The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has spoken out against the banning of the neo-Nazi website Daily Stormer, after back-end web infrastructure companies like GoDaddy and Google cut services to the site for political reasons.
Silencing one group could lead to the silencing of others whose opinions companies don’t agree with, the EFF warned, adding that this kind of corporate overreach was dangerous.
“Protecting free speech is not something we do because we agree with all of the speech that gets protected. We do it because we believe that no one – not the government and not private commercial enterprise – should decide who gets to speak and who doesn’t,” EFF argued in a blog post titled “Fighting Neo-Nazis and the Future of Freedom of Expression”on Thursday.
“Any tactic used now to silence neo-Nazis will soon be used against others, including people whose opinions we agree with.”
“Those on the left face calls to characterize the Black Lives matter movement as a hate group. In the Civil Rights era, cases that formed the basis of today’s protections of freedom of speech, the NAACP’s voice was the one attacked,” EFF wrote.
The EFF defends the right of anyone to choose what speech they provide online, as it is protected under the First Amendment of the US Constitution, the Foundation said.
Their response comes after the Daily Stormer, a neo-Nazi site, reported favorably about the death of a counter-protester during the weekend’s violence in Charlottesville. GoDaddy, a domain name host, told the site’s owners they had 24 hours to leave their service.
Daily Stormer subsequently moved to Google’s domain management service, but within hours, Google announced that it too was rejecting them as a customer. It also placed the dailystormer.com domain on “Client Hold,” preventing the website’s owner from activating, using or moving the domain to another service.
Cloudflare, whose services are used to protect a site from denial-of-service attacks (DDoS), also reversed its long-held policy to remain content-neutral and dropped the Daily Stormer as a customer.
“This was my decision. This is not Cloudflare’s general policy now, going forward,” CEO Matthew Prince told Gizmodo.
In an email Prince sent to staffers, he explained that he “woke up this morning in a bad mood and decided to kick them off the internet… it was a decision I could make because I’m the CEO of a major Internet infrastructure company. Having made that decision we now need to talk about why it is so dangerous. No one should have that power.”
What’s new and different about these latest actions is that its not been carried out by social media providers, like Twitter and Facebook, but rather the companies that serve as the backbone of the Internet, as the register of website names and services.
“The domain hosting is a relatively rarely focused-on chokepoint for political pressure,” Eric Goldman, law professor at Santa Clara University told Slate.”Turning on or off content at that level is much deeper into the infrastructure layer than we’re used to seeing.”
The EFF said that what GoDaddy, Google and Cloudflare did was “dangerous” because internet intermediaries, especially those with few competitors, “control so much online speech, the consequences of their decisions have far-reaching impacts on speech around the world.”
It said the domain name system is enabled by an often-fragile consensus among many systems and operators, and using that system to “edit speech, based on potentially conflicting opinions about what can be spoken on the internet, risks shattering that consensus.”
It is problematic when those decisions are being made with little oversight or transparency, the EFF said.
“If entities that run the domain name system, started choosing who could access or add to them based on political considerations, we might well face a world where every government and powerful body would see itself as an equal or more legitimate invoker of that power.”
According to Slate, groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League have been pushing various web providers to cut off services to openly racist and anti-Semitic sites for months. And after Charlottesville, they got their first breakthrough.
Crowdfunding site GoFundMe has raised thousands of dollars to help pay for medical expenses of the Charlottesville victims, but has since removed several campaigns to raise funds for the legal fees for James A. Fields, the man of accused of killing Heather Heyer and injuring 19 others, stating those campaigns violated the company’s terms of service.
PayPal also made the decision to ban “hate groups” from raising money using its services.
Twitter suspended accounts related to Daily Stormer and Facebook reportedly removed eight pages.
The hacktivist group Anonymous announced Tuesday they were going after those aligned with white supremacist groups, and said it hacked the site when Daily Stormer briefly set up with a Russian-based domain name.
Meanwhile, Word Press stopped hosting bloodandsoil.com, the website of a fascist group in which Fields claimed membership.