The Dirty Business Of Hosting Hate Online
July 12, 2019 12:15 PM   Subscribe

The proliferation of hate sites online has been something that we all have seen with our own eyes, but there's a hidden side to it all - the companies who provide hosting and support for them, who rarely get mentioned. Gizmodo reporter Aaron Sankin looks into the companies who provide the hosting for hate sites. (SLGizmodo)

Overall, they found 151 companies involved in providing hosting for hate sites. Top hosts were GoDaddy and affiliates (130 sites), CloudFlare (56), Tucows (46) and Endurance International Group (42).
posted by NoxAeternum (26 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
 
“GoDaddy does not condone content that advocates expressions of hate, racism, bigotry,” a GoDaddy representative wrote in an emailed statement. “We generally do not take action on complaints that would constitute censorship of content and limit the exercise of freedom of speech and expression on the Internet. While we detest the sentiment of such sites, we support a free and open Internet and, similar to the principles of free speech, that sometimes means allowing such tasteless, ignorant content.”

Five years ago, I would have said “This seems about right.” Now, I’m not so sure.
posted by mr_roboto at 1:00 PM on July 12, 2019 [9 favorites]


I don't think another culture has done quite as dirty with the paradox of tolerance as Americans, and that has leeched into any culture that picks up their content. That GoDaddy quote exemplifies the problem, that Americans have totally lost any sense of what "free speech" actually means, and this cowardly refusal to place any limits on tolerating intolerance has led to a thriving sub-culture of hate, bigotry and misogyny.

This societal insistence that the internet is somehow different because it exists between the boundaries of the physical world is completely insane.
posted by dazedandconfused at 1:10 PM on July 12, 2019 [31 favorites]


One thing that advocates that push for a more "open and permissive internet" fail to take into account are power structures/institutions that victimize and harm people who are not in positions of authority or privilege.

They fail to consider this context and how it impacts those on the bottom and how scary it can be to be the target of this kind of hate or bigotry.
posted by Fizz at 1:15 PM on July 12, 2019 [13 favorites]


This societal insistence that the internet is somehow different because it exists between the boundaries of the physical world is completely insane.

And yet in the tech community it's treated as something akin to holy writ, most likely because it allows them to argue that they don't actually have to care about the damage that's done.
posted by NoxAeternum at 1:15 PM on July 12, 2019 [13 favorites]


Five years ago, I would have said “This seems about right.” Now, I’m not so sure.
posted by mr_roboto at 5:00 AM on July 13 [1 favorite +] [!]


Me too.

My position now is that boycotting, exposing their relationships and making it as uncomfortable as possible for hate sites to exist isn't "an attack on free speech", it's simply refusing to tolerate their bullshit. Getting hate groups dehosted/deplatformed and otherwise running them out of town isn't altering speech laws. Until I can develop a more coherent stance on what I think are the limits of free speech, I'll punt and keep working to shut them up anyway.
posted by saysthis at 1:17 PM on July 12, 2019 [8 favorites]


Five years ago, I would have said “This seems about right.” Now, I’m not so sure.

I'm sure. GoDaddy is talking bullshit here. No one is denying hate groups the right to speech - they are (potentially) denying them the access to a service that would amplify their speech.

If GoDaddy wanted to convince me of their sincerity they'd make a point of donating the money raised by these hate sites they're unwilling to boot to direct victims of the hate groups. If the group is anti-gay, donate twice the money they spend to a charity that defends gay rights. If the group is racist, donate twice the revenue to the Southern Poverty Law Center or something like that.

No more tolerance of intolerance.
posted by jzb at 1:21 PM on July 12, 2019 [19 favorites]


GoDaddy are scumbags anyway.

But yeah, the version of "free speech" we have in the US is not entirely in the public interest, and peoples' understanding of it is even worse.

