The United States is roiling in the aftermath of the events in Charlottesville last Saturday.
People are debating the President’s response to the tragedy, the wisdom of removing Confederate statuary and the First Amendment rights of Nazis, among other things.
And bubbling beneath that surface are developments that touch the Internet service business:
Need we remind you, The Daily Stormer is named after an atrocious Anti-Semitic Nazi publication.
So where does it go from here?
That’s not easy to answer on the national scale: it depends on social forces and electoral politics. But let’s step back into our own parochial space.
Given all of the above, it’s not a happy day for email service providers.
Google and GoDaddy are consumer brand names, but Zoho and SendGrid are mostly known in professional circles. Yet they’re now receiving national publicity for their actions in the wake of the murder in Charlottesville.
Most people would say they did the right thing. But what of those that think they acted too late — or too quickly?
Cloudflare’s CEO Matthew Prince addressed this issue when reversing its position. “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,” Prince told Gizmodo. “That was the tipping point for me.”
But Prince acknowledged that this was an arbitrary decision on his part. “Literally, I woke up in a bad mood and decided someone shouldn’t be allowed on the Internet,” he said. “No one should have that power.”
According to Gizmodo, Prince argued that “we need to have a discussion around this, with clear rules and clear frameworks. My whims and those of Jeff [Bezos] and Larry [Page] and Satya [Nadella] and Mark [Zuckerberg] -- that shouldn’t be what determines what should be online.”
Good idea. Here are the key questions they will have to answer:
1. Are service providers responsible for the content they help deliver? Or should they remain neutral?
2. If the former, how do they deal with the practical challenges of policing content? Is it fair to expect them to take on this burden? As Prince says, they have to determine “what part of the infrastructure stack is right to police content.”
3. Finally, are companies that take a stand safe from commercial retaliation or worse? As Prince said, “having made that decision we now need to talk about why it is so dangerous.”