Cyber Saturday—The War on InfoWars

August 11, 2018, 11:55 PM UTC

Good evening, Cyber Saturday readers.

A number of tech companies excised the rantings and ravings of Alex Jones, a pundit known for promulgating deranged conspiracy theories, from their digital repositories this past week.

On his website, InfoWars, Jones has been known to push baseless, detestable claims; for example, that the Sandy Hook massacre was a hoax and the September 11th attacks were orchestrated by the government. Fed up with Jones’ antics, Apple, Facebook, Spotify, and YouTube—with the notable exception of Twitter—corked his megaphone.

Add this confrontation to the longstanding tug-of-war between free speech and censorship on the web. One of my favorite contributions to this dialogue was supplied last year by Matthew Prince, CEO and cofounder of Cloudflare, a startup offering services that improve website performance and security. By policy, Prince’s firm chooses to protect all comers, whether that’s the webpage of an ecommerce startup or a black market site. Cloudflare has long maintained that policing the Internet is a job for, well, the police—not for itself.

Until Prince broke his own rule. As the CEO described it in a blog post, one day he felt a customer crossed the line. The Daily Stormer, a neo-Nazi sympathizing site, said that Prince’s company was a secret supporter of its ideology. That went too far—and to prove the point, Prince gave the site the boot.

“Now, having made that decision, let me explain why it’s so dangerous,” Prince wrote. “Without a clear framework as a guide for content regulation, a small number of companies will largely determine what can and cannot be online.”

Subverting his own decision, Prince continued: “Law enforcement, legislators, and courts have the political legitimacy and predictability to make decisions on what content should be restricted. Companies should not.”

I don’t have an easy answer for these predicaments. But as I considered Facebook’s move, the words of the company’s parting security chief, Alex Stamos, rang in my ears. “We need to be willing to pick sides when there are clear moral or humanitarian issues,” he said in March, part of a letter addressed to Facebook that leaked publicly. “And we need to be open, honest and transparent about our challenges and what we are doing to fix them.”

Amen to that. What do you make of this debate, dear reader? I would like to hear from you. What is the right course of action for these companies? Is Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey in the right for keeping Jones afloat, or not?

Do write. I welcome your thoughts.

Have a great weekend.

Robert Hackett


Welcome to the Cyber Saturday edition of Data Sheet, Fortune’s daily tech newsletter. Fortune reporter Robert Hackett here. You may reach Robert Hackett via Twitter, Cryptocat, Jabber (see OTR fingerprint on my, PGP encrypted email (see public key on my, Wickr, Signal, or however you (securely) prefer. Feedback welcome.


Cry if I want to. Plants run by Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co., a supplier of computer chips to Apple, were crippled by WannaCry, a ransomware attack. The company’s systems were infected more than a week ago, and then again more recently—apparently the result of operator error in installing a new tool. TSMC’s CEO took responsibility for the issue, “This is purely our negligence so I don’t think there is any hacking behavior.”

No comment. The Federal Communication Commission’s inspector general said the agency did not suffer a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack last year, as it had formerly claimed. The FCC formerly said the supposed attack prevented it from responding to public feedback about net neutrality through its online comment system. FCC chair Ajit Pai said he received bad intelligence from the agency’s former chief information officer, who has since departed.

Rolling out the welcome mat. The People’s Daily, a state-run newspaper in China, published an editorial that said Google would be welcome back into the country as long as it obeys the law. Google has faced criticism after reportedly exploring the development of a search engine that censors certain information on behalf of the Community Party. The op-ed has since been taken down.

Facebook flexes muscles. Facebook is reportedly exploring partnerships with banks that would offer financial services to users through Facebook Messenger. After removing content from InfoWars, the company said it would do the same for content that could “financial endanger” people. Facebook also said it would ban websites that share 3D printed gun blueprints.

His name is Elba. Idris Elba

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