The widely-respected Electronic Frontier Foundation, a non-partisan group fighting online censorship and working for freedom of expression on the Internet, has sounded a warning over the actions of several Internet companies following the Charlottesville clash last weekend.
In the wake of Charlottesville, both GoDaddy and Google have refused to manage the domain registration for the Daily Stormer, a neo-Nazi website that, in the words of the Southern Poverty Law Center, is “dedicated to spreading anti-Semitism, neo-Nazism, and white nationalism.” Subsequently Cloudflare, whose service was used to protect the site from denial-of-service attacks, has also dropped them as a customer, with a telling quote from Cloudflare’s CEO: “Literally, I woke up in a bad mood and decided someone shouldn’t be allowed on the Internet. No one should have that power.”
We agree. Even for free speech advocates, this situation is deeply fraught with emotional, logistical, and legal twists and turns. 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. Those on the left face calls to characterize the Black Lives Matter movement as a hate group. In the Civil Rights Era cases that formed the basis of today’s protections of freedom of speech, the NAACP’s voice was the one attacked.
Protecting free speech is not something we do because we agree with all of the speech that gets protected. We do it because we believe that no one—not the government and not private commercial enterprises—should decide who gets to speak and who doesn’t.
. . .
It might seem unlikely now that Internet companies would turn against sites supporting racial justice or other controversial issues. But if there is a single reason why so many individuals and companies are acting together now to unite against neo-Nazis, it is because a future that seemed unlikely a few years ago—that white nationalists and Nazis now have significant power and influence in our society—now seems possible. We would be making a mistake if we assumed that these sorts of censorship decisions would never turn against causes we love.
Part of the work for all of us now is to push back against such dangerous decisions with our own voices and actions. Another part of our work must be to seek to shore up the weakest parts of the Internet’s infrastructure so it cannot be easily toppled if matters take a turn for the (even) worse. These actions are not in opposition; they are to the same ends.
We can—and we must—do both.
There's more at the link. Worthwhile reading.
That's the problem, right there. These companies have taken it upon themselves to act as society's conscience, whether or not all of society agrees with their interpretation of that conscience. That's the camel's nose, right there. If we allow them to get away with silencing what they consider to be extreme right-wing voices now, what's to stop anyone redefining what constitutes an 'extreme right-wing voice' in the future, and banning it in the same way? What's next?
- Opposition to abortion?
- Opposition to the admission, much less the legalization, of illegal aliens in the USA?
- Opposition to excessive entitlement programs?
If these Internet companies are allowed to get away with this position today, we're going to face worse problems in the future. It's as simple as that. We cannot afford to endanger the freedom of speech, whether by government fiat or commercial diktat, because without it, we lack the freedom of choice that democracy is supposed to provide.