Protesters demonstrating against the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville are treated after a rally attendee used his car to barrel through a crowd, killing one woman. Hate group experts say white nationalists are recruited and emboldened by websites like IronMarch.org. GETTY / CHIP SOMODEVILLA
In August, GoDaddy, Google, and Cloudflare cut their ties to The Daily Stormer, each company saying the neo-Nazi website violated their terms of service agreements. The tech giants made their decisions only after Heather Heyer was killed in a vehicular attack during protests against the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, the Stranger‘s Eli Sanders noted.
The companies’ announcements inspired thinkpieces about free speech in the digital age, including one from Cloudflare CEO Matthew Prince.
In a blog post, Prince called the neo-Nazi site “vile” and “hateful.” However, the “tipping point” for his decision to ban The Daily Stormer, he wrote, “was that the team behind Daily Stormer made the claim that we were secretly supporters of their ideology.”
Given Prince’s criticisms, it’s unclear why Cloudflare continues serving IronMarch.org, a neo-Nazi recruitment forum.
Cloudflare provides hosting services and distributed denial of service protections for IronMarch.org, a neo-Nazi recruitment site. Screenshot from Iron March
Cloudflare representatives did not return The Stranger‘s Friday requests for comment. We will update this post when we hear back.
Keegan Hankes, managing data intelligence analyst for the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), said he and his team work to get large web hosting companies with terms of service agreements that don’t permit racist content or incitements to violence to actually enforce those polices. Hankes said members of his team had been calling on Cloudflare to ban IronMarch.org for about eight months before the deadly rally in Charlottesville.
“With IronMarch.org, comparing it to the situation with The Daily Stormer, the rhetoric is similarly extreme,” Hankes said. “It doesn’t get much clearer than having a webzine called ‘Rope Culture.’ That’s about as extreme as you can get. Some of its constituents have violent tendencies and aspirations. Clearly, some of the time they spent on Iron March contributed in some way.”
Oren Segal, director of the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism, said web hosting service providers must recognize their “basic responsibility that comes with facilitating communication, even if [extremist content is] an unintended side effect of an otherwise legitimate business.”
Segal and Hankes said that the neo-Nazi site may have spawned groups such as Atomwaffen Division, members of which have recently posted recruitment flyers at University of Washington, Bellevue Community College, and The Evergreen State College. Iron March members also left threatening voicemails for a UW political science professor who wrote a Facebook message about one of his students tearing down a poster.
“Iron March is interesting because it’s for and by neo-Nazis and white supremacists,” Segal said. “You’re probably not going to have casual users like you would on Facebook and Twitter. There’s no question of what Iron March is all about.”
Cloudflare doesn’t include guidelines on hate speech or whether it tolerates hate groups in its terms of service. Segal said the Anti-Defamation League encourages all technology companies to create terms of service agreements with such provisions “so that they’re clear about what they will allow and what they will work against.”
Members of the Atomwaffen Division group, which may have started through Iron March’s forums, have posted flyers like these at local universities and community colleges. courtesy of tamsen glaser
In his blog post explaining Cloudflare’s decision to boot The Daily Stormer, Prince wrote that he and his employees were concerned about the “dangerous” ramifications of the company’s decision. Prince noted that, in the company’s 2013 semi-annual transparency report, the company stated it had “never provided any law enforcement organization a feed of our customers’ content transiting our network.” Cloudflare officials are now considering whether that’s still true after pulling services from The Daily Stormer.
“After today, make no mistake, it will be a little bit harder for us to argue against a government somewhere pressuring us into taking down a site they don’t like,” he wrote.
The post continued: “Law enforcement, legislators, and courts have the political legitimacy and predictability to make decisions on what content should be restricted. Companies should not.”
According to Hankes and Segal, that’s only partially true. Although hate speech is protected speech under the First Amendment, a service provider’s choice to enforce its terms of service agreement isn’t censoring speech, it’s a business decision, they said.
“What we’re not advocating for is that those who have hateful speech be silenced in the public sphere,” Segal said. “The way you combat that hate speech is with good speech. When it comes to online platforms, these aren’t the same rules as someone wanting to hold a rally in front of a courthouse.”
He continued: “In this country, you’re allowed to be as hateful as you and want that is protected. But that doesn’t mean you’re allowed to use every private company’s service to promote that hatred.”
Hankes is more blunt, saying that Iron March and other outlets it influences “have body counts attached to them.”
“These are private companies who have the right to choose who uses their platform,” Hankes said.
This post will be updated.