Peter McCormack: Okay, so let’s imagine I don’t know a lot because I don’t, we don’t have such a debate over free speech in the UK, it definitely seems to be something that I read about more in relation to the US. I’m not sure if that’s because there’s more like extreme views, or it’s a different kind of media, but it’s less of an issue here, and possibly also because we don’t have something like the First Amendment that people stand up for, and feel that’s so important. So, just because we will have a range of people listen to this show, can you just explain what the First Amendment is, why it’s so important in the US?
Andrew Torba: Sure, the First Amendment is the single most important fundamental human right on the planet, and it’s a concept, but it’s also a document, it’s also the law in the United States. It is the reason that I’m able to do what I’m able to do. It’s the reason that so many that have come before me are able to do what they’re able to do, and it’s not only about speech, it’s about expression, it’s about religious liberty, it’s about the freedom of the press, right? So, there’s a lot in the First Amendment, it’s not just simply about the freedom of speech, but primarily the First Amendment is to protect against government tyranny against different types of expression. And the First Amendment is not there to protect popular speech, it’s specifically there to protect unpopular speech: speech that most people maybe don’t agree with at a certain point in time.
But over time because we have the First Amendment in the United States of America, we’ve been able to do things like free the slaves, like civil rights, all these social movements are only possible because of the First Amendment. Because if it wasn’t there, then the governments could have quashed out any of those movements, depending on who’s in power, right? So, that’s why it’s so fundamentally important is that minority opinions today could become the dominant opinion within a few years. As we’ve seen in the United States, with the legalisation of gay marriage as an example, I mean, you go back 20 years, and that would have been unthinkable, but because we have the First Amendment, this social movement was able to rise up, and we saw that happen within a very short timeframe. This massive social change in our country happened in a very short amount of time, and, I think, the First Amendment is really what drives a lot of that.
So, the other thing, I think, I would notice is that the First Amendment is different than free speech as a concept, right? Because the First Amendment protects against government’s intervention or governments coming after individuals or corporations or organisations for expressing themselves, but I think free speech is a concept, it’s really a cultural thing, it’s a societal thing, it’s related to the First Amendment, obviously, but it is also a separate concept in and of itself, where it’s reliant on society and on culture to uphold the values and the principles of free speech of, “Hey, I don’t necessarily agree with what you’re saying, but I will fight to the death to have your ability to be able to express that so that we can talk about it.” Because a lot of people have a lot of different opinions that people aren’t going to agree with, but if they harbour that stuff inside, if they can’t, or if they’re told by these big mega-corporations that, “You’re not allowed to talk about this subject. You’re not allowed to share this news link.” Right. If they can’t express themselves through words or through ideas or through art or through memes, well then, the only other option that they have is expressing themselves through violence.
So, I’d much rather see opinions are written down, or controversial or offensive stuff that I don’t … by the way, I don’t have to look at it, I can choose to block somebody or mute somebody or unfollow them, or I have the individual liberty, the user chooses to make those adult decisions without having a corporation make those decisions for me. So, I think that’s a fundamental thing that I think a lot of people don’t understand about free speech and the First Amendment: is like they’re related, but there are also two separate concepts.
Peter McCormack: But within that, there’s no place for taste, right? taste is irrelevant.
Andrew Torba: Yeah, yeah, it is. It is because these concepts like hate speech or even harassment, or all that stuff like, it’s all subjective because something could be deemed hateful in your eyes, but in my eyes, it’s a joke, or it’s someone being an idiot, you know what I mean? It’s a very subjective concept, so I don’t think that two or three or at max five corporations in Silicon Valley get to decide what the entire internet is allowed to talk about, is allowed to say, links that they’re allowed to share, or who’s allowed to have a platform and who isn’t when they’re not breaking the law. I think it’s absurd.
Peter McCormack: So interestingly, obviously in preparation, I signed up for Gab, and I have a look around, and certainly there are things that I found a bit tasteless: there’s racism, there are homophobic jokes, and at first, I was thinking, “What is the point of this?” But to try and be fair when I started doing a little bit of a search on say, Twitter and Reddit and I, found similar stuff. So, what is the difference between, say, yourself and the likes of Reddit and Twitter? Is it that you have a completely open policy whereas the policy on sites like Reddit and Twitter appears to be grey?
Andrew Torba: Right. So, here’s the thing: we have always welcomed everybody. We’re not a conservative only or right wing only site. I think, a majority of our community today, although this is changing rapidly, is certainly people on the right, right of centre, libertarian, but when you ask yourself why that is, it’s because all of these people are being put in timeout or banned, or their favourite craters are being suspended off of all these other platforms, whereas the left isn’t experiencing that, right? So, it makes sense that they would seek out a platform where they can express themselves without fear of being banned or losing 10 years’ worth of content, for example. I think the difference between us and Facebook is that they have these very subjective ambiguous Terms of Service that are kind of always changing, and they enforce them unequally. So, they’ll enforce them against people on the right but not people on the left, especially not journalists, especially not celebrities. And that’s ridiculous, right?
