Usually, internet companies channel their inner ostrich when it comes to offensive content and stick their heads in the sand, but only when it comes to certain things.
They adopt a “we’re pretending we don’t see it” policy regarding hate speech, but take down photos of a woman nursing. Apparently, the latter is so horribly offensive it must be taken down immediately, but people supporting genocide in their messages must be allowed their freedom of speech.
The question is, though, should a web hosting provider have that power? Should they be able to make an arbitrary decision on what a site can post? Or they should they be Switzerland and stay out of it?
As with everything, there are two sides to the coin, and we’ll be looking at both sides.
One Internet Infrastructure Company’s CEO Fights Back
Matthew Prince, the CEO of CloudFlare took a stance in August against The Daily Stormer, a neo-Nazi website, by removing their DDoS protection. Prince explained that it was a personal decision and had nothing to do with the company, nor would it affect their policy.
He had less than pleasant things to say about the website that openly celebrates the Holocaust as a good thing. For Prince, the straw that demolished the camel was when the members of the site claimed CloudFlare supported their views, presumably because the company hadn’t cut their service.
Prince wrote a blog post explaining that he is completely against regulating content on the internet, and he knows that what he did is dangerous. He explains that he woke up in a bad mood and decided to “kick them off the internet,” which he goes on to cite is dangerous and no one should have that power.
So, what’s the issue? He made life a lot harder for a bunch of people who think it’s absolutely okay to attack and insult Heather Heyer who died in the Nazi terror attack. Keep in mind that the website lost their hosting as a result of that article.
A quick aside to better understand how removal of DDoS protection could hurt The Daily Stormer. DDoS or Distributed Denial of Service is a type of hack whereby bajillions of requests are sent to the server hosting the site. It’s like 5 billion people deciding to log onto the site at the same time. The goal is to overwhelm the server with so many requests that it crashes because it’s unable to respond to them all. So, in the best-case scenario, the website load speed slows to a crawl, until it eventually goes down completely.
By removing their DDoS protection, CloudFlare has put The Daily Stormer under greater risk of being brought down by hackers. Yes, we’re all in tears for them.
While they are definitely unpleasant people, we have to consider the freedom of speech. Some would argue that it’s a slippery slope from here on out. Set a precedent and before long every company on the planet will think they have the right to censor internet content.
Unfortunately, while supporting genocide is beyond offensive, and hate speech should not be tolerated, there are many other things online some people would find offensive and use it as justification to stop providing service to that website.
What if the CEO of a hosting company were a Trump supporter and didn’t like some website his company hosted because they published anti-Trump content? He could just shut it down. Or what if the same CEO felt all Muslims were terrorists? He could very well shut down a pro-Muslim site trying to show people that Islam and terrorists like ISIS have nothing in common.
And that’s just the serious stuff. But do you think it would stop there? Probably not. Don’t like someone’s religion? Just shut their site down. Don’t support their nutritional views? No problem. Just cancel their account.
So, yes, it is a slippery slope. But does that mean that people spewing hate should be given a platform to reach the masses? Absolutely not.
Hiding Behind the First Amendment
You often hear these hate groups spouting off about the freedom of speech, and how it’s their constitutional right to express their views, whatever they may be.
Yes, we are proud of our right to free speech, and rightly so. But our country’s founding fathers weren’t thinking of neo-Nazis or other groups spouting their hate speech all over the internet.
They were probably thinking of a time when merely disagreeing with the government could get you imprisoned. Sadly, that still happens today in various countries around the world. And that’s what the First Amendment is all about. It’s about every single person’s right to express their views without fear of repercussion, within reason.
If the freedom of speech does not include the right to show ‘fire’ in a crowded area because it would incite an action that could cause harm to others, how can anyone state that spewing rhetoric inciting people to hurt other people directly is a First Amendment right?
It’s a bit like saying that because we have the right to keep and bear arms, we should be allowed to keep nuclear weapons in our backyards. There is no law regulating the private ownership of nuclear weapons, and some would consider such a law in direct violation of the Second Amendment.
But our founding fathers weren’t thinking of a weapon that can take out millions of people at the same time when they wrote out the Second Amendment. They were thinking of people’s right to protect themselves against those who would do them harm.
Now, the problem is that when a hate group starts trotting out the First Amendment, many find themselves stumped. There are no laws regulating hate speech, and with only the First Amendment to go by, then it must be okay, right?
But how can it be okay to give people who’d gladly annihilate entire sections of the population a platform to voice their hatred?
And we’re not narrowing in on just the neo-Nazis and white supremacists because there are plenty of hate groups. You’ve got the anti-LGBT people, the anti-immigrants, the anti-Muslims, and the list goes on. There’s a Wikipedia page dedicated to classifying these groups by type of hate. Sadly, there’s a lot of them, and the page in question only references the groups in the US.
