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What Makes Gab a Critical Source of Threat Intelligence?

Alex Ciarniello November 26, 2019 OSINT, Social Media Monitoring

Gab is also one of the latest data sources added to the Echosec social discovery platform. What is Gab and why is it such a crucial source of threat intelligence?

“[A]s a general principle, it's very difficult to identify what is hate speech and what is not hate speech and to set firm policies on that.” —Nicholas Thompson, Editor-in-Chief, Wired

This might be true—but sometimes, the medium is part of the message.

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Social media has long been accepted as a crucial source of threat intelligence for public safety. While the context of potentially harmful content might be lost on some of the more regulated platforms, Gab’s decentralized model makes it a transparent data source for hate speech and other forms of threat intelligence.

What Is Gab?

Gab

The Gab social media platform has a Twitter-like interface where users upvote posts to increase their visibility. The site describes itself as a "social network for creators who believe in free speech, individual liberty, and the free flow of information online." This model differs from networks like Facebook, where content is centrally regulated and monetized.

Much of Gab's content is similar to public posts on other regulated platforms, such as Twitter, making it a useful data source for a variety of use cases. However, its decentralized design also lacks overarching moderation, and the site’s user guidelines prohibit violent threats but do not explicitly restrict hate speech or extremism. Incidentally, this means that the site is populated with users who have been banned from other social platforms that moderate controversial, extreme, or hateful dialogues. 

The site was launched in 2017 and is dominated by users from the United States (43.4%) and Brazil (22.7%). Other site statistics, such as user quantity and age, are no longer actively reported. Its user numbers are actually a debated topic—the site’s CEO has reported upwards of 1.8 million unique monthly users, while other sources believe numbers have been inflated to exaggerate the site’s popularity.

Why Is Gab a Critical Threat Intelligence Source?

Pittsburg Synagogue shooting (image from Google)

Less regulated social platforms, including Gab, have been linked to radicalization and mass shootings. In October 2018, a Gab user opened fire in the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, killing 11 and injuring 6. Before committing the attack, the shooter published a Gab post:

"HIAS likes to bring invaders in that kill our people. I can't sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics, I'm going in."

It’s easy to see how accessing this content is valuable for mitigating potential incidents and running post-attack investigations. As Thompson stated, lack of context can make actual threats on social platforms difficult to detect. Social discovery tools make it easier for law enforcement and security teams to separate real threat intelligence from innocuous posts, even on platforms like Gab.

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For instance, similar language is used across manifestos posted by perpetrators before committing an attack—such as references to weaponry, locations, and past shooter names. Machine learning technology continuously improves security analysts’ ability to locate content indicators that signal real threats.

hate groups (image from google)Echosec enables security and risk management teams to aggregate and filter this kind of content across a number of social media platforms, including Gab. If suspicious content is publicly posted, Echosec users are notified in real time so they can quickly assess threat severity and take action. For example, Echosec can detect and alert security personnel to anti-Semitic language posted near a Synagogue so they can take proactive security measures if necessary.

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A Gab post like the one quoted above is just one piece of the puzzle. Once detected, security intelligence analysts can look at other public posts, including those on the dark web, by the same user. This information puts posts into context and offers public safety officials a better sense of threat severity.

Will Gab Be Kicked Offline?

laptop data cyber source

Gab was taken down briefly in the aftermath of the Pittsburgh Synagogue shooting, but came back online in November 2018 and has grown substantially since, according to Vice. Similar platforms, such as 8chan, have permanently gone offline as web hosting companies refuse to support them. 

Gab is now hosted using a decentralized model—built on Mastodon, another Echosec data source—so it is unlikely to go offline anytime soon. Even when controversial sites do go offline, however, their users don’t. They will inevitably create or find another platform to profess their worldviews. For example, 8chan is already relaunched as 8kun.

Free expression online is a good thing—the problem is that decentralized platforms like Gab are often populated by users migrating from platforms that ban or restrict hate speech and extremism. Gab’s far-right users, links to public safety threats, and immunity to web hosting censorship makes it a critical source of threat intelligence. Data discovery tools like Echosec give public safety officials quick access to this information, whether they are proactively threat hunting or investigating a shooting suspect in the aftermath of an event.

 

Gathering threat intelligence shouldn’t have to be complicated. Schedule a demo to learn more about Echosec.



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