So, I think when we enforce our guidelines, which by the way, Gab is not an anarchist site, we have user guidelines that we used the First Amendment and Supreme Court rulings on the First Amendment to draft our terms of service and our user guidelines, and really they look pretty similar to Twitter’s circa 2007 to around 2015 when they decided to start making all of these changes. Common sense stuff, don’t break the law, don’t post child porn, don’t spam, right? Don’t dox somebody, no threats of violence, right? Common sense stuff that everybody that you would show these to is like, “Okay, I can agree to these simple set of rules.” And the difference between us and Twitter and Reddit and all these other guys are we enforce them equally. You know, we don’t care if it’s a big celebrity on the site, we don’t care if it’s a politician, we don’t care if it’s a journalist, we don’t care if it’s a brand new user or user that’s been on for years. If you’re breaking our guidelines, so we’re going to take action. And when you set that line in the sand and when you enforce things equally, people tend to respect and follow those rules, in our experience over the past three years.
Peter McCormack: Right? Okay. So, is there potentially … I’m trying to think how the word this, do you have the ability, therefore, yourself to take legal action against those who censor you, because you’ve experienced your own form of censorship, like financial censorship, right?
Andrew Torba: We’ve experienced … I think we’re one of the most censored start-ups on the planet. So, I’ll just go through the wringer here of what we’ve been through over the past three years: we’ve been banned from both app stores for “hate speech,” “objectionable content.” And there have been third-party studies by academic groups and PhDs who actually looked at every single post ever made on the website and what they found is that 95% of content on our website does not contain any hate speech, et cetera, et cetera. In comparison to something like 4chan, which has around 10% of hate content or something like Twitter, which allegedly in the studies they only had 2.6 or something, I don’t know what the sample was, but regardless.
I think that that’s the fundamental thing is that we’re not a hate site, right? Are there hateful people on this site? Sure, it’s the internet, there are hateful people all over the internet as you experienced. You go looking for hate on Twitter, on Reddit, on Facebook, you’re going to find it, right? So, I think why is Gab removed from both app stores, we’ve been removed from hosting providers, we’ve been banned from PayPal, from Stripe, from Coinbase, from BitPay, from Cash App. At every level of internet infrastructure, from payments to hosting, to our domain registrar, we got kicked off of GoDaddy, every single level app stores. We’ve experienced no platforming and censorship on like ever before. Why? Because we have a terms of service that looks identical to Twitter’s up until about 2015: we enforce it equally, and 95% of our site is not hateful. That’s why we’ve been medically kicked off the internet.
At one point we were completely off the internet because our hosting provider gave us 24 hours to find a new host, and we were down for about six days because, I don’t know, most people maybe don’t know this, but finding a new host, and switching all of your code base over to a new host, especially for a site in a code base as big as ours, is a monumental task. So, our guys had to work around the clock for six days, and we were off the internet for six days because of that.
Peter McCormack: It sounds kind of coordinated. The one that stands out to us, one that hit the press, majorly, in the UK is obviously Alex Jones. And what happened to him, I’m not a fan of Alex Jones, but what happened to him felt coordinated. He was like everything at once. Do you have something like a belief that there is some kind of coordination between these companies?
Andrew Torba: Without a doubt in my mind? Yeah, absolutely. First of all, they’re all in … just in terms of location, they’re all in the same place, right? Like they’re all in the Bay Area, all in San Francisco. They all know each other, they all communicate, and what it is you look at the coordination even if it’s behind our new platforming, right? So, we were banned within, I think, it was 48 hours we lost our host, we lost PayPal, we lost Stripe, we lost a ton of third-party providers, third party services, we lost our blog. I mean, it happens within 48 hours of each other, you have to ask yourself what’s going on. And you made a great point about Alex Jones, you don’t have to agree with everything he says, you don’t have to like him, you could actually despise him, but when you see what happened to him: he was unpersoned off the internet, and if they can do it to him, you know someone who’s been on the internet for I think what? 20 years like, since the start of the internet, right? He lost over 30,000 videos, every tweet he over made was gone, every post on Facebook he ever made was gone, access to his website via Google search was gone.
So, you have someone who has a massive platform, a massive footprint on the internet, and because Silicon Valley says so, this person no longer exists as far as the internet knows. That is horrifying. And if they can do it to someone as big as Alex Jones, as prevalent as Alex Jones, they can do it to anybody, right? Any individual, any corporation, any organisation they want, and that’s horrifying.
Peter McCormack: Are there any hate speech laws in the US that prevent certain types of speech?
Andrew Torba: Absolutely not. No, the US Supreme Court ruled unanimously in 2017 that hate speech is 100% protected by the First Amendment.
