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Criticism Received by Cloudflare for Content Censorship

On August 16, 2017, Cloudflare terminated the account of the Daily Stormer. We wrote about our decision to terminate the account as well as our rationale. While the content of the site was repugnant, we were concerned at the time about whether a deep infrastructure company like Cloudflare was the right place to be making editorial decisions about content. Since then, we received significant thoughtful criticism about that decision. This page recognizes and memorializes that criticism.

"Businesses such as Cloudflare have no legal obligation to provide service to neo-Nazis. But the more power these companies have to determine unilaterally whose website gets to be online, the more carefully they should wield that power, weighing the value of free speech against its dangers."

Where to draw the line on hate speech online?

Washington Post Editorial

September 1, 2017

"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. 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."

Fighting Neo-Nazis and the Future of Free Expression

Jeremy Malcolm, Cindy Cohn, Danny O'Brian,

Electronic Frontier Foundation

August 17, 2017

"Today we may celebrate the fact that hate groups are being driven out of cyberspace - good riddance. How do we guarantee that web companies don't exploit this power to stifle free speech?"

Net neutrality

Houston Chronicle

August 26, 2017

"As a provider of critical infrastructure for the internet, you arbitrarily demonstrated your technical capability and willingness to take down something you found objectionable, basically strengthening the hand of anyone who has been arguing that those with the power to do so, should do so and, perhaps should be made to do so."
"Nazis, however repulsive, have the same speech rights as every other American. In demanding that back-end web companies kick them off the internet for legally protected expression, activists are effectively asking them to limit public debate -- according to whatever vague or opaque corporate principles they might dream up. Do you trust GoDaddy with that responsibility?"

Don't Kick Nazis off the Internet

The Editorial Board,

Bloomberg View

September 5, 2017

"Instead, The Daily Stormer's demise is a reminder that a few major corporations now have far more power than the government to regulate and restrict free speech, and they're hardly neutral or unbiased actors. They have a point of view, and they're under immense pressure to use that point of view to influence public debate."

Journalists Overreach in Their Quest to Purge 'Hate' from the Web

David French, Senior Writer and Fellow,

The National Review

August 21, 2017

"Tech companies must make human rights law a core consideration when evaluating whether to boot hate groups from their services. They currently appear to be acting based on public opinion and ad hoc interpretations of their terms of service."

Code for tolerance: How tech companies can respond to hate but respect human rights

Deji Olukotun, Peter Micek and Drew Mitnick,

Access Now

August 17, 2017

"Indeed, Silicon Valley is known to lean to the left. It's not implausible to imagine that censorship of certain views might ensue."

So, just how guaranteed is your freedom of speech online?

John Samples, Cato Institute

New York Post

August 19, 2017

"People are relieved when speech they disagree with is removed, but the censorship can come back to bite them when they find themselves on the receiving end . . . The First Amendment has enabled Americans throughout the country's history to challenge the status quo, because we are able to reveal what people really think and counter it."

GoDaddy, Google ban neo-Nazi site Daily Stormer for 'violating' terms of service

Lee Rowland, American Civil Liberty Union's Speech, Privacy & Technology Project

Elizabeth Dwoskin and Tracy Jan,

The Baltimore Sun

August 14, 2017

Also printed in The Washington Post

"Not only were social media platforms suddenly getting serious about cracking down on the racist 'alt-right,' but back-end web infrastructure companies—which have typically pled neutrality with regard to the content of the sites they serve—suddenly found themselves under intense pressure to do the same...Does anyone doubt that conservative pressure groups will gleefully adopt the same tactic against left-wing targets?"
"Natürlich ist das Internet an sich dezentral aufgebaut: Wer sich als Websitebetreiber von einem der genannten Unternehmen benachteiligt fühlt, kann theoretisch einfach zu einem anderen gehen. Doch faktisch werden viele dieser acht Ebenen von sehr wenigen, sehr mächtigen Unternehmen kontrolliert. Wer ihre Dienste nicht nutzen kann, ist im Netz unsichtbar, schwer erreichbar, angreifbar, geschäftsunfähig."

