Update: TimN has a post on the same subject that is well worth reading

Way back in the early days of the internet, John Gilmore famously said:

“The Net interprets censorship as damage and routes around it.”

In 2017 this no longer seems to be the case. And that is, or should be, worrisome. I’m not just talking about repressive regimes like the PRC or Saudi Arabia and their firewalls, I’m talking about countries that we consider to be bastions of freedom of speech such as the USA or Australia. Part of the fall out from the Charlotteville mess was the effective blocking of the neo-nazi “Daily Stormer” website. The website was not taken down by government, but rather it was removed because hosting companies such as Cloudflare, domain registrars such as GoDaddy and lots of other internet companies decided that they did not want to be associated with it:

The white supremacist, Neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer has temporarily retreated to the dark Web as it searches for a way to refashion itself on the open Internet after Google and GoDaddy revoked its domain registration on Monday and security firm Cloudflare severed ties with the site on Wednesday.

After the original domain — www.dailystormer.com — was discontinued on Monday, the site’s owners attempted to register a domain in both China and Russia. The Chinese domain, www.dailystormer.wang, and the url from Russia, www.dailystormer.ru, were shut down just hours after being created. The site can only be access on the dark Web with a free anonymizing browser such as Tor. Content on the dark Web is not indexed by popular search engines such as Google.

[…] The website’s Russian domain became defunct after Cloudflare, a network that protects websites against cyberattacks, terminated The Daily Stormer’s account. In blog post on the company’s website, CEO Matthew Prince said the last straw came when the team behind The Daily Stormer said Cloudflare is “one of us.” The company initially was one of the few to stick with The Daily Stormer. .

“I realized there was no way we were going to have that conversation with people calling us Nazis,” Prince told Gizmodo. “The Daily Stormer site was bragging on their bulletin boards about how Cloudflare was one of them and that is the opposite of everything we believe. That was the tipping point for me.”

[…] Representatives from The Daily Stormer could not be reached for comment through their Twitter accounts, which were suspended Wednesday.

The Daily Stormer’s domain was originally hosted by GoDaddy. But after the site published a post disparaging Heather Heyer, the 32-year-old woman killed by an alleged neo-Nazi in Charlottesville over the weekend, GoDaddy dropped it as a customer, saying the post violated its terms of services agreement by inciting violence.

Soon after, The Daily Stormer switched its domain registration to Google, which then removed the website just hours later.

Other tech companies providing services to The Daily Stormer followed suit.

Zoho, which provided email services to the website, and Sendgrid, an email marketing company, both said they would no longer serve The Daily Stormer. Both Discord and Discourse, companies that runs an open-source chatrooms used by The Daily Stormer users, said on Twitter they had kicked the site off, too.

Tech companies’ rejection of any association with The Daily Stormer, which published articles grouped under the headings such as “Jewish Problem” and “Race War,” and gave followers detailed instructions on what items to bring to Charlottesville, represents a stronger response from the industry on domestic hate groups.

Google, which owns YouTube, banned the site from YouTube. And Facebook confirmed to USA TODAY that it is actively removing shares of The Daily Stormer article about Heyer unless the link is shared with a caption clearly condemning the story. The company also removed The Daily Stormer’s Instagram account.

Now I’m not going to defend the Daily Stormer – or even visit it, the site is reported to be a cesspit of racism and other unpleasantness and I have better things to do than visit such a place – but I can’t help but wonder why this particular site was considered so hateful when so many other hateful places exist on the internet. If you want sexism and anti-semitism then you could do worse than visit the UK Labour Party’s Facebook group, for example, although since the sexism is displayed to Tory women it probably doesn’t count as they are all traitors to their sex or something like that.

However, the blocking of the Daily Stormer from the easily visible parts of the internet doesn’t seem to be a one-off. Gab.ai, which is a twitter clone dedicated to free speech, is also having problems. It’s also being threatened with having its domain registration suspended for hosting hate speech and has also seen it’s android and apple apps removed from the Google and Apple webstores.

What is more worrying than the censorious nature of various registrars is that we may also be seeing a heckler’s veto:

Any registrar that accepts Gab’s business could face the same kind of backlash from anti-racism activists that the Daily Stormer has attracted. When the Stormer signed up to Dreamhost’s domain registration service, Dreamhost faced a massive denial-of-service attack that made a bunch of other Dreamhost-hosted sites inaccessible. That’s a steep price for any Internet business to pay.

Gab may be able to convince a domain registrar that hosting racist and anti-semitic user content, as Gab does, is different from the Daily Stormer publishing its own racist and antisemitic content. But given the post-Charlottesville furor over this kind of content, it might be a struggle to find a domain registrar willing to face the backlash.

If gab.ai is also killed off then the internet’s anti-censorship ideal is dead. This should concern everyone.