Censorship on the internet is unpopular and difficult. Information banned on one hosting platform usually surfaces on another, often helped along by the ever reliable Streisand Effect. But that doesn’t mean that some people aren’t trying.
Reddit recently alienated a wide swathe of their users by going on a censorship wave, leading to almost a week of chaos on the site as users revolted against the decision. Now, German web server provider HostEurope.de has joined her in the history books of internet villainy, pulling service from Reddit’s free-speech friendly competitor, Voat.co.
Their reason? Political incorrectness.
The news was announced by Atko, the owner of Voat, earlier today:
Our hosting provider, hosteurope.de has terminated all our contracts and shut down all our servers without issuing a warning or trying to talk to us. This includes my private server which was only used to host my girlfriends blog. She is a scientist. She published her research papers on that blog (pre-formatted papers to which she owns the copyright). That server contained no other data whatsoever.
The reason they gave us when they notified us that they have cancelled our contract is “…we have received significant information that the content on your server includes political incorrect parts that are unacceptable for us.” and “Due to the fact that we cannot keep bond of trust to you as our customer…”.
Luckily, we have managed to move our databases to a cloud platform mere hours before they shut down our servers. Ladies and gentlemen, my eyes have been opened by this. I don’t know about you, but we are living in a weird world.
….I have been a hosteurope.de customer for well over 5 years, always paying my bills and never hosting any illegal content.
Atko also issued a new call for paypal and bitcoin donations, highlighting that it was only through the generosity of users that Voat, previously just a personal hobby, was able to stay afloat.
There is a question mark over whether HostEurope acted within its own terms of service when it abruptly terminated its relationship with Voat. According to their terms, extraordinary termination can take place only if there is “good cause.” The terms make specific reference to clients defaulting on payments and violating contractual obligations —but there is no reference to political incorrectness constituting “good cause.”
Voat has had to rapidly upgrade its server capacity after the site became a hub for anti-censorship users fleeing from its competitor, Reddit. For many ex-Redditors, Voat embodies the idea of free speech within the law, an idea that was once embraced — and now abruptly abandoned — by Reddit.
Since it became a refuge for ex-Redditors, Voat has faced relentless attacks. The site came under fire from an anonmous Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack earlier this week, with anonymous cyber-attackers piling pressure onto the website’s servers, causing it to go offline. Many Voat users expressed astonishment that people hated free speech enough to launch cyberattacks against the site.
But of course, this isn’t the first time that a site promising free speech within the law has come under such attacks. The anonymous imageboard 8chan had an experience that is eerily similar to Voat’s. Like Voat, 8chan became a refuge for disgruntled users fleeing heavy-handed moderation on its competitor, 4chan. And like Voat, it came under a DDoS attack soon after.
The discussion boards of The Escapist, a popular site for video game commentary, also came under DDoS attack last September, after it became one of the first sites to refuse to censor discussion related to the GamerGate controversy.
What are we to make of all this? It’s simple, really. There are a group of people on the internet who are relentlessly hostile to free speech and will do anything in their power to destroy platforms that promise free speech. This includes taking advantage of cowardly service providers like HostEurope.de, and also the illegal method of cyberattacks.
Unless they are held to account, I doubt that they will relent. Leaving people alone is not a concept that the opponents of free speech will ever understand.
We reached out to HostEurope.de for comment, but did not receive a response at the time of this article’s publication.