23 Aug The Violence in Charlottesville: A Turning Point in Internet Freedom of Speech?
The Politics of Freedom of Speech & the Violence in Charlottesville
You won’t see many—if any—overtly political stories here on raineythreadgill.com. Like everybody else, I certainly have political opinions—who doesn’t? However, I’m a firm believer there’s a time and place for everything. And a blog like this one, which primarily deals with sales, marketing, technology, and work-related issues, isn’t the place for politics.
That said, sometimes technology and politics intersect in ways that can’t be ignored. The recent violence in Charlottesville, VA, is a prime example. Mind you, I’m not talking specifically about the events themselves that unfolded at the Charlottesville rally on Aug. 12. As deplorable as race-based hatred is, this blog isn’t a commentary on the evils of hate, bigotry, and prejudice. Neither is it a report or retelling of the events that unfolded at the “Unite the Right Rally.”
The Violence in Charlottesville & the Rejection of Hate Speech
No, the topic here is free speech—specifically, the right of a hate group to publish its incendiary, despicable ideology for all the world to consume. In the aftermath of the violence in Charlottesville, American Neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer (which is named after the German, Nazi-era publication Der Stürmer) has found itself without an internet home.
The Daily Stormer’s virtual downfall began Monday when domain registrar company GoDaddy cancelled the site’s registration. As Will Oremus at slate.com notes, GoDaddy’s move marked a major turning point in the long-lived battle against online hate speech. For years, online activists have pressured social media networks and various websites to remove offensive content and to ban certain users and groups. After the violence in Charlottesville, Facebook took an unprecedented level of action on such requests, removing a number of white supremacist and white nationalist-related ‘Pages.’
Facebook also made the unusual move of deleting all ‘shares’ to the very content on The Daily Stormer that prompted GoDaddy to give into activist pressure. That content, which had gone ‘viral’ on Facebook, was a derogatory blog regarding 32-year-old Heather Heyer. Heyer was murdered at the Unite the Right Rally when a 20-year-old Neo-Nazi plowed his car into a large group of counter-protestors. Heyer, a Caucasian, was there to voice opposition to the vitriol being spewed by numerous hate groups.
Hate Speech Falling: The Aftermath of Charlottesville Violence
After GoDaddy’s ban, The Daily Stormer went into freefall. Google banned the site shortly after it transferred to the search giant’s servers. Since then, The Daily Stormer has been unable to find a registrar company to provide it a world wide web address. Website security provider Cloudflare also recently cut all ties with The Daily Stormer. Hosting site Namecheap announced on Sunday that it won’t host the site, either. According to reports, The Daily Stormer has setup shop on the so-called ‘dark web.’
Godaddy’s move—and, subsequently, Google’s and Namecheap’s—is unprecedented because it marks the first time a hate speech website has been completely shutout from the internet by being denied a host. Indeed, to this point, registrar companies had been adamant in refusing to regulate the content of sites they host, citing freedom of speech concerns.
Violence in Charlottesville & the Fate of Hate
With the violence in Charlottesville and the subsequent Daily Stormer ban, the tide appears to be turning. Stormer’s fate suggests that the days of certain groups freely expressing controversial ideology under the protections of freedom of speech might be numbered.
To be clear, the Stormer ban doesn’t technically violate the US Constitution’s guarantee of freedom of speech. Companies like Google, GoDaddy, and all the others enjoy their own freedom-of-speech protections. This is why these companies are free to ban certain kinds of speech or groups—or any at all. There’s no question, however, that The Daily Stormer’s ban violates the spirit of freedom of speech.
Or does it?
Is Hate Speech an American Right? Maybe Not after Charlottesville
The right of hate groups to spew incendiary ideologies has been a controversial topic since long before the violence in Charlottesville—indeed, since long before the internet era itself. Does The Daily Stormer’s ban suggest public sentiment has turned against such groups to the point it’s okay deny them a fundamental American right—a right woven into the very fabric of our great nation? Only time will reveal the full answer, but at the moment, this certainly seems to be the direction of things. In Europe, hate speech—especially Nazism—has been closely regulated and even banned since the end of World War II. On that continent, certain types of hate speech are illegal.
Americans don’t want Europeans—or anyone else, for that matter—telling them what they can or can’t say or do. However, as the old saying goes, freedom of speech does not grant anyone the right to yell “fire” in a crowded theatre. Has the public decided that, because of the violence it so often incites, hate speech is the equivalent of yelling “fire?”
I ask you: Is this de facto ban of The Daily Stormer justified or is it a violation of America’s sacred freedom of speech protections? I have my opinions on the matter, of course, but I’ll keep those to myself. The question is: What do you think?