Peter McCormack: So yeah, because that’s one of the things I was thinking about, some of the content is quite tasteless, and some of it comes across as quite hateful. I think, I’m pretty sure here in the UK, hate speech is illegal, so that’s probably one of the key differences. Okay.
Andrew Torba: Yep. In Germany, in Canada, yes: All across the world, there are hate speech laws. Absolutely, and the problem with that is that today they’re being used against one particular group of people, tomorrow could be used against another particular group of people because that term is completely subjective, right? You look at Twitter, and you see these journalists and these celebrities, tweeting all this hate about white people, or about men or about Christians, those are all allowed, right? Hate speech about any of those people is allowed, or even minorities who have become conservative or Trump supporters, you’re allowed to be hateful towards these people. And I think the double standard and the hypocrisy is really what drives me insane because if you’re going to enforce hate speech rules or hate speech laws, well then do so equally, right? You’re going to have to go after the people that are being hateful towards whites or towards Christians or towards men just like you go after, people who are being hateful towards other minority groups.
Peter McCormack: Does that affect how you run the platform though, say, in the UK? If there are hate speech laws, do you have to blog content, or you just carry on anyway?
Andrew Torba: No, absolutely not. And actually, that’s one of our selling points as well is because we’re a US company, a US Corporation, we do not have offices in the UK, we don’t have offices in Germany, in Brazil, in Canada, whereas Facebook, Twitter, all these guys, they do. So, when they get data requests, for someone who’s committed hate speech on the internet, these other corporations immediately hand over that user data, whereas we do not, we reject, we reject and we regularly get requests for users that are being “hateful,” And, we have foreign governments try to get their user data, their IP et cetera, et cetera and we reject these, and that’s actually one of our selling points is like, “We’re going to protect you not only with the First Amendment, as a US Corporation, but also privacy and data protection laws that we have here in the United States as well. And our goal is to extend those rights to everybody around the world. And you know, I think it won’t be long before we see one of these countries ban Gap.
I would not be surprised if we see some Chinese style censorship where Germany blocks Gab’s URL, and anybody in Germany is going to have to use a VPN to access Gab. And we have plenty of people that are on Gab from Germany. I can see the UK potentially doing the same thing: Maybe even Canada. And that’s a scary thing. It’s a scary world to live in where governments can decide what social networks you can use and what you can’t. I think that’s wild, but I think we’re not too far off. I think that’s the next level of no platform in the Gab likely experience going forward.
Peter McCormack: So, it’s interesting you picked Germany as the most likely one because they obviously have a clear … I’m going to say the problem with far right, but you’re making me … I don’t know, do you see the far right as a problem?
Andrew Torba: No, I see the far right as a reaction to an even bigger problem of globalisation, of forced migration, of forced mixing of cultures that do not agree with one another on a very fundamental level, I see it as a reactionary movement. Now, obviously, I would speak against any form of violence. I think people should duke it out in the free marketplace of ideas, and that’s partly why I fight so hard and I’m working so hard to build Gab because I would much rather live in a world where we’re on the internet, behind the keyboard duking it out over ideas with words then duking it out in the streets with violence. And again, I think, if you tell people that they can’t express themselves through words on the internet, the next logical step for them is to go to the streets and to get violent.
We see this happening in France, with the Yellow Vest movement, people are sick and tired of it, they voice their opinion against their governments on the internet and in different forms of protests, et cetera, but now they’ve reached a breaking point where they’ve just had enough, so they’re taking to the streets. And I think we’re going to see that a lot. So, I don’t think necessarily the far right, I don’t think it’s as big as the media makes it out to be. I think the far left is a dangerous thing because the far left is … their proponents of communism. When you compare communism and fascism, communism has killed far more people, hundreds of millions of people, right? And has starved and genocided endless amounts of people throughout the past hundred years.
So, I think that is a more deadly philosophical point of view if you want to talk about far left versus far right. I would take the far right over the far left any day because at least the far right, I think, they’re grounded in a little bit more rational thinking and maybe less likely to get violent if they can express themselves through words and through other forms of communication versus violence. Although, of course, there are those who do get violent, and I would absolutely condemn and disavow those people: Violence is not the answer, fighting free marketplace of ideas with your ideas versus fighting with words or with violence, you’re not going to win anybody over doing that. There are people on both the far left and the far right that get violent, and I would speak against both of them.
Peter McCormack: Sorry, you said the liberals, the far left are proponents of communism, are you really more talking about social? Because there’s a difference between socialism and communism, right?
Andrew Torba: Yeah, it’s both. They’ll be proponents of both.
