The Corner

Politics & Policy

‘Is this the Day the Internet Dies?’

When I wrote my recent article for NRO arguing that we must regulate Internet monopolies as public utilities, I had no idea how timely it would become.  I submitted it to NR on Friday afternoon (The day before Charlottesville) with the plans to run it on Monday.   The news out of Virginia kicked everything back a bit and it ended up running on Tuesday.  By Tuesday night, perhaps coincidentally, Tucker Carlson was making the same argument on his popular TV show.

A bit later in the week, the big Internet companies began undertaking an orgy of censorship far beyond that even described in my article–kicking dozens of sites from Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, PayPal, and numerous hosting providers.

I’ve been on the web for a long time—When I started using the web, there were about one hundred web sites in the entire world. Even in those early days, the Internet’s greatest strength has always been freedom—It’s a place you can promote, great ideas, terrible ideas, silly ideas, or just display your collection of thousands of vintage beer cans to the world.   But right now that freedom is under threat like never before.

Let’s be clear, I am sure most of the people who are getting kicked off of various platforms are bad, bad guys.  But in America, we even let the bad guys speak—and we counter their bad speech with better speech.

Of course, I understand people get offended at the hate speech such as we heard at the Charlottesville rally:  “Separation. We don’t want to integrate with these people. We’re tired of being with them. We want to be with ourselves in a land of our own.”

Oh no wait, that wasn’t the Charlottesville rally, that was posted by Louis Farrakhan on his Facebook Page the day after Charlottesville. Two days later he posted a picture of himself with Carlos Santana. Should Amazon stop selling Carlos Santana’s racist music? Will Facebook not take down this Santana’s hateful pages? Or  Farrakhan’s? One laughs at the thought of it– that’s the power of liberal privilege.

Contrast the free hand given to left-wing offensive speech to the strict controls put on right-wing speech. As just one of many examples, Gab— a free-speech social network that has grown rapidly to almost a quarter million users since its public launch just a few months ago, was just yesterday kicked off the Android app store (it has already been repeatedly denied at Apple) for “hate speech.”  To be clear, not all the voices on Gab are mellifluous, they have accepted a number of folks, often from the far right, who have been banned from other social networks (though this is a small portion of Gab’s user base)

But Gab is content neutral, describing itself in a recent successful crowdfunding campaign as  “an ad-free social network for creators who believe in free speech, individual liberty, and the free flow of information online. Gab stands for bringing folks together of all races, religions, and creeds who share in the common ideals of Western values, individual liberty, and the free exchange of ideas.” Wow—I mean, that sounds like literally Hitler.  If Google and Apple are banning Gab, mainstream conservatives are crazy to think they are safe.

Ironically one of the Internet’s worst sites provides one of the best examples of the dangers of our current moment. Daily Stormer, a vile Neo-Nazi site, was kicked off the Internet entirely this week when numerous infrastructure entities refused to host it and when finally CloudFlare, which prevented the web site from being attacked by hackers, refused to proxy for it or protect it anymore. Daily Stormer is as racist and anti-Semitic as anything I’ve ever seen on the Internet. But they also had, prominently placed on the front of their site, a statement disclaiming violence and indicating that anyone threatening violence anywhere on their site would be banned. If being vile is grounds for not being able to speak, the Internet would be a much smaller place.  There need to be both strong protections for free speech, and as CloudFlare’s CEO noted for due process. 

The decision of CloudFlare to ban Daily Stormer explained in a private company email and then subsequently largely reproduced in a public blogpost. is actually remarkable for its honesty.  Mathew Prince, Cloudflare’s CEO, wrote that

“Let me be clear that this was an arbitrary decision. . . I woke up in a bad mood and decided to kick them off the Internet. . . It was a decision I could make because I’m the CEO of a major Internet infrastructure company. No one should have that power.”

According to Prince one of his employees, understanding the full import the banning, asked him: “ Is this the day the Internet dies?”

I don’t know.  But I do know that the threats to free expression, particularly threats to speech from the right,  on the Internet have never been greater.   Conservatives, and more importantly, Republicans in Congress, need to speak up and put a stop to the censoring, speech-stifling madness of the Silicon Valley mafia.  If we don’t stand up, even for speakers we loathe, the leftists will just increase their demands for censorship until they come to our own doorstep. If you think people who want to blow up Mount Rushmore and demolish the Jefferson Memorial are going to be happy just going after going after neo-Nazis, then I’ve got some land on the National Mall I’d love to sell you.  I think there may be some prime-location building space there soon.

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