Tech Cracks Down On Hate

While the tech world generally tries to maintain a progressive and tolerant stance in regards to what is allowed on its platforms, real-world events are putting that to the test more than ever before.
With the rise of the so-called “alt-right” and white supremacy groups in both the US and Europe, as well as the long-standing problem of Islamic extremism, everyone from social networks to crowdfunding platforms are having to enact more heavy-handed measures in how they police what content appears on their platforms. This represents quite a significant change to what we have been used to. As Reuters reported, “Internet companies, which enjoy broad protections under U.S. law for the activities of people using their services, have mostly tried to avoid being arbiters of what is acceptable speech. But the ground is now shifting, said one executive at a major Silicon Valley firm.”

Deleting Hate

It seems that nearly everywhere you look, there are examples of crackdowns. Recently, GoDaddy – the domain name server that hosted the white supremacy website The Daily Stormer – announced that they would no longer host the website. The Daily Stormer calls itself “The World’s Most Genocidal Republican Website”, leaving little doubt as to its message or world view.
As TechCrunch reported on the move: “The Daily Stormer then tried to move to Google Domains, but the company stepped in and cancelled the registration — citing terms of service violation, according to Business Insider. Given the current offline status of The Daily Stormer it would appear it has not been able to find an alternative domain provider as yet.”
GoDaddy is far from being the only example of this. In response to the abhorrent white nationalist rallies that sparked the recent violence in the US, Reuters reported that Facebook “took down the event page that was used to promote and organize the ‘Unite the Right’ rally in Charlottesville. Facebook allows people to organize peaceful protests or rallies, but the social network said it would remove such pages when a threat of real-world harm and affiliation with hate organizations becomes clear.”
In Europe, there was the decision by Patreon to cut off the fundraising page for a “Defend Europe” ship, which was crowdfunding an effort to intercept and thwart the safe arrival of refugee ships heading to Europe from North Africa.

Terms of Service Violations

Nearly all these moves have come under the justification that the action of these groups violate the Terms of Service for these platforms and websites. In the case of Patreon, the company informed the group in no uncertain terms: “It appears that you are currently raising funds in order to take part in activities that are likely to cause loss of life.”
While we’ve historically seen Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube take public efforts—thanks in large part to the urging of European governments—to address Islamic militant groups, this is the first large-scale effort we’ve seen to clamp down on majority white users. While it shouldn’t make any difference where the hate is coming from, the reality is that these groups have more of a prominence in the culture thanks to the likes of Donald Trump, who took two days to disavow the white nationalist actions that took place in America.
What this means, in effect, is that tech companies are being forced to do something they usually avoid: take a political stance. The hatred and bigotry being espoused by these groups is so blatant that it can’t be ignored or justified in any way as “free speech”. So even though it may be politically risky for them to do so, tech companies are stepping up to the challenge of enforcing their terms of service more than we’ve seen them do in the past. While the ethics of these actions is not in question, it will be interesting to see how this plays out over time in terms of usership and government oversight.