Peter McCormack: Because obviously I follow the media, and I follow … there were times I was a very liberal person, and actually, since I’ve gotten into bitcoin, I’ve come to understand the problems with socialist policies et cetera, and how they can be unfair. I’ll be honest, I’m completely confused politically these days. I actually don’t know where I am because there were times where I used to have socialist ideals. I’d love the NHS in the UK, and then I had a conversation with somebody you’re aware of, who you’ve quoted in one of your emails [inaudible 00:24:19], and he explained to me the problem with the NHS, so I’m completely confused these days. But I’m yet to see a left wing party be a proponent of communism.
Andrew Torba: Well, it’s components of communism, right? So, it’s Marxism, it’s separating people into identity groups to break down the fabric of society, it’s one of those things where both communism and socialism both look great on paper, right? It’s like, “Oh we want to help everybody. We want people that are working harder, or making more to share the wealth.” It looks like this utopian dream when you look at it on paper, but in practice, and in reality, it doesn’t work at all because that’s not how human beings think or how they feel about certain social problems. I think a lot of people are in your position where they’re very politically confused these days. For me, it’s pretty simple, I’m a classical liberal, right? So, I believe in the individual, I believe in not judging people based on their collective identity group, I believe on treating them as a direct individual, and hearing what they have to say and what they have to believe in, and empowering them as much as possible. I think that’s one thing that Bitcoin does, is it raises up and empowers the individual unlike ever before in history. So, individual liberty, freedom of expression, free speech, all those things go together.
So, I think the left used to be, at least in the United States of America, used to be more classically liberal, but they’ve kind of shifted farther left into socialism, into Marxism, into even communism on the extreme which it’s not good. And, I think, that, again, I’d rather have these discussions about communism and socialism versus nationalism versus populism which is more on the right, then duking it out in the streets with one another with these Antifa thugs that we see in the United States, or even on the super far right, some of the more violent guys on that side of things. I think both are wrong, and, again, I’d rather see people talk it out, and express themselves online without having these big corporations decide who can participate and who can’t. I think that’s absurd.
Peter McCormack: Yeah, I think I saw a quote from you or read an interview in prep for this, that you said, “It’s much safer that these ideas are open and discussed than censored.” And I, kind of, got the feeling you were saying if they censor, these people are going to be more angry, they’re going to be having their discussions in private without challenge, right? But at least if its public, it can be challenged, it can be debated, is that correct?
Andrew Torba: Right. Exactly. They can be challenged, first of all, and, if they’re planning violence or if they’re getting signs that they’re going to become violent, well, by allowing them to express themselves publicly on the public surface web, not on the dark web or not in, some corner bar where they have, small meetups and talk in person. You know, law enforcement is able to keep an eye on these people and monitor them, and hopefully prevent bad things from happening, and that happens every day. And people don’t know it because the bad things don’t end up happening, right? So, I think it’s actually a good thing to have all forms of legal expression on the surface, on the top level of the internet where those ideas can be challenged, those ideas can be tracked if they’re going down the path of violence or terror, et cetera. There’s a lot of inherent good to more speech. I think more speech is always the answer to bad speech or to hateful speech because you have to shine a light on that darkness in order for it to break and hopefully bring people to the light and hopefully, maybe convince them or at least get them to second guess their ideas, or their opinions that may be hateful, or that may be harmful, or maybe violence. I think it’s more speech is always going to be the answer, fundamentally that’s my position.
Peter McCormack: All right. Well, let’s talk about the difficulties you’ve had with Gab because I went through Wikipedia, and it’s quite an intense list, and it just feels like everyone has … It’s like, rather than ask who has blocked you, like, who hasn’t? It feels like everyone has got in the way of what you’ve tried to achieve. So, let’s, work through that. So, your launch was it August 16?
Andrew Torba: Yes.
Peter McCormack: So, how much of a clean run did you have before you started to get attacked by and censored by other companies?
Andrew Torba: Ah, well, we were actually in private invite-only beta for about a year, so it wasn’t a public facing website and not anybody can join, you actually had to be invited. So, we got about a year of solid building, and, you know, building up our community et cetera without any new platform right now. Of course, we weren’t on App Stores at this time, anyway. We started web first because we specifically did not want to be under the thumb of Apple and Google by starting with an app first, which proved to be a very visionary strategy and a winning strategy because inevitably, we did get banned from both app stores. After Charlottesville is really when a lot of things started to escalate in terms of no platforming, and not just for us, but for a lot of other people, especially on the right. That was August of 2017: things started to escalate. Now, we had been rejected from the App Store, I think nine or 10 times before this, so we never actually got into the App Store, we were just, you know, stopped at the door, basically, they wouldn’t even acknowledge in nine or 10 times and months and months and months of trying to get approved and, you know, trying to do different things to appease Apple with the app and they wouldn’t let us in.
