Silicon Valley joined a swelling backlash against white nationalist groups in the U.S. on Wednesday as more technology companies denied their services in response to weekend violence in Charlottesville, Va.
Social media networks Twitter and LinkedIn, music service Spotify and security firm Cloudflare were among the companies cutting off services to hate groups or removing material they said spread hate.
Earlier in the week, Facebook, Google and GoDaddy, a website hosting service, also took steps to block hate groups.
The wave of internet crackdowns against white nationalists reflects the changing mindset among Silicon Valley firms on how far they are willing to go to fight hate speech.
‘I woke up this morning in a bad mood and decided to kick them off the internet.’
– Matthew Prince, Cloudflare founder and chief executive
Tech companies have taken down violent propaganda from ISIS and other militant groups, partly in response to government pressure. But most online companies have traditionally tried to steer clear of making judgments about content except in cases of illegal activity.
Cloudflare, which protects some six million websites from denial-of-service attacks and hacking, dropped the neo-Nazi website Daily Stormer on Wednesday afternoon.
“I woke up this morning in a bad mood and decided to kick them off the internet,” Cloudflare founder and chief executive Matthew Prince wrote in an email to employees.
Cloudflare is well-known for defending questionable websites, and services like it are essential to their protection.
Shutting down nationalist site
Daily Stormer helped organize the weekend rally in Charlottesville, Va., where a 32-year-old woman was killed and 19 others injured when a man drove a car into a crowd protesting the white nationalist rally.
The site had been accessible only intermittently the past few days after domain hosting companies GoDaddy and Google Domains said they would not provide service.
By Wednesday, Daily Stormer — named after Der Sturmer, a newspaper that published Nazi propaganda — had moved to a Russia-based internet domain, with an address ending in .ru. Later in the day, though, the site was no longer accessible at that address either.
Daily Stormer publisher Andrew Anglin said on a social network used by many of his supporters that his site would be back soon.
‘The death threats were something I’ve never seen before in my life.’
– Dean Obeidallah, SiriusXM radio show host
“Clearly, the powers that be believe that they have the ability to simply kick me off the internet,” Anglin told The Associated Press in an email.
While on the Russin domain, Anglin had been continuing to publish white nationalist statements, which included mocking Heather Heyer, the woman who was killed in Charlottesville on Saturday.
Legal troubles for controversial publisher
But Anglin had other trouble as well: A Muslim-American radio host filed a federal lawsuit on Wednesday accusing him of defamation by allegedly mislabelling him as the “mastermind” of a deadly concert bombing in England.
SiriusXM Radio show host Dean Obeidallah alleges Daily Stormer embedded fabricated tweets in a June 1 story to make them seem like they had been sent from his Twitter account, tricking readers into believing he took responsibility for the May 22 terrorist attack at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester. The death threats came quickly thereafter.
“It was literally jaw-dropping,” Obeidallah, a comedian and Daily Beast columnist, told the AP. “The death threats were something I’ve never seen before in my life.”
Cloudflare boss conflicted over decision
Prince, the Cloudflare chief executive, said in an interview that despite his decision he was still conflicted. The conflict was because he felt it might become harder to resist pressure from governments to censor.
“You don’t have to play this game too many moves out to see how risky this is going to be,” Prince said. “‘What about this site? What about this site?'”
Only the biggest companies will be able to navigate the varying laws in different countries, he added. “We’ve lost a lot of the fight for a free and open internet.”
Twitter on Wednesday suspended accounts linked to Daily Stormer. The company said it would not discuss individual accounts, but at least three affiliated with the Daily Stormer led to pages saying “account suspended.”
The social network prohibits violent threats, harassment and hateful conduct and “will take action on accounts violating those policies,” the company said in a statement.
Facebook, which unlike Twitter explicitly prohibits hate speech, has taken down several pages from their site and Instagram in recent days that it said were associated with hate speech or hate organizations. It also took down the event page that was used to promote and organize the “Unite the Right” rally.
“With the potential for more rallies, we’re watching the situation closely and will take down threats of physical harm,” CEO Mark Zuckerberg wrote on Wednesday.
Facebook also said it had removed accounts belonging to Chris Cantwell, a web commentator and self-described white nationalist. Cantwell’s YouTube account also appeared to have been terminated.
Cantwell could not immediately be reached for comment.
LinkedIn, a unit of Microsoft Corp, suspended a page devoted to Daily Stormer and another page belonging to a man associated with the site, Andrew Auernheimer. LinkedIn declined to comment.
Reddit this week eliminated one of its discussion communities that supported the Unite the Right rally, saying that the company would ban users who incite violence. The company says it has more than 250 million users.
Spotify, based in Sweden, said it was in the process of removing musical acts from its streaming service that had been flagged as racist “hate bands” by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
“Illegal content or material that favours hatred or incites violence against race, religion, sexuality or the like is not tolerated by us,” the company said in a statement, adding that record companies should also be held responsible.