Internet Firms Shift Stance, Move to Exile White Supremacists
Social media networks Twitter and LinkedIn, music service Spotify Ltd and security firm Cloudflare Inc were among the companies cutting off services to hate groups or removing material that they said spread hate.
Internet Firms Shift Stance, Move to Exile White Supremacists (photo for representation, image: Reuters)
Silicon Valley joined a swelling backlash against neo-Nazi groups in the United States on Wednesday as more technology companies removed white supremacists from their services in response to weekend violence in Charlottesville, Virginia. Social media networks Twitter and LinkedIn, music service Spotify Ltd and security firm Cloudflare were among the companies cutting off services to hate groups or removing material that they said spread hate. Earlier in the week, Facebook, Alphabet, and GoDaddy also took steps to block hate groups.
The wave of internet crackdowns against white nationalists and neo-Nazis reflected a rapidly changing mindset among Silicon Valley firms on how far they are willing to go to police hate speech. Tech companies have taken down violent propaganda from Islamic State and other militant groups, in part in response to government pressure. But most internet companies have traditionally tried to steer clear of making judgments about content except in cases of illegal activity.
Cloudflare, which protects some 6 million websites from denial-of-service attacks and hacking, on Wednesday afternoon dropped coverage of the neo-Nazi website Daily Stormer. "I woke up this morning in a bad mood and decided to kick them off the internet," Cloudflare founder and Chief Executive Matthew Prince said in an email to employees. Cloudflare is well-known for defending even the most distasteful websites, and services like it are essential to the functioning of websites. Daily Stormer helped organise the weekend rally in Charlottesville where a 32-year-old woman was killed and 19 people were injured when a man plowed a car into a crowd protesting the white nationalist gathering.
Daily Stormer has been accessible only intermittently the past few days after domain providers GoDaddy and Google Domains, a unit of Alphabet, said they would not serve the website. By Wednesday, Daily Stormer had moved to a Russia-based internet domain, with an address ending in .ru. Later in the day, though, the site was no longer accessible at that address. Daily Stormer publisher Andrew Anglin said on a social network used by many of his supporters, Gab, that his site would be back soon. "The Cloudflare betrayal adds another layer of super complexity. But we got this," he said. He could not immediately be reached for further comment.
Prince, the Cloudflare chief executive, said in an interview that despite his decision he was conflicted because it could become harder to resist pressure from governments to censor. "You don't have to play this game too many moves out to see how risky this is going to be," Prince said. "'What about this site? What about this site?'" Only the biggest companies will be able to navigate the varying laws in different countries, he added. "We've lost a lot of the fight for a free and open internet." Twitter on Wednesday suspended accounts linked to Daily Stormer. The company said it would not discuss individual accounts, but at least three affiliated with the Daily Stormer led to pages saying "account suspended."
The social network prohibits violent threats, harassment, and hateful conduct and "will take action on accounts violating those policies," the company said in a statement. Larger rival Facebook, which unlike Twitter explicitly prohibits hate speech, has taken down several pages from Facebook and Instagram in recent days that it said were associated with hate speech or hate organizations. It also took down the event page that was used to promote and organize the "Unite the Right" rally. "With the potential for more rallies, we're watching the situation closely and will take down threats of physical harm," CEO Mark Zuckerberg wrote on Wednesday.
Facebook also said it had removed accounts belonging to Chris Cantwell, a web commentator who has described himself as a white nationalist and said on his site that he had attended the Charlottesville rally. Cantwell's YouTube account also appeared to have been terminated. Cantwell could not immediately be reached for comment. LinkedIn, a unit of Microsoft, suspended a page devoted to Daily Stormer and another page belonging to a man associated with the site, Andrew Auernheimer. LinkedIn declined to comment.
Reddit this week eliminated one of its discussion communities that supported the Unite the Right rally, saying that the company would ban users who incite violence. The company says it has more than 250 million users Spotify, based in Sweden, said it was in the process of removing musical acts from its streaming service that had been flagged as racist "hate bands" by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
"Illegal content or material that favors hatred or incites violence against race, religion, sexuality or the like is not tolerated by us," the company said in a statement, adding that record companies should also be held responsible.
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