And then shortly after Charlottesville, we got banned from the Google Play Store. You know, we started having problems with our domain registrar, we had to find a new domain registrar within 48 hours. They were demanding that we censor a specific post which wasn’t against the law, wasn’t anything illegal, it wasn’t offensive mean, but it was a controversial mean, but it wasn’t against the law, it wasn’t against our guidelines. So, we didn’t want to remove it. Then, I think, after that really a lot of the coordinated no platforming started after the Pittsburgh shooting in October. So, within a matter of hours, we started getting kicked off of every possible platform: payment processors, hosting, et cetera: all within about 48 to 72 hours of one another. It was very, very coordinated.
And again, we were off the internet for about six days. So, after that we got back online, we found a new host, we found a domain registrar: epic.com, epik.com that was willing to take our domain and standby and support free speech. That’s really what we had to do, is seek out partners who shared our values and shared our principles, and was willing to take the heat because all of our partners have taken heat from the media, from activists, from the online outrage mob, and it took a lot of guts for some of our partners in the hosting and domain registrar level et cetera to stand up and say, “No. We’re going to host these guys, they deserve to be on the internet. Free speech deserves to be on the internet. And no, we don’t agree with everything that’s on the site. But, we agree that they deserve a platform and they deserve to be online.” So, that was a part of the journey.
And then the final part of the puzzle was payments. And, we have gone through probably a dozen different payment processors, and 30 some plus odd banks trying to get a new payment processor, and thus far we’ve been unable to do so: It’s been months. So, eventually I got to the point, and it’s a very long process. A lot of people don’t realise this that you have to go through an underwriting process, it’s almost like getting approved for a mortgage or for a loan where they have to dive into all of your financials and do credit checks, and you have to send them a ton of information and it takes weeks for each application.
So, we spent like two months doing this, and I was like, “enough’s enough, right? We have Bitcoin, we have free speech money. That’s the answer.” And we had been accepting bitcoins since inception, but we were going through Coinbase or through Bidpay, and we got banned from both of those. So, we had to spin up our own BTCPay Server node and basically become our own crypto payment processor, and it worked really well, and people are using it. We got the Bitcoin community really excited because we’re introducing Bitcoin to almost 900,000 users, many of whom maybe have never heard of Bitcoin, many of whom certainly have never purchased Bitcoin, they’re now setting up their first wallet and setting up on exchanges, and buying their first Bitcoin just to support Gab, which is really an incredible thing for adoption. And I think the biggest problem that Bitcoin, so far, has had is from a marketing perspective because everybody wants to talk about all these technical terms like blockchain and decentralisation and sound money. And, you talk to any normal person who is not in crypto Twitter or not in, you know, crypto communities on the internet in this filter bubble, and they’re not going to know what the hell you’re talking about. And frankly, they’re not going to be interested, right?
You have to brand it in a way that makes sense to people, and that they get instantly and that makes them want to learn more. If you tell grandma or your mom that Bitcoin is free speech money, and just like if you’re going to Europe, you need to exchange US dollars for euros, In order to make transactions, well, you need to exchange US dollars for Bitcoin in order to make transactions with Gab, or with your favourite content creator who is now banned from Patreon or from PayPal or et cetera, you frame it in that way and it makes much more sense. I think the other problem that a lot of normal everyday people have had is they don’t realise that they don’t have to buy a full Bitcoin, so they see the price and it’s like, “Oh my goodness, it’s four grand. I can’t afford that.” Well, you have to explain to them like, “You can buy $5 worth of Bitcoin,” right? So, there are these hurdles.
But I think that we’re in a great position to educate a lot of people on the importance. The most important value that Bitcoin has outside of the store of value aspect, outside of the not answering to any corporation or government or centralised entity, the most [inaudible 00:35:38] the block size doesn’t … None of that matters as long as I can process payments without permission and without being censored then Bitcoin is going to be our choice, and that’s how that led to that decision.
Peter McCormack: Great man. So, listen, we’re going to get into that because this is a Bitcoin show, and I wanted to talk to you about that as well. Also what’s quite interesting, listen to you talk about it, you definitely not somebody who’s just discovered Bitcoin, right? You’re using a lot of the language that is used, so you have a background.
Andrew Torba: Yeah, since about 2013
Peter McCormack: Right. But why only Bitcoin on the website? There are lots of cryptocurrencies, there are also different ways people might want to pay with you, but you’re only Bitcoin. Why is that?
Andrew Torba: Bitcoin is the king: It has been the king for 10 years, it’s going to continue to be the king. It is the only cryptocurrency that offers censorship resistant payment processing that is proven. I don’t [inaudible 00:36:45] in the past with scam coins, as I think a better brand than shit coins which is what a lot of crypto Twitter and the community likes to call them, but I think a lot of these coins have these cult personalities around specific individuals trying to take the helm and trying to take control over Bitcoin or over cryptocurrency in general, and I think that’s bullshit. That is not the point of Bitcoin. That’s not what Satoshi set out to do is have these little factions of centralised people, and cult personalities and central points of failure. You look at the 51% attack that just happened with a theorem classic. I think we’re going to start to see that start to happen with other scam coins in the future. That’s going to be maybe the hot trend of 2019. I think all of them are just a big distraction. You know, all them are just a huge distraction, trying to get rich quick. Focus on Bitcoin. Bitcoin is the future, Bitcoin is the winner. It has been the winner, it’s been the dominator. The flippening is not going to happen, get it out of your head.