In Europe, hate speech is illegal. No one says that their laws are perfect. Far from it. However, they are trying to do something to make life harder for hate groups. However, they are criticized because some believe that once you start banning speech in any shape or form, then all freedoms are at risk.
But then, we ask, why are drugs illegal? Shouldn’t everyone have the freedom to decide for themselves if they should take or not take drugs? While the illegality of drugs is a much deeper issue, the essence is that drugs are banned because they cause harm.
And what does hate speech do? It certainly doesn’t inspire people to hug their neighbors and go around handing out flowers to everyone.
So, while we are definitely in full support of the First Amendment, we don’t feel that hate speech should be protected. There’s a major difference between owning a handgun to protect yourself and keeping a nuclear bomb in your basement.
Just Ignore the Haters and Trolls
A popular piece of advice online is to ignore the haters and trolls. The more you feed them by arguing, the more power you give them and the harder it will be to get rid of them.
So, should we just ignore these hate groups and let them get on with their thing? It’s not as if their websites get a lot of visibility. Shouldn’t we just leave them to their little corner of the internet and ignore them?
Unfortunately, this is where the adage that individuals are smart, the masses are stupid comes in. The easier it is for these people to meet and share ideas, the easier it is for them to convince each other to take violent action. And the easier it is for them to brainwash others into their way of thinking.
ISIS has been brainwashing insecure, vulnerable, young people into acting as their agents in other countries. And it’s often kids with no connection whatsoever to that area of the world, yet groups like ISIS brainwash them into becoming terrorists. They disappear from home and months later, you see videos of these kids either being treated like dirt or cutting heads off people.
Adults are just as susceptible. One day they’re law-abiding citizens, then someone starts preying on their insecurities until they get into a truck and ram it into a crowd of people.
Giving these hate groups, a platform is just asking for trouble. Ignoring them does no good either. They won’t go away. They won’t disappear. They’ll keep plugging away, hurting people with the hateful things they publish. And they’ll keep bolstering each other until they gain the courage to do more than just talk, which is where the real problem is.
If Twitter and Facebook were used successfully to incite a revolution, to sway the direction of a vote, and to topple corrupt governments, is it that far-fetched to believe that the internet can be used to incite a massive terror attack? And do we really want to run the risk of it happening?
Should Private Individuals or Companies Be Able to Suppress Internet Content?
We’ve come right back to the question we posed at the beginning, and we are still adamant that no private individual or corporation should have the power to suppress content online. The slope is too slippery for that to be okay.
However, our society has become much too tolerant. What we’ve essentially ended up with is Karl Popper’s paradox of tolerance, which states that if you have unlimited tolerance, then tolerance will disappear. By being tolerant of everyone, including those who are intolerant, we are essentially refusing to defend our society against them, and they will end up destroying those of us who are tolerant.
“ In this formulation, I do not imply, for instance, that we should always suppress the utterance of intolerant philosophies; as long as we can counter them by rational argument and keep them in check by public opinion, suppression would certainly be unwise. But we should claim the right to suppress them if necessary even by force; for it may easily turn out that they are not prepared to meet us on the level of rational argument, but begin by denouncing all argument; they may forbid their followers to listen to rational argument, because it is deceptive, and teach them to answer arguments by the use of their fists or pistols. We should, therefore, claim, in the name of tolerance, the right not to tolerate the intolerant.”
We’re not advocating for the use of force in the sense of violence, which never solves anything. But the law should enable us to refuse to support hate speech in all its guises.
It’s why we have a government. To take action for the people and protect us against people who would wish to harm us just because we might be different.
Are we saying that the government should enact laws to make hate speech illegal? Yes. If said speech is meant to bring harm to others, the government should definitely take measures to stop these hate groups.
One could argue that if the government starts regulating speech in any form, we can wave goodbye to free speech and other freedoms. Well, that’s why, in democracy, no single person can pass a law on their own. A whole lot of people have to agree with every word in a bill before it gets enacted as law, and there’s less of a chance of that slope becoming as slippery as an ice skating rink.
Flawed as some may see it, democracy still works. There are many ways to remind the government they are going too far if they attempt to do so. At the same time, trying to prove we’re so democratic that we’ll allow people to spew poison and vitriol, which can then have fatal consequences, is the perfect recipe for the paradox of tolerance to become a reality.
While no individual should have the right to police content online – or any government for that matter – there’s a massive difference between expressing one’s opinion, and inciting hatred against a group of people for being different.
What do you think? Should hosting companies be allowed to make arbitrary decisions regarding online content? Should hate groups be allowed to express themselves, just like anyone else? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.