Kein Netz für Nazis

David Bueth,

Zeit Online

August 17, 2017

"Because of the precise nature of Cloudflare's business, and the scarcity of competitors, its role censoring internet speech is not just new, it's terrifying. . . . Denying security service to one Nazi website seems fine now, but what if Cloudflare started suspending service for a political candidate that its chief executive didn't like?"

The Terrifying Power of Internet Censors

Kate Klonick, Ph.D. in Law Candidate and Resident Fellow at the Yale Information Society Project

New York Times

September 13, 2017

"In this way, edge providers are a much bigger actual threat to an open Internet than broadband providers, especially when it comes to discrimination on the basis of viewpoint. That might explain why the CEO of a company called Cloudflare recently questioned whether 'is it the right place for tech companies to be regulating the Internet.' He didn't offer a solution, but remarked that 'what I know is not the right answer is that a cabal of ten tech executives with names like Matthew, Mark, Jack, . . . Jeff are the ones choosing what content goes online and what content doesn't go online.'"

Public Remarks on Restoring Internet Freedom

Ajit Pai, FCC Chairman

November 28, 2017

"Platforms and infrastructure providers — like Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Amazon (whose most profitable sector is web-hosting), and yes, Cloudflare — hold an enormous, and I would say dangerous, amount of power over who gets to access what."

Who Gets to Decide Who Has a Voice Online?

Brian Feldman,

NY Mag

August 17, 2017

"There is no consensus about the danger of concentrations of power in private hands. But when the private hands in question control access to the principal media of communication in the world, one has to hesitate when they decide that not everyone should be granted entree. For the power they are exercising is almost state-like."

Too Much Power Lies in Tech Companies' Hands

Stephen Carter,

Bloomberg View

August 17, 2017

"Let's be clear, I am sure most of the people who are getting kicked off of various platforms are bad, bad guys. But in America, we even let the bad guys speak—and we counter their bad speech with better speech."

'Is this the Day the Internet Dies?'

Jeremy Carl, Hoover Institution,

National Review

August 18, 2017

"Definitional ambiguity is part of the problem. 'Hateful conduct' and 'violent extremist material' are vague terms that can be stretched to include political dissent and cultural commentary."

What to Do about the Emerging Threat of Censorship Creep on the Internet

Danielle Keats Citron, Morton and Sophia Macht Professor of Law at the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law,

CATO Institute

November 28, 2017

"My fear is that when you delete hate-fueled accounts, sites, and content, you simply push the hate further underground, and to other platforms and avenues that are, perhaps, friendlier and more accepting of such hatred, where it will continue to fester and grow."

We're at a crossroads for free speech online, and it could change the internet as we know it

Lance Ulanoff, Chief Correspondent and Editor-at-Large,

Mashable

August 18, 2017

"All this should concern ordinary Americans because the implications go far beyond neo-Nazis and white supremacists."

The Only Thing Neo-Nazis Are Good For Is Exposing Free Speech Hypocrisy

John Daniel Davidson,

The Federalist

August 25, 2017

"But I definitely think that, even in the midst of our sorrow and outrage over the events in Charlottesville, we should take time think before asking these companies to be arbiters of our speech."

The Daily Stormer, Online Speech and Internet Registrars

Daphne Keller,

Stanford Center for Internet and Society

August 15, 2017

"Free speech is not meant to protect uncontroversial people. Their speech does not need protecting. It was created to protect the most despised and hated groups in society — the people whose speech is most at risk of suppression. There can be no question then, that Silicon Valley killed free speech on the web this week. The question now is, how might it be resurrected?"

BOKHARI: THE WEEK SILICON VALLEY KILLED FREE SPEECH

Allum Bokhari,

Breitbart

August 19, 2017

"Banning haters like The Daily Stormer is well-intentioned but dangerous."