Are there other technologies in crypto that are certainly interesting and useful? Absolutely. You know, smart contracts I think have a lot of potential. I think the technology is very early and, calling it a theory on a global supercomputer is a joke in a sham when the network can’t even handle 25,000 users using crypto kitties without going up in flames. But I think blockchain technology, smart contracts, some of that stuff has some really interesting potential going forward. But a lot of these protocols, a lot of these other shit coins are just … it’s vapourware. It’s people trying to get rich quick, it’s a technology that doesn’t actually do what they say it does. And I’m not interested in any of that. The only thing that I’m interested in is processing payments without permission. Censorship resistant payment processing, true decentralisation. And also Bitcoin has a first mover advantage. Like my grandma knows what Bitcoin is.
The amount of press that Bitcoin has had over the last 10 years is incredible. So, even if people maybe don’t like Bitcoin or maybe don’t know much about Bitcoin, I guarantee you, if you talk to any of your normal friends who aren’t, extremely online or in these crypto communities or whatever, they have heard of it, and they likely know a little bit about it. And I think that’s very powerful for market adoption, and in our case, getting people to buy it, and to exchange it with us in order process payments. So, that’s why we went with Bitcoin over any of these other coins.
Peter McCormack: I tell you what’s quite interesting, I think this bear market for Bitcoin and crypto generally has been great. I think it’s really good. And one of the most interesting things is I’ve stopped checking the price, and once you stop checking the price, you focus on what’s important. And also I discovered Bitcoin because of the Silk Road. That was how I discovered it. Somebody introduced me to this website that was like Amazon where I could buy this stuff that I normally have to go into a car park to buy, and I could just do it, and I was like, “What? Are you fucking kidding me.” So, that was cool. Ironically.
So, often people ask me what’s my favourite interview I’ve ever done? My favourite interview was with Lyn Ulbricht, which is Russell Ulbricht’s mother, right? So, I’ve got to spend a lot of time research and understanding the Silk Road, and the Silk Road for me was the perfect use case for Bitcoin. So, we full circle now we come to Gab.com and actually in some ways, again, it’s almost like this is the perfect relationship. It’s like Bitcoin was designed for … It’s not that it’s just designed for the site, it’s designed for the experience that you’re going through.
Andrew Torba: Correct, exactly. I think Gab is the prime example of why Bitcoin exists, and how powerful it truly is, and it’s going to wake up a lot of people. I hope that five or 10 years from now that people are saying the same thing that you just said about the Silk Road, “Well, I discovered Bitcoin because of Gab, because of what happened to Gab.” That’s part of my mission, is I want to educate every new user that comes in the door. I want to educate them and say, “Well, you just joined the free speech social network, now learn about free speech money.” And that’s going to be a very powerful thing.
And I think if the Bitcoin community and the crypto community in general stops focusing on the drama, and on the shit coins, and on these protocols that don’t actually work and don’t actually do anything yet, and have all these big promises, and all the drama that goes on, and if they instead focus on clear and concise marketing that is relatable to normal everyday people, messaging, usability, onboarding, user experience, if we focus on these things, well, then adoption is going to skyrocket because you know what’s happening to Gab and other individuals is only going to happen to more people going forward. I think Gab is just the canary in the coal mine. Anytime you express some sort of wrong thing or politically incorrect opinion, you’re going to start to see people get deplatformed and demonetised and barred from the traditional financial system, and that’s going to wake more and more people up to Bitcoin.
Peter McCormack: Okay, so your Bitcoin only, now right? Like you can’t subscribe any other way.
Andrew Torba: Right now? Yeah, yeah, that’s the only way that we’re processing payments right now. I believe through BTCPay Server, we also have Litecoin activated, but I just exchange that for Bitcoin.
Peter McCormack: Yeah. Okay. So, how has that been received by users? How’s the process of educating people? What’s your kind of experience with Bitcoin? I mean, obviously, it’s a lot easier for people to pay with PayPal or a credit card but you don’t have that choice, so how’s the experience been?