No private company is required by law to provide a platform for hate speech. The only reason any of them do it is profit, combined with laziness and general denial of responsibility.
posted by Foosnark at 1:25 PM on July 12, 2019 [12 favorites]


My frustrating with the Prince quote “Literally, I woke up in a bad mood and decided someone shouldn’t be allowed on the Internet. No one should have that power.” is that he still does have that much power! He's just choosing not to use it. And if that's really how he felt then advocate for regulation and protections to enshrine that right, don't just say whelp it's ok now because I felt bad for deplatforming neonazis.
posted by Carillon at 1:31 PM on July 12, 2019 [7 favorites]


Instead, we think that us taking on the role becoming one of the censors of the internet is bad because we don’t think we would do it well.
On this point, at least, I'm inclined to agree. But (for example) Youtube's efforts on that front have been so incompetent it's tempting to see the incompetence as a ruse.
posted by klanawa at 1:43 PM on July 12, 2019


I thought I'd transferred all my domains away from GoDaddy many years ago -- when they were in support of the Iraq war -- but just checked and found two more that were still there. I've moved them away and sent them a link to the article in the "why are you transferring" field.
posted by dobbs at 2:00 PM on July 12, 2019 [11 favorites]


Tucows' operations are mostly done from Canada, where we do have hate speech laws. I'm surprised they aren't more sensitive to this.
posted by scruss at 2:05 PM on July 12, 2019 [3 favorites]


LOL at the company that's all "but we give free webhosting to LGBTQ customers" while simultaneously hosting thousands of people who constantly call for them to be violently murdered.

Radical centrism in a nutshell.
posted by zombieflanders at 2:24 PM on July 12, 2019 [17 favorites]


In the US context, this is an issue that causes me all kinds of anger, frustration, and philosophical dissonance. This is because I believe all three of these things at the same time:
  • Private organizations can and should refuse to do business with hate groups. Owners and employees of those organizations have a moral imperative to ensure they don’t support hate.
  • The fact that nearly all public expression is now hosted on private platforms is an incredibly bad thing. It gives huge multinational corporations, and their often sociopathic CEOs, terrifying power to control discussion and deplatform those they disagree with. Even if I agreed with them about most things, which I don’t, I would want this power stripped.
  • The United States, with its current parties and electorate, is vanishingly unlikely to pass a reasonable hate speech law in the foreseeable future. In fact, giving the current ruling party such legal tools would be more likely to deplatform marginalized people than white supremacists.
So the solution I’m left with, is trying to shame the hopefully-not-indifferent employees of huge corporations into pressuring their sociopathic CEOs into wielding power I don’t want them to have, but for a good cause this time.
posted by a device for making your enemy change his mind at 2:28 PM on July 12, 2019 [8 favorites]


LOL at the company that's all "but we give free webhosting to LGBTQ customers" while simultaneously hosting thousands of people who constantly call for them to be violently murdered.

Radical centrism in a nutshell.


It's more than that - it's one of the ACLU's favorite slogans in action - the answer to bad speech is more speech.

What's happening is that we are seeing how wrong that argument is. It turned out that you can't drown out hate, can't dilute its poisonousness. Hate has to be excised, or it destroys discourse, as Karl Popper warned us so long ago.
posted by NoxAeternum at 2:31 PM on July 12, 2019 [21 favorites]


Can companies make a shit ton of money hosting hate?
You betcha!!
It's all about the profits.
posted by BlueHorse at 2:34 PM on July 12, 2019 [3 favorites]


The US context is important, because as noted in Ars Technica's coverage of NZ declaring massacre video “objectionable,” arresting people who shared it, they note:
The United States is unusual in offering near-absolute protection for free speech under the First Amendment. Most other countries—even liberal democracies—have more extensive systems of online and offline censorship. That difference has been on display this week as New Zealand authorities have begun prosecuting people for sharing copies of last week's white supremacist mass shooting in Christchurch and for posting hate speech in the wake of the attack.

New Zealand Chief Censor David Shanks has determined that the 17-minute video livestreamed during the Christchurch shooting is objectionable under New Zealand law. "It is a record of a terrorist atrocity, specifically produced for the purpose of promoting a hateful terrorist agenda," a press release from New Zealand's Office of Film and Literature Classification states.

Distributing objectionable materials online comes with stiff legal penalties. One man—the 44-year-old owner of an insulation company with alleged neo-Nazi sympathies—has been arrested and charged with two counts of distributing objectionable materials in violation of New Zealand's Films, Videos, and Publications Classification Act. He is being held without bail and could be sentenced to as much as 14 years in prison for each offense.
Meanwhile, [U.S.] Right-wingers say Twitter’s “bias” against them should be illegal (also from Ars Technica).