Keep the Internet's Backbone Free From Censorship

Leila Abboud,

Bloomberg View

August 17, 2017

"For now, Silicon Valley has decided that taking sides in those fights is righteous, as long as they are on the right side. That may work when it comes to purging Nazism in 2017, but it's hard to imagine it won't set a precedent for how companies choose to police content in the future."

Silicon Valley's Nazi Purge Kicks Into Overdrive

Maya Kosoff,

Vanity Fair

August 17, 2017

"While we look for clearer and fairer policing from powerful American internet companies, government shutdowns of the web in parts of Pakistan and Cameroon provide prescient reminders of the critical role that free and open platforms play in a democratic society."

Future Tense Newsletter: Who Gets to Police the Internet?

Emily Fritcke,

Slate

August 23, 2017

"While these actions by tech companies seen by most as the proper and moral thing to do, some have rightfully questioned the ability of businesses in general to have such a significant influence on the fundamental right of free speech online -- censoring or even removing it altogether."
"With no argument for an open web, how do you tell a country not to shut down networks in the run-up to an election, or not to block apps used to organize opposition? We’ve shunned the tech world for hiding behind content neutrality, or using the gospel of disruption to entrench their power. How will the same companies act when they believe in nothing at all?"

We Have Abandoned Every Principle of the Free and Open Internet

Russell Brandon,

The Verge

December 19, 2017

"I'm not so worried about companies censoring Nazis, but I am worried about the implications it has for everyone else. I'm worried about the unelected bros of Silicon Valley being the judge and jury, and thinking that mere censorship solves the problem."

The Internet's "Nazi Purge” Shows Who Really Controls Our Online Speech

Jillian York, Electronic Frontier Foundation,

BuzzFeed News

August 21, 2017

"Asking platforms to be the arbiters of what speech is good and what speech is bad is frought with serious problems."

Nazis, The Internet, Policing Content and Free Speech

Mike Masnick,

Free Speech by techdirt

August 25, 2017

"Instead, people need to realize that more speech is the answer, not censoring repugnant speech."

Nazi Website Gets Shut Down. Here's Why That's a Threat to Free Speech

The Glenn Beck Program,

Glenn Beck

September 13, 2017

"Tech companies that offer free consumer products get away with promising very little to their users. Due process is not part of the deal."
"In a world where Big Tech has the power not only to fan the flames of hate speech and fake news, but also remove it when and where it likes, it is clear that the internet is a fundamentally different place than it was in 1996 - one that needs fundamentally different rules."

Big Tech can no longer be allowed to police itself

Rana Foroohar,

The Irish Times

August 28, 2017

Also on The Straits Times

"Have we really reached the point that people cannot argue or protest another person for fear of being offended or assaulted? And have we reached the point where a state government or a private industry can control what one says? George Orwell's book '1984' was supposed to be fantasy, but it seems that this classic fiction has now become reality."

Free Speech or Not?

Paul Albaugh,

The Patriot Post

August 29, 2017

"The problem with treating free speech like Uber treats taxi regulations and government rules with their business model of 'ignoring the law on purpose, charging ahead and let them sue us' is that you are dealing with individual rights and making them submissive to that of a for-profit corporation or hordes of witch hunters armed with pitch forks and torches."

Hunting for Witches in the Age of the Internet

Dennis Wyatt,

The Ceres Courier

August 30, 2017

"They don’t like the Nazis today, but tomorrow it's somebody else . . . You may get to the point where you have a whimsical CEO who wants to delist a political group or a movement."

Banning neo-Nazis online may be slippery slope, tech group warns Silicon Valley

Roy Gutterman, Director, Tully Center for Free Speech at Syracuse University,

Hamza Shaban,

The Washington Post

August 18, 2017

"When major intermediaries become go-to regulators responsible for policing content on behalf of governments or in response to high-profile protests, their already considerable power increases."

