Photo: Censorship - Dimitris Vetsikas CC0
Photo: Censorship - Dimitris Vetsikas CC0

The Daily Stormer, a website with highly controversial hate speech, was recently scrubbed from the Internet. This wasn’t due to government censorship or illegal content, but due to the fact that no private hosting provider would allow their content. DigitalOcean and DreamHost refused to host their content in 20141. In August of 2017, CloudFlare terminated their CDN services for the website2. GoDaddy terminated their domain registration with a 24 hour warning3. The site owners migrated to Google Domains, which also refused to allow the domain transfer4. NameCheap refused to allow them to register a domain as well5.

What is interesting about this situation is the Daily Stomer carried only content. Although legally protected as free speech, at least in the US, hosting and infrastructure providers are free to refuse service to any company. Many of the companies mentioned above quoted specific clauses in their terms of service about hate speech or inciting violence. On its surface, it seems like these tech companies are helping to make it difficult to host hateful content on the Internet. However, with such a limited set of providers and domain registration services on the Internet, does the dominance of such few companies in the hosting space allow the means for industry to decide what content is allowable? Are Google, GoDaddy and others effectively censoring opinions they find disagreeable?

Can a company refuse service to any customer for any reason? From a purely libertarian perspective, a company should have that autonomy. From a capitalist and free market perspective, a customer who is not welcome at one provider can simply find another willing to accept their money. In reality this is not the case. A store cannot have blacks only and whites only bathrooms or water fountains. Bars and restaurants in some jurisdictions can allow smoking within their establishments, while in other municipalities, smoking indoors is banned for all businesses. Companies who chose to be equal opportunity employers have several criteria for which they cannot discriminate against. Laws such as the Americans with Disabilities Act mandates certain accessibility requirements in order to maintain a storefront.

Speech does not yet fall into any of these existing regularity frameworks. Network neutrality doesn’t factor into this argument either. Network neutrality simply means if one hosts their content on a provider, that all the intermediary service providers between that host and the end user grant that traffic an equal priority or quality of service. Providers with larger data centers and direct connections to network backbones may still be able to provide a faster user experience, and many price themselves accordingly. In the situation of The Daily Stormer, the basic ability to host their website has been removed because none of the major or minor providers are willing to touch their content. Furthermore, no one is willing to even allow their domain registration, which doesn’t involve content at all, but simply allows for the purchase of a name that points to a server.

In 2015, authors Jim Fetzer and Mike Palecek published a book titled Nobody Died at Sandy Hook6. It was pulled from Amazon’s online book store. You can argue that it’s Amazon’s platform and they can reserve the right to refuse publication of any materials they want, however Amazon claims to own between 70% and 80% of the entire eBook market7. When a company dominates the sales for a particular medium, their unwillingness to carry a product can effectively censor it on that medium.

Google removed the mobile app from the Play Store8. doesn’t even create content, but is a basic social media system which aggregates user contributed content, similar to Reddit or Facebook. It has garnered criticism for granting a platform to people who have been banned from other services such as Twitter. Google claimed the app violated their terms of service involving hate speech, as stated in an article by Ars Technica:

“But while Twitter officially bans hateful content, it doesn’t do a very good job of policing that content in practice. Twitter hosts accounts like the American Nazi Party, the Ku Klux Klan, and the virulently anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church. And if you search for any racial or ethnic slur in Twitter’s search engine, you’ll find numerous attacks on people based on their race or ethnicity.” -Lee, Ars Technica8

Unlike iPhones, most Android devices do allow for installing apps that are not available through the official store by enabling Untrusted Sources in the phone’s settings. This is still a huge barrier to entry for the average user, and it’s important to note that allowing or denying apps seems arbitrary. After all, the app didn’t create content, it allowed users to contribute to it. It happens to have a lot of conservative users who fled to its service after they were denied a platform elsewhere.

“…Seven hundred years ago, if someone had come to Oxford, and stood here, and said, ‘I think everyone should be allowed to read the Bible, even peasants,’ that person would have been described as offensive. He would have been denounced, shouted at, and eventually no platformed. That was certainly the experience of John Wycliffe. In 1382, he was banished from Oxford … One hundred years ago, if someone had come to Oxford and stood here and said, ‘I think a man should be be allowed to have sex with another man,’ that person would have been described as offensive. He would have been booed, hissed at, no platformed. That was certainly the experience of The Chameleon, an openly gay Oxford magazine, which in 1894, survived for one issue only. Why? Because it was offensive. One observer described it as in insult to the animal creation and said it would have a dangerous influence. In other words it made Oxford an unsafe space and it had to be stopped, much as today’s student leaders ban lads mags in the name of preserving safe spaces for students. So when today’s student leaders clamped down on offensive stuff, they are actually carrying on a very long tradition. A tradition whereby the cream de la cream of British society take it upon themselves to police the parameters of acceptable thought…“ -Brendan O’Neill, Freedom of Speech and the Right to Offend9

I want to emphasize that I do not endorse any of these sites or people. I do not think hate speech is beneficial to society. I simply believe in the idea that people should be able to express their opinions freely. A number of the things we consider normal and healthy today, such as gay rights, women’s suffrage, atheism and marriage equality, were once considered terribly offensive concepts. People who advocated such ideas were shunned, often with their careers ruined and their platformed removed. Even the most progressive people today surely have a few beliefs that will pan out to be considered regressive or offensive in the centuries to come.

