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Expert: Social media sites becoming networking for lone wolves

Site used by accused synagogue shooter taken down
Posted: 6:38 PM, Oct 29, 2018
Updated: 2018-10-29 18:38:22-04

The social media site Gab.com was taken down Monday after it was linked to the man charged with the deadly shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue.

In a statement posted to the website, Gab.com CEO Andrew Torba said the site has worked with federal agents "to bring justice to an accused terrorist," an apparent reference to Robert Bowers, the man accused of killing 11 people during Saturday's attack. Investigators said Bowers' social media accounts contained anti-Semitic posts, including one made just before Saturday's shootings.

While extremist views are nothing new, Brandon Szuminsky, assistant professor of Journalism at Baldwin Wallace University said sites like Gab have become virtual networking for what used to be considered "lone wolves."

"The classic man mumbling to himself on the street corner, it's easy to marginalize that viewpoint," said Szuminsky, "but when all the crazy people on the corner get together, and they start convincing themselves they're the sane ones, I think that's when you're really dealing with some trouble."

Szuminsky said the reinforcing from others doesn't necessarily lead to violence but warns it can lead to further radicalization.

"The really, I think, troubling thing here is that these sorts of views that unfortunately people have had for a long time have always been tempered by the real-life relationships we have," said Szuminsky. "It's your friends, it's your family, it's your co-workers who say 'calm down, that's not true. The earth is not flat. The things you're saying about people of color aren't true.' But instead of getting that in real life, what they're finding is they're finding people online on these communities that are telling them 'no, no, you are right. It's everyone else who's wrong."

Szuminsky believes even if Gab doesn't return another website will step in and fill a similar role.

"There's always another rat hole," he said. "There will always be somebody who looks to turn a profit from hate or someone who legitimately believes in it and wants to provide a voice."