Protip: stop being a shitty human and saying awful things, and then people will be less "biased" against you.
posted by filthy light thief at 2:34 PM on July 12, 2019 [10 favorites]


But sunlight is the best disinfectant, which is why all surgeries are performed on tropical beaches!
posted by Atom Eyes at 2:42 PM on July 12, 2019 [12 favorites]


tl;dr; America is a country without hate speech laws, one built on the premise that it’s not the government’s job to decide what types of speech should be prohibited. In the internet era, that sort of governance is largely left up to the private companies responsible for the technology powering all our digital communications.
posted by GenjiandProust at 3:08 PM on July 12, 2019 [1 favorite]


welp, looks like I need to move away from hover for domain registration.
posted by namewithoutwords at 3:38 PM on July 12, 2019


My frustrating with the Prince quote “Literally, I woke up in a bad mood and decided someone shouldn’t be allowed on the Internet. No one should have that power.” is that he still does have that much power! He's just choosing not to use it. And if that's really how he felt then advocate for regulation and protections to enshrine that right, don't just say whelp it's ok now because I felt bad for deplatforming neonazis.

That's been my biggest complaint with Prince's "argument" - if that's truly how he feels, then the only recourse he has is to shut down CloudFlare, because it's CloudFlare's existence that gives him that power. Since he has decidedly not done that, it's not something that he really believes (because I am a big believer in the idea that one's actions show one's true beliefs.)

Furthermore, the amount of use of euphemistic and outright deceptive language shows how much bad faith there is in these arguments. No, people are not asking CloudFlare to become "censors", they're saying that CloudFlare should not do business with hate groups and terrorists. And no, it's not that difficult to come up with and enforce consistent policies - but it does mean that you have to take a stand. It's telling when a forum for knitting enthusiasts has more moral integrity than a major Silicon Valley firm.
posted by NoxAeternum at 4:32 PM on July 12, 2019 [7 favorites]


So, one of the challenges in dealing with regulating or just limiting some forms of speech on the Internet is that the network is global -- while many of the private corporations that provide key services, from social media companies, hosting services, and DNS registries and registrars (note, two different functions! Registries manage the top level domains like .org, .com; Registrars like GoDaddy manage the domain names on top of that, like google.com or metafilter.com), are based in the United States.

The proportions of US/non-US services are different in different contexts -- for instance, each country has at least in theory, an independent national registry managing its geographical top-level domain, like .nz or .uk, and some countries have different dominant social media services, like Russia or China.

The way that has mostly shaken out is that almost all countries are now actively flexing their ability to control content within their own borders. So, when Israel sends a take-down order for pro-Palestinian commentary on Twitter under their laws, Twitter doesn't remove the content for everybody, it geoblocks it for Israeli readers. But it's Twitter (or whatever company you name) that ultimately makes this decision: just as the companies in this article are pretty much all US companies.

The current big jurisdictional fight there is over how and whether countries can reach beyond their borders, and make content vanish for *everyone else* as well. The geopolitical problem there is that it's really undefined whether countries can or should have the ability to remove content universally. The world has largely postponed this as a judicial issue for a long time, precisely because the one government that could have enforced its view of what should be permitted and what should not, the U.S. largely eschews court-mandated takedowns except in smaller subsets of speech that most countries governments are okay with. The one country with the ability to directly force companies to comply is, coincidentally, the one with an executive that mostly holds off on such direct state action, or is challenged in the courts when it does.

The consequence of that is that most of the controversial and pervasive *censorship* (as opposed to controversial *allowal* of content) is content that the US, as a *culture* (rather than as a government actor), disapproves of. So, for instance, for all of America's idea that it is a free speech haven, most of the dominant social media platforms have global, worldwide prohibitions around nudity, and/or sexual information, because these are the topics that the US is largely okay with censoring. A lot of the terms of service enforcement changes and shifts you've seen in the last few years are similarly based on US concerns. Usually a big spike in press coverage within the US pushes a change in Terms of Service, while issues outside the US -- either for content to stay up, or stay down -- get ignored.

