The Cloudflare problem

Freethoughtblogs uses Cloudflare protection — we need it because every once in a while, some jerk targets us with a distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack, and the worst jerks are the ones who try to shut down free speech in the name of free speech. Unfortunately, as I’ve recently learned, Cloudflare isn’t necessarily one of the good guys — they also shelter various contemptible hate groups, like incels. Follow the link if you want to see examples of violent threats against women and other groups, since I don’t feel like quoting that crap today.

I do appreciate their insistence on remaining neutral on content, though. Who knows who would be shut down if they didn’t explicitly avoid judging the servers they defend?

Civil liberties organization Electronic Frontier Foundation released a poignant statement in the aftermath of the Charlottesville violence, highlighting the trouble with selective censorship: “All fair-minded people must stand against the hateful violence and aggression that seems to be growing across our country. But we must also recognize that on the internet, any tactic used now to silence neo-Nazis will soon be used against others, including people whose opinions we agree with” such as the Black Lives Matter movement, it said.

So sure, if that’s all this was about, I’d agree that staying out of the fight would be a fair and reasonable way to maintain the integrity of the service. But there is also the idea that you shouldn’t be allowed to shout “fire!” in a crowded theater, and some of these sites are inciting violence and murder. It also seems fair to me that there are some limits — that you ought to be able to express unpopular opinions, but are limited in encouraging dangerous activities.

Other companies place these reasonable restrictions on their users.

Private internet companies can reserve the right to terminate a client’s website if its users post content that violates their terms of service, as many did with The Daily Stormer. GoDaddy, for example, does not allow its clients to use their sites in a manner that “promotes, encourages or engages in terrorism, violence against people, animals, or property,” or for “morally objectionable activities.”

Cloudflare, of course, is also free to set such terms, but has argued that it has no business regulating content because it is a security and delivery network, not a host provider.

OK, “morally objectionable activities” is unacceptably vague — there are people who would say that being gay, or skipping church, are morally objectionable. But saying that a client can’t use your service to promote terrorism or violence is a specific and reasonable constraint. We already have that requirement here at FtB, and we’ve invoked it against bloggers here in the past. If Cloudflare had that kind of provision in their terms of service, we’d sign it without hesitation, and we’d be enforcing it here as well as by our hosting service.

We aren’t even close to what is represented by the clients using Cloudflare, though. Follow the link: it’s people advocating mass murder, torture, and rape. These are mobs whipping each other up into ever more furious hate, and there are multiple examples of readers of those sorts of sites taking action and killing people.

Unfortunately, Cloudflare is so ubiquitous it now has an effective monopoly (they also do a really good job of protecting web sites). Does anyone know of any equally capable alternatives?


  1. euclide says

    OVH, a french internet hosting company has a built-in anti flood system, and servers in Canada.

    As for cloudflare, I kind of understand them. It’s easier to just ignore all complains than having to fix a limit on what your custommers are saying.
    They are not the state.
    If they are hosting something illegal, it’s up to the state (and its justice arm) to say it.

  2. Susan Montgomery says

    How about a megaphone and a sandwich-board? Keep it analog and environmentally sustainable, ‘kay?

  3. says

    I’ve been uneasy over Cloudflare for some time now, and I’d dearly like to see FTB using a different service, if there’s one to be found which is reasonable on all fronts.

  4. says

    problems like this are intractable. What counts as incitement? It is also worth pointing out that the whole theater and shouting fire example comes from a case that the state was actually suppressing political speech.

    Unreasonable people can not be reasoned with. I have zero problem cloudflare taking this stance.

    You can see how this is playing out in real time with altright bastards taking down Trump critics ala James Gunn by cooperating #Metoo.

    I look forward to the forthcoming House UnAmerican Activities committee going after Hollywood people again over the pretext of sex crimes.

  5. d3zd3z says

    What about Amazon’s CloudFront. It might be a little vague, though with: “Offensive Content. Content that is defamatory, obscene, abusive, invasive of privacy, or otherwise objectionable, including content that constitutes child pornography, relates to bestiality, or depicts non-consensual sex acts.” That might give them a little too much latitude, especially “otherwise objectionable”.

  6. gijoel says

    CloudFlare like every other tech-bro Freeze-Peach company will back-flip the moment you threaten their money.

    Also I only made it half-way through that article before the pounding in my temporal arteries forced me to stop. I’m sick of these half-baked argument to moderation platforms.

  7. says

    WordPress pro is excellent, and has all the DDos stuff. But anyplace that does hosting and has DDos protection will attract edge-lords. The big hosting services will all host someone who’s not a good neighbor.

  8. mykroft says

    Yeah, Facebook held the position for a long time that they provided the medium and users provided the content. They felt it wasn’t their job to manage or monitor content unless lots of people complained about it. But then, the Russians leveraged that policy to create content that screwed with our election. Now Facebook is a little more careful, so perhaps the Russians will move on to platforms like Cloudflare.

  9. DanDare says

    What counts as incitement? That’s like saying you can’t have rules to differentiate between black and white because you aren’t sure when you should call black black or dark grey.

  10. sirbedevere says

    Finally someone is speaking out about Cloudflare. Their claim that they are “a security and delivery network, not a host provider” is irrelevant: They are the connection through which abusive sites reach the rest of the internet and there is no reason they shouldn’t have a Terms of Service like any other web service company. Try a traceroute to an abusive site and you’ll find it goes to Cloudflare and you can’t even determine who the real host is. Cloudflare’s service is effectively a cloaking device that protects not only the abusive sites but the companies who host them as well.

  11. Ichthyic says

    But we must also recognize that on the internet, any tactic used now to silence neo-Nazis will soon be used against others,

    if you have to use a slippery slope argument to prop up your point.

    it means your point does not stand on its own merits.

    just stop it.

    dealing with the spread of misinformation is literally a life and death issue at this point in time. the idea that this will spiral into government censorship is just that. an idea.

  12. Ichthyic says

    I look forward to the forthcoming House UnAmerican Activities committee going after Hollywood people again over the pretext of sex crimes.

    you seem to have entirely ignored the last 25 years of GoP committee abuse.

    here’s a recent summary of such abuse, by one of the non GoP members of said committee:

    this shit has been going on for YEARS… and americans just shrug and pretend it doesn’t affect them.

    this is YOUR FAULT, america. YOU let this happen.