Why It's a Mistake to Celebrate the Crackdown on Hate Websites

Natasha Tusikov, York University,

The Conversation

August 22, 2017

Also printed in The Beechwood Reporter, TheRecord.com, Winnipeg Free Press

"Piecemeal crackdowns do not amount to a solution, and it is necessary to consider how difficult and dangerous it is to turn corporations into ad hoc morality police."

The Problems With Internet Platforms Policing Hate

Kate Knibbs,

The Ringer

August 22, 2017

"The info-giants are an oligopoly, and increasingly aware of their power — and the few limits on it in America. They begin with crowd-pleasing actions. I doubt they will stop there."

Fear the rise of info-monopolies over America

Larry Kummer, Editor,

Fabius Maximus

August 22, 2017

"So what does this all mean for us as libertarians, or anyone with a controversial viewpoint? Apparently that if your ideas are unpopular that you should be taken off-line. Because the truth is, there is a very small and elite set of companies which control a few key parts of the internet. And that if you say something they disagree with, or are unpopular you can be taken offline."

Neo-Nazis and the Right to be on the Internet

Alon Ganon,

Being Libertarian

August 23, 2017

"If the Left-leaning are allowed to cherry-pick what is allowed and what isn't, who is to say that, one day, Right-leaning groups may not do the same. One only has to look at repressive regimes like Russia and China to get a picture of what happens to speech that is liked by the party in power."

Internet Censorship of a Different Kind

Stan Ward,

BestVPN

September 11, 2017

"Previously, if you didn't like the way Twitter and Facebook run their platforms, the solution was simple: make your own site, where the rules are more relaxed and legally protected speech is not removed for political reasons. Now, even this option is being taken off the table. Your alternative site still depends on commercial organisations to host it, route traffic to it, list it in search results, and protect it from attacks. Once these companies abandon their role as content-neutral network operators and fall down the rabbit-hole of identity politics and virtue-signalling, the internet as we know it can no longer function."

Internet Infrastructure is the New Battleground for Free Speech

Matthew Mott,

Quillette

September 15, 2017

"While the flexibility inherent in these agreements may be of service to tech companies who wish to protect their image in the aftermath of a crisis, the ability of a small number of companies to control what the public sees is a significant responsibility. Removal of a website, for example, makes it harder for the public to create an informed response to debated material, and archival considerations arise as well if such removal impacts future historians' work on the subject."

Policy and Public Pressure: Technology Companies Respond to Charlottesville

Kate Thompson,

Intellectual Freedom Blog

November 1, 2017

"No individual or company should be able to determine what is or isn't allowed to be said or written. This is as true online as it is offline. The task of agreeing on reasonable boundaries and regulations is not an easy one, but it has to be the way forward. Any other approach risks seeing individual and online freedoms being increasingly curtailed."

US neo-Nazi protests spark online censorship debate

David Spencer,

VPN Compare UK

August 25, 2017

Additional Media Coverage

"There have been dark wells of hate online since the Usenet era, but back then, misanthropy was distributed across thousands of different platforms. Even if you felt some speech was objectionable enough to silence, it was a practical impossibility to get rid of it all. No single entity could silence an idea. But in a world where Facebook and Google count their audiences in the billions, a decision by one of those big players could, essentially, quiet an unpopular voice."

Why Cloudflare Let an Extremist Stronghold Burn

Steve Johnson,

WIRED

January 16, 2018

"Despite their participatory rhetoric, social platforms are closer to authoritarian spaces than democratic ones. It makes some sense that people with authoritarian tendencies would have an intuitive understanding of how they work and how to take advantage of them."

How Hate Groups Forced Online Platforms to Reveal Their True Nature

John Herrman,

New York Times Magazine

August 21, 2017

"Private companies should not take it upon themselves to decide what content deserves to be on the internet, free speech advocates argue."

People Cheer Companies Kicking Nazis Off The Internet. But Who’s Next?

