Should Web Hosting Companies Join In The Fight Against Hate Speech?
The internet opinion sphere is a dicey place space right now. There are many people and establishments sharing different kinds of opinions and ideologies. While most of these are largely reasonable and normal, there is a small group focused on offending the general populace. From social media to standalone websites, there is no shortage of such groups. The hate speech brigade is one of such group. In recent times, they have raised their voices in various means, whether clamouring for more members or simply churning out the dangerous rhetoric they so strongly believe (or so they want us to think).
Normally, many internet companies choose to ignore the incursions from these groups but these days, a good number of them are taking proactive measures against them. Social media giants are banning accounts and blacklisting certain individuals, companies are cutting ties with defaulting employees and now, web hosting companies are turning away the sites used to spread the hate speech.
The Situation: How Web Hosting Companies are Fighting Hate Speech
The first major case in this discuss has to be the one between The Daily Stormer and Matthew Prince, the CEO of Cloudflare. The site was known as a hub for people openly celebrating the Holocaust.
The CEO had the DDoS protection of the site removed without warning. By removing the DDoS protection, it meant that The Daily Stormer’s website was now suddenly open to a Distributed Denial of Service hack (which is where the DDoS acronym comes from). In such a hack, the server of the site will be drowned with billions of requests which will at first, slow down the site completely, then after a while, crash it completely.
Mr Prince was quick to point out that the action he took was completely personal and had nothing to do with the company. He also mentioned that it will not affect the company’s policy. However, it is perhaps interesting to note that he only took action after the website claimed that CloudFlare’s continued provision of service to them was a way to show support to them. So perhaps, the action had something to do with the company after all?
In the explanation he published, he also made sure to state how dangerous it was that someone in his position could wake up to kick a website off the internet and that he understood that he was setting a dangerous precedent with that singular action.
The second major case is the one between GoDaddy and another pro-Nazi group Radical Agenda. The group became popular last year after they headlined the violent hate rallies in Charlottesville, Virginia. The company asked the group to move its domain to a different registrar because its digital crimes team established the fact that the activities of the group promoted violence.
Now, both cases beg the question, are web hosting providers under any obligation to police the content on any website? Should they be allowed to have such powers?
The Flip Side
There is no denying the fact that the sites affected by the actions of the web hosting providers covered here are all deserving of these actions. However, there is the risk that freedom of speech will be impacted negatively in future.
The sites we have covered here are in the black books of most people because support for genocide should naturally be frowned upon by every well-meaning human being. However, there are lots of other things that people can find offensive online. Is it justifiable for a web hosting company to stop providing its service to any company that it finds offensive?
For example, who is to say that the CEOs of Pro-Trump web hosting companies can’t suddenly decide to boot anti-Trump websites hosted with them? What about a Pro-Christian web hosting company ejecting an anti-Christian website?
Even more interesting is what would happen when a black web hosting CEO is offended by content posted by a white owned-website. Take a look at the recent H&M racism scandal. Assuming the company’s website is hosted with a black-owned web hosting company, would it be right for the company to send away H&M’s business?
Away from the more serious topics, would it be right for CEOs to shut down sites that have a different belief in terms of nutrition, sports team choices etc?
Brendan Wilde, Marketing Head at http://umbrellar.com/ , a leading web hosting business in Australia says, “We have started on a rather slippery slope and I hope it doesn’t get out of hand in the coming months and years. Obviously, people spewing hate should not be provided a platform to reach the masses. However, web hosting companies can do better by providing ample warnings or clauses in agreements that will make it easy for possible defaulters to see well ahead of time that they won’t be welcome to host their sites, as is the case with adult content and gambling. This way, we may not be having this argument.”
Mr Wilde also pointed out how the current status quo of web hosting companies announcing severance of relationships like those we have covered in this piece only goes to give more attention to the offending groups. “When you have the major news outlets announcing how a web hosting company has cut ties with a specific group, you end up giving them more audience. Many of the groups end up finding a web hosting solution elsewhere and any potential followers that saw the news about their removal from the registers of a web hosting company or domain registrar will most likely follow them to their new domain.”
It is the collective responsibility of the internet to keep hate speech away from the limelight. Web hosting companies are within their rights to stop giving a voice to any offending groups. However, it is important to be more proactive in the fight against these groups while ensuring that the power to moderate what is hosted on their hosting is not misused in any way.