The Electronic Frontier Foundation, one of the largest digital rights organizations, has issued a warning to tech companies about censoring neo-Nazis, claiming the same tools will eventually be used against everyone else.
“Even for free speech advocates, this situation is deeply fraught with emotional, logistical, and legal twists and turns. All fair-minded people must stand against the hateful violence and aggression that seems to be growing across our country,” declared EFF in a blog post Thursday. “But we must also recognize that on the Internet, any tactic used now to silence neo-Nazis will soon be used against others, including people whose opinions we agree with.”
“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 enterprises—should decide who gets to speak and who doesn’t,” they continued. “We at EFF defend the right of anyone to choose what speech they provide online; platforms have a First Amendment right to decide what speech does and does not appear on their platforms. That’s what laws like CDA 230 in the United States enable and protect. But we strongly believe that what GoDaddy, Google, and Cloudflare did here was dangerous.”
“That’s because, even when the facts are the most vile, we must remain vigilant when platforms exercise these rights,” the organization explained. “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. And at EFF we see the consequences first hand: every time a company throws a vile neo-Nazi site off the Net, thousands of less visible decisions are made by companies with little oversight or transparency. Precedents being set now can shift the justice of those removals.”
EFF continued to explain that if domain services start to play speech police, even though they are not responsible for what is hosted on the website and purely work the domain, sensitive and controversial websites such as WikiLeaks could start being taken out.
“It might seem unlikely now that Internet companies would turn against sites supporting racial justice or other controversial issues. But if there is a single reason why so many individuals and companies are acting together now to unite against neo-Nazis, it is because a future that seemed unlikely a few years ago—that white nationalists and Nazis now have significant power and influence in our society—now seems possible,” they concluded. “We would be making a mistake if we assumed that these sorts of censorship decisions would never turn against causes we love.”
Both GoDaddy and Google cut off the domain service for neo-Nazi site The Daily Stormer this week, with Google locking the site’s domain, making it is unable to move anywhere else.
CloudFlare also suspended hosting for the neo-Nazi website, prompting CEO Matthew Prince to issue a statement claiming, “I woke up in a bad mood and decided someone shouldn’t be allowed on the internet.”
Bloomberg also argued on Thursday that censorship against neo-Nazis has exposed “the internet’s big weakness,” claiming that the “supposedly distributed network has become too centralized.”
In the article, Bloomberg’s Elaine Ou points out the hypocrisy in companies such as CloudFlare, who have previously refused to shut down pro-ISIS websites on grounds of acting neutral, but have now decided to wipe out neo-Nazi sites.
“Indeed, this is not how the internet was supposed to work,” Ou declared. “It was designed to be a decentralized communications system with enough distributed capacity to survive a nuclear strike. But over the years, economies of scale have led sites and services to pile into just a few infrastructure providers like Cloudflare, leaving large portions of the internet vulnerable at multiple levels.”