Andrew Torba: Oh, I have to correct myself too because the other way that we’re accepting payments right now is through checks, and money orders so people are literally sending us letters with checks to a P.O. Box which is the snail mail old school way of processing payments, but they are doing it. So, that was our first recourse before Bitcoin was accepting checks to a P.O. Box. So, we have checks and Bitcoin right now. And as far as our experience, it’s been really good actually, we have a lot of people that are getting very interested and, again, they’re setting up their wallets for the first time, they’re thirsty for knowledge because they know they want to support Gab and they know that this is one of the only ways to do so. So, they have a very big incentive to want to learn what it is and how to get it and how to send it, and people in our community that know about Bitcoin, have been very helpful to others that don’t know it. So, a lot of it is very organic. It’s not even us necessarily educating, although we’re doing our part: sending out emails like I’m sure the one that you read et cetera. But a lot of it is just the community. Helping each other out and people learning, and it’s been really, really good.
I think the other thing too that’s really beneficial for us is our hosting provider accept payments in Bitcoin, our domain registrar accepts payments in Bitcoin, some of our contractors accept payments in Bitcoin. So, it’s been a pretty solid and easy transition for us in a lot of ways, and we’re so excited to introduce people to free speech money, not only to support us which is important obviously, but also to help them free themselves from the fiat slavery that so many people are stuck in right now, and get them to start thinking about money in a different way, which is really compelling, and very interesting and it’s something that we’re going to keep doing going forward. Even, when we do inevitably, probably get one bank out there in the world to process payments for us.
Peter McCormack: So, it’s quite interesting there that you’re message previously, like Gap.com, the message I constantly saw was about free speech. And now your message is kind of symbiotic with Bitcoin, right? It’s free speech and free speech money. You’re actually promoting Bitcoin, right?
Andrew Torba: Yeah. Oh, absolutely. Yeah, absolutely. I mean, again, we have no choice, right? If we want to have revenue, if we want to process payments, we have to promote Bitcoin and Bitcoin and Gab it’s a great love affair. Free speech and free money, and by the way, money is free speech: money is a form of free speech, they go hand in hand very, very well, and a lot of the ideals and the principles that many in the Bitcoin community have … many people in the Bitcoin community are more libertarian, classical liberals et cetera who believe in things like individual liberty and freedom and free expression, et cetera.
So, there’s a very symbiotic relationship there, and it ends up working out really, really well. You know, we could have done our own utility token, we could have done our own ICO all this nonsense, right? And trust me like, yeah, we looked into that garbage, right? Because it was very interesting what was happening in 2017 even researching this stuff we’re like, “This is a scam and this is securities fraud, so we’re not going to go down that path.” And I think 99% of those utility tokens don’t actually have any utility than anybody really uses or cares about. And 99% of what they’re trying to do can be solved by just using Bitcoin. So, that’s why we did it. We just went with Bitcoin, right? It’s common sense.
Peter McCormack: But you obviously know your onions with Bitcoin.
Andrew Torba: Going to stir a lot of people up with this interview I think.
Peter McCormack: And you know what actually? So, the funny thing about my podcast is despite it’s called What Bitcoin Did, like when I started I was a multicoiner I was investing in everything. What Bitcoin did was more about the message of it all came from Bitcoin. And like I’ve gone on this journey of 65 episodes now, and the more I’ve learned, the more I research, the more obvious most of it is bullshit, so it’s become more and more of a Bitcoin show. I think people are going to be really interested in what you’ve got to say. I’m very pleased with how much you know about Bitcoin because it’s clean like it’s like one of us, like you’re one of us. So, I don’t think you’re going to stir everyone up. When I thought about doing this, I only had my like, basic understanding of Gab. So, you do a Google search, and it’s like Pittsburgh shooting, far right anti-Semitism racist website. You obviously know your audience with Bitcoin, right?
Andrew Torba: I’ve been in Bitcoin since 2012, 2013 you’ll find articles from me on Coindesk from 2013 where I went to a subway about 45 minutes away from my house and used Bitcoin to buy a Subway sandwich, and that was the first real-world transaction that I did back in 2013. I think now that transaction is worth like thousands of dollars. But I don’t even care. As I wrote back then, if we want Bitcoin to succeed we actually, we have to use it for transactions, we have to exchange value otherwise if everybody’s just sitting on a store of value then where’s the value come from if nobody’s actually using Bitcoin, right? So, I don’t regret buying $1,000 Subway Sandwich back in 2013 because that transaction help gets Bitcoin to where it is today in my mind.
Peter McCormack: Okay, but what I was going to come to is obviously we’ve had the US government they sanctioned two Bitcoin addresses related to [inaudible 00:48:53] which itself is kind of ridiculous for a number of reasons if you know about it, but there was still this that threat there that the US government may want to sanction addresses or may want to take certain bitcoins, and we also have the blockchain can be analysed. So, you probably have quite a strong view of fungibility and privacy, so give me your view on that. And also do you have any interest in anything like Monero?
