The Electronic Frontier Foundation has a message for the tech companies that have been banning hate groups — be very careful.
The EFF, a nonprofit that focuses on “defending civil liberties in the digital world,” published a post on Thursday night that warned against the precedents set by the ongoing crackdown by major tech companies on websites like The Daily Stormer, a message board popular among the far right, including white supremacists and neo-Nazis.
“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,” wrote EFF staffers Jeremy Malcolm, Cindy Cohn, and Danny O’Brien.
Major tech companies have been cracking down on hate groups like never before in the wake of violence during protests in Charlottesville, Virginia. One woman died after a man with ties to far-right organizations allegedly drove his car into a group of counter-protestors.
Since then, Google, Facebook, Spotify, Squarespace, and other companies have taken action, garnering a mostly positive public response.
The EFF’s post doesn’t come as a surprise; the organization is known to advocate against censorship on the internet.
The EFF noted that companies can choose what kind of speech to allow, but warned that companies are entering dangerous territory because of how much power they wield.
“We strongly believe that what GoDaddy, Google, and Cloudflare did here was dangerous. That’s because, even when the facts are the most vile, we must remain vigilant when platforms exercise these rights. Because Internet intermediaries, especially those with few competitors, control so much online speech, the consequences of their decisions have far-reaching impacts on speech around the world,” the post stated.
The EFF also warned that such action could be taken against anyone.
“We would be making a mistake if we assumed that these sorts of censorship decisions would never turn against causes we love,” the post stated.
The EFF post had some supporters, most notably Cloudflare CEO Matthew Prince. Cloudflare ceased doing business with The Daily Stormer and characterized the move as his unilateral decision. The company has traditionally maintained a hardline against censoring anything on the internet. While holding to the decision, Prince noted that the EFF post was “exactly on point.”
Others also applauded the EFF’s stance.
EFF’s blog states what a lot of tech execs are afraid to say publicly right now. Companies outsourced their fears to the advocacy groups https://t.co/jyOkZRQUbE
— Dustin Volz (@dnvolz) August 18, 2017
Others weren’t as convinced, arguing that the EFF downplayed just how toxic these groups have become.
Companies don’t want to do business with Nazis and civil society is rejecting the most lethal ideology in history
EFF: This is terrible.
— Adam Rawnsley (@arawnsley) August 18, 2017
Yes, EFF really did just publish a “slippery slope” blog post about Daily Stormer being kicked off major platforms. 🤦♂️ https://t.co/vjzs1dlRuy
— Patrick Gray (@riskybusiness) August 18, 2017