No place for hate sign

Tech giants turn on hate groups following death at Charlottesville rally

Image credit: REUTERS/Justin Ide

Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and other web services are beginning to clamp down on white supremacist groups by booting them from their services. The sudden move follows the death of a counter protestor at a far-right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.

The counter protestor, Heather Heyer, was killed when a young man allegedly holding white nationalist views drove a car into a group of activists at the “Unite the Right” rally, also injuring 19 other protestors. US Attorney General Jeff Sessions has condemned the attack as an act of domestic terrorism.

A leading white supremacist voice which played an important role in the assembly of the rally has been The Daily Stormer, an explicitly Neo-Nazi news website. Following the violent Charlottesville rally, The Daily Stormer’s editor, Andrew Anglin, published an inflammatory article dismissing Heyer as a “fat, childless, 32-year-old slut”.

Door after door has closed to The Daily Stormer since the Charlottesville attack, with the news site first being booted off GoDaddy’s servers and then rejected by Google immediately after registering its domain; both companies stating that the website had violated its terms of service.

The Daily Stormer then moved to the largely hidden and inaccessible “dark web” and subsequently registered in Russia as dailystormer.ru. Soon afterwards, the Russian media watchdog Roskomnadzor requested a shutdown.

Microsoft’s LinkedIn has removed a page devoted to The Daily Stormer; Spotify has announced it is in the process of removing musical acts flagged as hate bands; YouTube has removed at least one account belonging to a white nationalist commentator; and Reddit has removed a subreddit – a community based around discussion of a shared interest – which enthusiastically supported the rally. The group, r/Physical_Removal, advocated the murder of liberals.

Twitter does not prohibit hate speech and has previously come under fire for allowing hate preachers – including Islamic militants – to promote their ideology from the platform. However, Twitter has now has suspended several accounts linked to The Daily Stormer.

Following the rally, Facebook and Facebook-owned Instagram have also been removing pages associated with hate groups, such as “Right Wing Death Squad”, “White Nationalists United” and the event page used to promote the Charlottesville rally. Some may question why these pages were not removed earlier; the event page had remained untouched for weeks before its removal.

“Debate is part of a healthy society. But when someone tries to silence others or attacks them based on who they are or what they believe, that hurts us all and is unacceptable,” Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s co-founder and CEO wrote in a blog post.

“There is no place for hate in our community. That’s why we’ve always taken down any post that promotes or celebrates hate crimes or acts of terrorism – including what happened in Charlottesville. With the potential for more rallies we’re watching the situation closely and will take down threats of physical harm. We won’t always be perfect, but you have my commitment that we’ll keep working to make Facebook a place where everyone can feel safe.”

In another blow, Cloudflare, a security firm which provides protection to millions of websites from distributed denial of service attacks and other malicious assaults, has also announced that they will no longer be protecting The Daily Stormer.

“I woke up this morning in a bad mood and decided to kick them off the internet,” Matthew Prince, Cloudflare’s founder and CEO wrote in an email to company employees. Cloudflare has vocally supported free speech and provided protection to controversial groups despite pleas for their withdrawal. Cloudflare had been described as “the one tech company still sticking by neo-Nazi websites”.

In a blog post, Prince wrote that the tipping point for the decision came when The Daily Stormer claimed that Cloudflare were supporting their ideology: “we could remain neutral after these claims of secret support by Cloudflare”.

In recent months, social media companies and other tech giants have come under increasingly pressure from governments to play a role in preventing radicalisation, terror and violence. Many websites, including Twitter and Reddit, have steered clear of removing content “from above”, avoiding a move towards censorship and, in the case of Facebook, an “editorial” role.

The prompt removal of far-right content espousing following the Charlottesville rally is arguably the most decisive move against hate groups by Silicon Valley firms so far.

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