By David Z. Morris
August 18, 2017

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital advocacy group, has issued a lengthy statement critical of decisions by several web services companies which effectively removed the white supremacist publication The Daily Stormer from the web. The EFF argues that the decisions set a dangerous precedent that could threaten freedom of speech online.

The Daily Stormer is a news and commentary operation aimed at neo-Nazis and white supremacists, and rooted in the meme- and troll-driven tactics of the so-called “alt-right.” In response to the role of the Stormer in organizing last weekend’s deadly white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, the site’s domain registration was revoked, first by GoDaddy and then by Google. Security firm Cloudflare has also terminated the publication’s account. The site is no longer accessible through conventional web browsers.

According to the EFF, the ability of domain registrars and security companies to unilaterally remove a site from the web—even one representing a reprehensible ideology—weakens freedom of speech online. “Any tactic used now to silence neo-Nazis will soon be used against others, including people whose opinions we agree with,” the group writes, citing past and present efforts to suppress groups including the NAACP and Black Lives Matter.

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The EFF is particularly concerned because registrars and security services often have few competitors, and “have little claim to be publishers” with responsibility for the content produced by their clients.

Cloudflare CEO Matthew Prince seems to agree, despite making the decision to suspend the Daily Stormer’s account. In an internal email, he described his own decision as “arbitrary” and emotional, and acknowledged that he individually held too much power over content on the Internet. Cloudflare defends against very common attacks that can take websites offline, and protects a significant portion of all web content.

The Stormer has now moved to the so-called dark web, but the organization faces many new obstacles to spreading its message. The Stormer’s Twitter and Facebook accounts have also been suspended, and companies from payment networks to music streaming sites are refusing their business.

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