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?