Jessica Schulberg and Dana Liebelson,

Huffington Post

August 18, 2017

"Regardless of where tech’s top firms decide to draw the line, their decisions may not ultimately matter, however, as an alternative web ecosystem catering to free speech absolutists and ‘alt-right’ sympathizers is already beginning to emerge."
"One site that was successfully shut down was The Daily Stormer, a white supremacist hate site. GoDaddy, Cloudflare and Google all withdrew their services to the site, leaving it adrift. But where is the line, and with Silicon Valley tech companies that decidedly lean left, will sites they disagree with on the right also be targeted?"
"Free speech was the left’s rally cry. But the fate of the Daily Stormer, a hate site 'kicked off the internet', signals the increasing irrelevance of the first amendment."
"In a worst case scenario, vigilantes could essentially pick and choose what sites remain online based on the outrage du jour, a vision of the open internet essentially ran by trolls. But aggrieved mobs pressuring internet companies to terminate service based on political outrage—even at something as heinous as Nazi-murder—is, in some ways, the flip side of this."
"But Kevin Bankston, director of the Open Technology Institute at New America, pointed out that, as important as that conversation might be, the removal of the Daily Stormer still had the potential to set a dangerous precedent for content moderation online."

Toeing the Line Between Censorship and Content Moderation

Catherine Wilson,

New America Weekly

November 30, 2017

"As free-speech advocates point out the slippery slope that is censorship, the hard questions remain as other tech companies continue to censor and ban. What's acceptable censorship, if any?"

Google, other tech companies warned over 'dangerous' banning of neo-Nazis, hate groups

Levi Sumagaysay,

Silicon Beat and The Mercury News

August 18, 2017

"According to the EFF, the ability of domain registrars and security companies to unilaterally remove a site from the web—even one representing a reprehensible ideology—weakens freedom of speech online."
"The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a prominent digital rights advocacy group, warned in a blog post on Thursday that tech companies are going down a dangerous path after three different companies revoked their services from a white supremacist website this week."
"The organization [EFF] has worked on a number of cases where big corporations and government officials have asked companies to remove content they didn't like, effectively silencing artists, activists, and others. 'Some people now applauding the censorship may one day be censored,' [Cindy] Cohn said."
"'The moment where this is about Nazis, to me, is very late in the conversation,' [Cindy] Cohn said, citing past attempts to shut down political websites. 'What they do is they take down the whole website, they can't just take down the one bad article.'"

Should tech companies be able to shut down neo-Nazis?

Lauren Goode & Kara Swisher,

Recode

August 25, 2017

"A digital rights organization criticized companies that effectively blocked a neo-Nazi website from publishing on the web, saying the tactics used to silence hate speech could ultimately be used against other groups."

EFF criticizes tech companies for exiling neo-Nazi website

Andrew Morse,

Cnet Culture

August 18, 2017

"The Electronic Frontier Foundation warns the decision by Google, GoDaddy and Cloudflare to expel white supremacist site the Daily Stormer from their services has worrying free speech implications."
"The main concern expressed by the EFF is that eliminating websites full of hate speech is a slippery slope."
"Decisions by Google, GoDaddy and Cloudflare to eject a neo-Nazi site from their services were 'dangerous', a US-based digital rights group has said."
"Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital rights group, broke with major tech companies late Thursday, saying that blocking white supremacist, Neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer from staying online sets a dangerous precedent for free speech."
"The EFF noted that companies can choose what kind of speech to allow, but warned that companies are entering dangerous territory because of how much power they wield."
"The moves by tech companies to essentially remove The Daily Stormer from the internet, alongside similar actions by Facebook and other social media platforms to suspend accounts espousing white supremacist views, now raise concerns about censorship in the U.S., according to both conservative and liberal digital rights groups."
"The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has criticized internet providers for blocking the neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer, saying it violates the principals [sic] of free speech and could backfire."