Digital rights group warns of free speech risk after white extremists are banned

Digital rights group warns of free speech risk after white extremists are banned
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The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a prominent digital rights advocacy group, warned in a blog post on Thursday that tech companies are going down a dangerous path after three different companies revoked their services from a white supremacist website this week.

After a white nationalist protest turned deadly in Charlottesville, Va., over the weekend, white nationalist website the Daily Stormer, which published an article disparaging a woman who was killed during the demonstration, had its domain suspended by GoDaddy and later Google.

Cloudflare, which provides cybersecurity services, also terminated the Stormer’s account.

The EFF said that the trend presents a slippery slope for domain registrars, which operate hosting services for websites.

“Even for free speech advocates, this situation is deeply fraught with emotional, logistical, and legal twists and turns,” the group wrote in its blog post.

“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.”

The EFF warned that the private companies that often act as gatekeepers over the internet are not required under the First Amendment to protect the speech of their customers. The group called on registrars and other internet services to outline and adhere to clearly-defined content policies, as opposed to making decisions based on the prevailing political climate.

“It might seem unlikely now that Internet companies would turn against sites supporting racial justice or other controversial issues,” the blog post reads. “But if there is a single reason why so many individuals and companies are acting together now to unite against neo-Nazis, it is because a future that seemed unlikely a few years ago — that white nationalists and Nazis now have significant power and influence in our society — now seems possible.”

“We would be making a mistake if we assumed that these sorts of censorship decisions would never turn against causes we love,” the EFF added.