The tech industry has united against right-wing hate groups, cutting off known neo-Nazis and white supremacists from using their online services.
Tech, neo-Nazis and fear over the future of free speech
Social media, web hosting, financial, dating and music services have removed accounts and denied access to services in an effort to cut the groups off from using conventional platforms.
Internet companies are generally reluctant to police the political nature of their content in the interests of freedom of speech and expression, which Silicon Valley as a whole champions. But last week’s events in Charlottesville, which president Donald Trump maintains was the fault of “both sides“, have shaken the industry out of silence and into definitive action.
The stance poses questions over the tech industry’s control of free speech and effective censorship of content in daily means of communication.
As conventional services are cut off, white supremacists are turning to other methods of communication, namely to “alternative” social network Gab, “for creators who believe in free speech, individual liberty, and the free flow of information online.” The app, which has raised $1m in donations, has been removed from the Google Play Store for violating hate speech.
Cloudflare chief executive wakes up in a bad mood, bans Nazi site
The Daily Stormer was a notorious neo-Nazi website which celebrated Heather Heyer’s death in the clashes between anti-racism supports and white nationalists in Charlottesville. It was previously hosted by GoDaddy, which gave the site 24 hours to move its domain to another provider, saying it had violated GoDaddy’s terms of service. The site moved briefly to Alphabet’s Google domains, before Google announced it was revoking the domain. “We don’t want our services to incite violence,” a Google spokesperson said.
The Daily Stormer then hopped over to a Russian domain, before Matthew Prince, chief executive of CloudFlare, a network which previously protected the Daily Stormer from cyber attacks, decided to pull the plug on its support. The site has since disappeared from the accessible internet.
“My rationale for making this decision was simple: the people behind the Daily Stormer are assholes and I’d had enough,” Prince wrote in an email to staff. “It was a decision I could make because I’m the CEO of a major Internet infrastructure company.”
Prince said the decision should open up discussions over who has the right to police content online, which shouldn’t be subject to the whims of chief executives like himself, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Google’s Larry Page and Satya Nadella and Mark Zuckerberg.
“I think the people who run The Daily Stormer are abhorrent. But again I don’t think my political decisions should determine who should and shouldn’t be on the internet,” he added. “Literally, I woke up in a bad mood and decided someone shouldn’t be allowed on the Internet. No one should have that power.”
Squarespace and WordPress delete sites too
Like GoDaddy and Google before it, web host Squarespace confirmed it had removed a group of sites from its platform, which are likely to violate its guidelines for “biogtry and hatred”. Similarly, WordPress has removed a site called Vanguard America.
Dating site OkCupid kicked white supremacist Chris Cantwell off
Chris Cantwell, who advocated for the creation of a white ‘ethno-state’ in a Vice documentary made about last week’s Unite the Right rally, has been banned from looking for love on OkCupid.
There is no room for hate in a place where you’re looking for love.
— OkCupid (@okcupid) August 17, 2017
“OkCupid has zero tolerance for racism,” chief executive Elie Seidman told Gizmodo. “We make a lot of decision every day that are tough. Banning Christopher Cantwell was not one of them.” Cantwell has also been banned from Facebook.
Facebook and Twitter deletes white supremacist accounts and links
In a highly-unusual move for Facebook, the social network deleted a number of pages associated with right-wing hate speech, while Twitter has suspended the @rudhum account which provided Daily Stormer updates.
Spotify has clamped down on hate bands
Music streaming service Spotify has removed white supremacist bands from its service after Digital Music News pointed out 37 such bands could be found on its platform.
“The music in our catalogue comes from hundreds of thousands of record companies and aggregators all over the world, and those are at first hand responsible for the content they deliver,” a spokesperson said.
“Illegal content or material that favors hatred or incites violence against race, religion, sexuality or the like is not tolerated by us. Spotify takes immediate action to remove any such material as soon as it has been brought to our attention.”
It said it has removed many of the identified bands from its catalogue and continues to review others.
Apple’s Tim Cook condemns hate as a ‘cancer’
Apple has disabled its payment system Apple Pay from accepting money from sites selling Nazi and white supremacist memorabilia, and has donated $2m to the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League.
Tim Cook, Apple chief executive, wrote an impassioned email to staff explaining that what occurred in Charlottesville “has no place in our country”.
“Hate is a cancer, and left unchecked it destroys everything in its path. Its scars last generations. History has taught us this time and time again, both in the United States and countries around the world,” he wrote.
“We must not witness or permit such hate and bigotry in our country, and we must be unequivocal about it. This is not about the left or the right, conservative or liberal. It is about human decency and morality. I disagree with the president and others who believe that there is a moral equivalence between white supremacists and Nazis, and those who oppose them by standing up for human rights. Equating the two runs counter to our ideals as Americans.”
Coinbase and Paypal cut off funding avenues
Conbaise, a bitcoin exchange company, deleted accounts of users transferring money to the Daily Stormer, saying: A donation to any site that would abuse, harass, threaten, or promote violence against others would violate our terms of service.”
Similarly to Apple Pay, PayPal has also removed its payment service from the merchandise sites of other objectionable groups.
“There are times when people may find an account that is using PayPal’s services to be offensive, but because the website and organisation does not violate our Acceptable Use Policy, we will continue to process payments for the account as we respect and seek to uphold the values of freedom of expression and open dialogue,” the company wrote in a blog. “However, PayPal will – as we consistently have in the past – limit or end customer relationships and prohibit the use of our services by those that meet the thresholds of violating our policy.”
Uber and Airbnb ban Nazis in gig economy uprise
Ride hailing app Uber permanently banned white supremacist James Allsup from using its app after reportedly making racist remarks during a car journey in Washington.
Allsup and other notable right-wing leader Tim Gionet were being driven past the city’s National Museum of African-American History and Culture last week when their comments made the driver, an unidentified African-American woman, ask them to get out of the car.
“Drivers always have the right to refuse service to riders who are disrespectful or make them feel unsafe, as the driver in this case rightly did,” Uber said in a statement to BuzzFeed. “We’ve reached out to the driver to make sure she’s okay, and express our support for her and how she handled this situation. The rider has been permanently removed from our platform.”
Airbnb cancels reservation of peaceful canucks trying to make new friends in Charlottesville, <24 hrs before check in#UniteTheRight pic.twitter.com/f6VSju3fTi
— Connor Johnston (@ConnorWJohnston) August 10, 2017
Airbnb also banned known white supremacists from using its property rental service by deactivating their accounts. It prevented numerous users from renting properties near to Charlottesville it believed were planing to host gatherings related to the rally.
Gamer chat app Discord severs alt-right accounts
Discord, an app for in-voice gaming chat with more than 45m members, has removed numerous servers, accounts and groups linked to the Charlottesville violence.
Love. Not hate. pic.twitter.com/5xFpvHTuI2
— Discord (@discordapp) August 14, 2017
“Discord was built to bring people together through a love of gaming and our mission is to connect positive communities who share this appreciation,” a company spokesperson said. “We unequivocally condemn white supremacy, neonazism, or any other group, term, ideology that is based on these beliefs. They are not welcome on Discord.”