Andrew Torba: Yeah, I think Monero is interesting right? But I think there’s obviously you want to prevent against too much government power, but also you want the government to do their job and stop criminals. I don’t want Bitcoin to be used by child pornographers, right? I don’t want Bitcoin to be used by terrorists because then normal people if that’s the only use case, then normal people are not going to use Bitcoin, and I think they’re actually more likely to use something like Monero over Bitcoin because of the public ledger, because of the “traceability” of the blockchain. I think the criminals using Bitcoin is actually probably the dumbest possible thing that they can do when you really think about it. So, something like Monero interesting because privacy is crucially important for a lot of people, and it’s actually very crucially important to free expression, and to expressing yourselves via money.
But I think something like Monero does have the potential to be abused by nefarious actors almost exclusively, right? So, I think there’s a danger there. But it’s a give and a take, right? You kind of have to weigh your options. And I don’t think there’s any right answer, particularly because, you know, paedophiles and criminals and terrorists also use cash, right? So you can’t shut down all of Monero just because there are some bad actors using it. And I think the privacy component is certainly important, but I don’t know, this is a very, very dense topic, right? It’s something that I’m kind of torn on in a lot of ways because I understand the need, and I highly respect privacy, but on the other hand, I also respect law enforcement. And I also don’t want to see criminals and terrorists thrive. So, it’s definitely a tricky subject to get into. But I don’t know, I guess, those are some of my thoughts on it.
Peter McCormack: Are you bringing lightning payments to Gab?
Andrew Torba: We are working with several lightning developers who are working on top of our API at the moment. We’re very excited about the potential that the lightning network has for microtransactions. But I think as of today, it’s still very early. They need to simplify the onboarding, they need to simplify the user experience, and there’s a lot of cool projects out there that I think is working on this: the Joule browser extension is one of them. You know, there are a few other projects that are pretty interesting to us right now. But it’s still so early that I don’t think we’re going to see anything anytime soon. Potentially later this year, maybe Q3, Q4 will launch a small beta test to the Bitcoin community exclusively, so that they can test it on Gab. And then there’s also some regulatory uncertainty and some legal uncertainty there.
We don’t want to be a money transmission business. So, there’s still some legal grey areas that the lawyers are still debating over, and the regulators are still debating over that we’re waiting to kind of see what happens there, but we’re certainly excited by it, and we’re certainly talking to a lot of the more prominent engineers and thought leaders and builders in the lightning space and on the protocol.
Peter McCormack: Okay, cool, man. All right. Before we finish up. A couple of closing questions, so what’s the status of Gap right now? Like, what are you working on? What are the most important things happening for the project right now?
Andrew Torba: Yeah. So, one of the most important things is the ability to process payments. So, we’re working on getting a payment processor and also educating people on free speech money at the same time. And secondly, we’re working on improving the onboarding experience to get people connected around interest. So, even if you don’t know anybody on Gab, chances are you share interests with these anonymous profiles or these people from around the world. So, getting people connected from their first experience is really one of our core focuses right now. And then just improving the user experience in the usability of the site overall, you know, polishing things and bringing some familiar, I guess, user experience type actions from other sites that people are familiar with, and there’s lowering that learning curve to understanding how Gab works and simplifying things. So, those are probably our top three priorities right now is getting payment processing back up and running, educating people on free speech money and simplifying the onboarding and the user experience which ironically are all things that are kind of go hand in hand and that I would argue the Bitcoin communities to be doing at large as well.
Peter McCormack: Yeah, I won’t disagree. And final question, how do people stay in touch, like, who do you want to hear from? What should people be doing like to connect with Gab?
Andrew Torba: Yeah, yeah, you could follow me I’m at @a one of the benefits of starting the website is you get single letter username. So, I’m @a on Gab. You can follow @Gab, on Gab which is our official account there, and then @getongab on Twitter. Those are probably the three best ways to stay in touch with what we’re doing.
Peter McCormack: And if there are any people in Bitcoin you want to get involved who can support you in any way? Is there anything specifically you’re looking for?
Andrew Torba: Yeah, yeah, we’re looking to, bring in and broaden our community, right? So, a lot of our community is very political in nature, that’s starting to change, we’re starting to see a lot more people get into things like gardening and crafts and arts, and these different smaller communities are starting to be built out. But we’d love to have the crypto community, and the Bitcoin community at large join the site. We do have a couple of Bitcoin groups that have already started forming with a couple hundred members. So, you know, the bigger the site can get, and the more diverse it can get in terms of different interests and ideas that are being talked about and discussed, the better for the site. And, obviously, if you guys want to stay in touch, even test out, our BTCPay integration to see how we did it, and maybe you want to support us and throw us a couple of Satoshi’s, that would be excellent.
Peter McCormack: All right men. Well, listen. This was fantastic. I’ve learned a lot from it. I think people will really enjoy this and probably be surprised about a lot of what you say because I think most of the stuff that you find out about Gab is probably very different from what you’ll learn from this interview. So, thank you for coming on. Thank you for going over some of my basic questions. And I hope we’ll get to do this again in the future.
Andrew Torba: Great. Thanks for having me.