As debates over free speech, hate speech and the First Amendment ratchet up in the wake of last weekend’s violence in Charlottesville, tech companies have found that they are compelled to take action. And they have concluded that they can simply take on hate speech, white supremacists and neo-Nazis by doing a simple thing: deny them a platform, or refuse to provide services to such organizations.
The latest example is the web services company Cloudfare. In a blog post yesterday, the company’s CEO, Matthew Prince, announced it had terminated all services provided to the Daily Stormer. The company says it no longer funnels any of the web site’s traffic through its proxy servers, nor will it answer any of the site’s DNS requests (which matches domain names to numeric IP addresses). “The tipping point for us making this decision was that the team behind Daily Stormer made the claim that we were secretly supporters of their ideology,” said Prince.
Cloudfare’s announcement comes merely days after GoDaddy booted the Daily Stormer after an outcry against that business relationship swelled on Twitter. The site resurfaced on a Google platform, but the company was quick to shut it down. Yesterday, the site resurfaced using a Russian domain name, but as news outlets such as The Verge reported, it once again quickly disappeared, too.
According to Avi Selk of the Washington Post, other technology companies, ranging from Uber to PayPal, also have taken action by kicking off anyone linked to the Daily Stormer. And other companies that provided web-related, chatting or email newsletter services, such as Zoho, Discord and SendGrid, nixed any ties to the web site, citing violations of their terms of services.
Those companies have followed the lead of Airbnb, which was more proactive than reactive as late last week, the company cancelled accounts of users tied to the “Unite the Right” march access to its online accommodation and room-sharing service.
According to an email (published verbatim by Gizmodo) Prince had sent to Cloudfare’s employees, the company had no choice but to follow suit. Prince and Cloudfare had been stubborn about remaining content-neutral – long an ideal of the libertarian Silicon Valley crowd, but a policy that opened them up to criticism that they were enabling hate speech and harassment. While noting that CloudFare had the right to terminate services at its sole discretion, Prince made it clear that this was a one-time arbitrary decision. Yet unlike his blog post, Prince refused to mince words in addressing Cloudfare’s staff. “The people behind the Daily Stormer are a–holes and I’d had enough,” he wrote.
Many readers were furious at Prince’s decision. “Cloudflare cries out in pain as it censors you,” wrote one commenter. “You folded to political pressure,” chimed in another.
Cloudfare, however, found that any concerns over stirring the pot over whether the internet is truly “free,” while at the same time offending some internet users, was outweighed by the risk that enabling hate speech could harm its business in the long run. Other technology companies, such as Twitter, have witnessed their reputations suffer as they took far too long to cut off people who had sparked harassment against other Twitter users. And considering the violence that engulfed Charlottesville last Saturday, Cloudfare realized having any links to the white supremacist movement was a risk no longer worth bearing.
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