Years ago, in another job, I dealt with a situation when GoDaddy stopped hosting a number of Pakistan news sites because those sites had published the identity of a CIA field agent in Pakistan. (The agent was publicly named in a lawsuit which was covered by international media.) There's no U.S. law forbidding them from publishing or hosting this content, and under current first amendment jurisprudence, there probably couldn't be. But they took those sites down anyway -- I'd say (without evidence or knowledge) probably because from an American point-of-view, they didn't feel comfortable hosting it, or perhaps because someone influential asked them not to. (GoDaddy at the time was a service that was seen as more conservative than most Silicon Valley companies -- they're based in Arizona, for one thing).

(Note that's different from them managing the *domains* for those sites. Hosting sites tend to take a more selective line to who they provide services for than domain name services and I think it's worth spending time considering why. I suspect that GoDaddy would not have deleted or put on hold the domain name for those Pakistan sites, even though they could have done. It's worth spending some time thinking about that difference, though that's not where I was going with this already super-long post.)

Anyway, the unanswered question we are all struggling with is probably more than "should these (US) companies refuse to host certain content". US companies across all the different dimensions of the Internet already refuse to host certain content, though the level of that refusal varies in different services.

Most of these conversations revolve around either changing the companies' perception of what content they should provide services for: either by marshalling public opinion to get them to change their acceptance criteria, explicitly moving that decision more firmly into a regulatory space (and expressing frustration that is hard to do, under current US first amendment thought), or changing the incentives of the companies by making them liable for certain forms of content.

Very little of the conversation takes into account that this is a very US-centric conversation about a global medium, whereby the companies' perception of acceptable or unacceptable content is most strongly driven by US concerns, even though their reach is global. And if it's the regulators concern, which country should be the regulator for global content, and how do you divvy up that regulation. I think that's its always important to bear that in mind, when you're deciding which entities should be the ones making the selection about who says what, and where.

(Disclosure: I work at the EFF, but I'm not speaking for the EFF here, though obviously a lot of this pondering does take place inside the organization.)
posted by ntk at 4:34 PM on July 12, 2019 [18 favorites]


Anyway, the unanswered question we are all struggling with is probably more than "should these (US) companies refuse to host certain content". US companies across all the different dimensions of the Internet already refuse to host certain content, though the level of that refusal varies in different services.

No, the unanswered question that's being struggled with by the tech industry is "should these companies do business with hate groups?" Let's stop with the euphemistic language that dodges the question. The tech industry chooses to do business with them, either out of greed, obliviousness, or a misguided argument that doing business with hate groups is required by "freedom". This isn't about jurisdiction, it's about an industry trying to look the other way while enabling hate and stochastic terrorism.
posted by NoxAeternum at 4:59 PM on July 12, 2019 [9 favorites]


And yet in the tech community it's treated as something akin to holy writ, most likely because it allows them to argue that they don't actually have to care about the damage that's done.
To me this is one of the strongest arguments for more diverse teams: most of the tech community treats these things as unlikely hypotheticals because for most of them it will be. It’s too easy to treat everything as a dorm room debate when the worst thing you’ll personally experience are a few sharply worded tweets.
posted by adamsc at 5:39 PM on July 12, 2019 [7 favorites]


I think "the answer to bad speech is more speech" worked reasonably well prior to the attention economy but now that the internet has made eyeballs more valuable than whatever they're reading or watching it's a different ballgame.
posted by bookman117 at 5:44 PM on July 12, 2019


I think "the answer to bad speech is more speech" worked reasonably well prior to the attention economy

No, it didn't, because what it has always effectively meant is that the dispossessed are forced to continually argue for the right to exist. It's always been a bad argument - it's just that social media has shown how bad it is.
posted by NoxAeternum at 6:17 PM on July 12, 2019 [16 favorites]


Also a lot of them already do this selective shit. You can read about sex workers and other marginalized groups that are under banked, or have their shit taken off instagram. It's pretty rank for some of these companies to then turn around and defend it, as ntk says there's already a bunch of censorship, it's just you don't see it because it's cultural or groups that don't get as much press.
posted by Carillon at 4:29 PM on July 15, 2019


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