Furthermore, when people are banned from one Internet platform, they tend to gather, en masse, on another. Voat is an example of one such site, designed with a similar user interface as Reddit. When Reddit started banning offensive communities such as /r/niggers, /r/coontown and /r/fatpeoplehate, users from these communities migrated to Voat and created similar communities. As a result of enfocing community standards and terms of service, and thereby banning offensive content, many of the new social networks that are popping up seem to be filled primarily with those who have been denied an outlet elsewhere. It’s a means to further polarize people and feed into the false left/right narrative.

“…The technology to build newspapers could facilitate the construction of a press for about 10,000 dollars in current dollars. So in the early days there was a handful … who produced arguments which they could spread broadly because the cost of access to that spread was low. But that cost changed dramatically. Whereby the time of the civil war the cost in current dollars of running a newspaper was about 2.5 million. Once commercialized, newspapers became a one directional medium, no longer benefiting from the contributions of everyone. In the 1920’s, radio was a common technology. In the sense that an extraordinary range of people were radio broadcasters. Political speech, social speech, religious speech was common in this space, and when people began to think that they could make commercial radio function through advertising, the Federal Communications Commission began to implement a very different idea of how radio would function…Working with business and government, the spectrum was allocated in a way that made it so only the few could get access to the spectrum. By the mid 1930s, NBC and CBS would be responsible for an astounding 97% of nighttime broadcasting. And people lost their ability to create radio…“ -Humanity Lobotomy - Second Draft10

The issue we have today is not a new one. Throughout history, communication has always been locked down and bought up by those who sought to create larger media businesses. People who use cheap hosting solutions, whose content becomes popular, are very familiar with those providers not being able to keep up with demand and their websites going down. Even in the Internet age, popular content needs strong platforms for distribution. Those platforms may be less expensive than they’ve ever been, but they are controlled by a small subset of corporations who have the infrastructure to provide those services.

In effect, Internet hosting companies are so large, that they are more effective than any government at censorship. It’s not the voters, but the top income earners who dictate policy in the United States. Those top earners dominate an ever conglomerating market on media and service providers. The effect should be chilling: the business that are in the best positions to provide access to user generated content at reasonable prices are also in the best positions to squash out any speech they may find offensive. When companies like Google and Facebook run fact checks on news sources quoted in user posts, they’re not protecting the public from false information. They are defining the narrative. They are essentially telling people they don’t have the ability to discern what is true and what isn’t; so here is a tool to tell you what to think and what to believe.

The great irony is that those who consider themselves progressives and cry out for safe spaces and an end to harassment and hate speech, are essentially using the tactics of censorship to remove platforms for ideas they don’t agree with. As those who are ostracized migrate to the services who allow them to broadcast their messages, those new platforms become dominated with the narrow-banded echo chambers those users sought to escape. The case of the Daily Stomer is especially chilling because they lost not just the ability to host content, but their domain name as well.

The technology market is currently closing around a culture that is politically one-sided. The recent firing of James Damore from Google for his memo on diversity11 is an example how unpopular analysis and commentary is actively being squashed. Today, media giants are no longer just pushing their own content, but technology giants are now responsible for hosting everyone’s content.

These companies can no longer choose to operate in a vacuum. Never before have we seen so few companies have the ability to dictate the personal narrative and free speech of so many people. Allowing this power to go unchecked is already having a chilling effect on America’s ability to speak freely about conversational issues and opinions. It could bring fourth a new era of censorship, overshadowing the growth of the age of communication we currently live in.

  1. The Daily Stormer was back online for a quick second. 20 Aug 2017. Dillet. TechCrunch. 

  2. Why We Terminated Daily Stormer. 16 August 2017. Prince. CloudFlare. 

  3. We informed The Daily Stormer that they have 24 hours to move the domain to another provider, as they have violated our terms of service.. 13 August 2017. GoDaddy. 

  4. Google cancels domain registration for Daily Stormer. 14 August 2017. Kovach. Business Insider. 

  5. Inciting Violence vs Freedom of Speech. 20 August 2017. Kirkendall. Namecheap. 

  6. Nobody Died at Sandyhook. 2015. Fetzer and Palecek. Moon Rock Books. Retrieved 11 September 2017. 

  7. Amazon: We have 70-80 percent of e-book market. 2 August 2010. Carnoy. CNet. 

  8. Google explains why it banned the app for Gab, a right-wing Twitter rival. 18 August 2017. Lee. Ars Technica.  2

  9. Brendan O’Neill - Freedom of Speech and Right to Offend - Proposition. 25 August 2015. Oxford Union. (Video) 

  10. Human Lobotomy - Second Draft. Retrieved 14 September 2017. (Video) 

  11. The document that got me fired from Google 8 August 2017. Damore. Fired For Truth.