“I wholly disapprove of what you say and will defend to the death your right to say it.” –Evelyn Beatrice Hall
Events of late have highlighted the importance of domain names and the power various providers such as Registrars, DNS providers and other web services hold over those names. Predictably, we’ve had a noticeable uptick in requests from various self-styled activists that we take down some domain or another using our system. The targets of these requests run the entire spectrum of thought, including a well-known political satire website.
These individual inquiries are in the form of: “Why does easyDNS provide services to X, a known terrorist organization”, where X is some person, organization or company who represents an ideological outlook at odds with the person asking; and “terrorist” is often spelled wrong.
We’ve used “Martian Separatists” to capture the entire realm of possibilities for “X” because any real world example would probably “trigger” somebody, somewhere.
Anybody who has been our customer for any length of time, or those outside the company orbit who have been witness to our many trials and tribulations over the years knows that when it comes to matters such as these, easyDNS holds two things dear:
1) Freedom of speech.
It is alarming to us that it is not only acceptable but somewhat fashionable of late put parameters around free speech, one way or another shoehorning some premise into an argument that the right to free speech and free expression somehow does not apply to one’s ideological opponents and yet is still sacrosanct for oneself.
What is true is that some forms of speech (i.e. “hate speech” here in Canada) are demarcated by law, but those apply in very specific situations. Hate speech in particular is the advocacy or encouragement of physical violence or harm toward an identifiable minority.
Of late however the definition of “hate speech” has been liberally expanded to the point where I’ve seen arguments that free speech should be curtailed if it hurts somebody’s feelings.
Which is nonsense, these narrow exceptions aside, free speech should be inviolate. If you are promoting a climate of shame, sanction or ostracism based solely on punishing somebody else for their ideas, even if you’re pretty convinced their ideas are “wrong-headed”, then you are the oppressor, not them.
2) Due Process
The second Big Deal around here is the right to Due Process. That means if somebody is doing something that does warrant a domain takedown, there has to be a coherent and lawful process for that to happen. Nobody should be taking down a domain because “some guy on twitter says you’re a meanyhead”. That’s not a legal due process. A marshall from the Ontario Sherriff’s Office walking in here with a court order is.
I’ve said this countless times: you don’t want your DNS provider / Registrar / Web host adjudicating international law or arbitrating content.
We have been sued for defending our customers’ right to due process, in one notable instance being embroiled in a lawsuit because of a customer who happened to espouse political / economic views we vehemently disagree with (see “Free Speech”, above). It also turned out that the person who sued us wrote content for an organization who themselves were easyDNS customers. Go figure.
The crux of our argument is this: except in cases of “net abuse” (which we are competent to detect and action) one should not be able to take somebody else’s domain offline by sending an email, or a tweet, etc. That’s not due process, that’s a DoS attack.
Common Sense Factors
People can write up policies and rules until you have something that looks worse than a tax code and still not be able to reliably discern where some given edge case fits in.
We do a lot of pre-screening here at easyDNS. In the case of existing domains we look at the domain name, pull down a few web pages of the website and do some keyword analysis and apply a ruleset that assists us in deciding if this is a pile of crap we really feel like stepping into or not. If not, we block it from moving here. For example: when the news broke that dailystormer, and then later, stormfront had been booted from their respective registrars, we added strings to our filters to block them from coming here. Who needs that hassle? For starters, it’s an instant DDoS attack. Just ask Dreamhost.
The pre-screening doesn’t always work but from near 20 years of being in this business, the dailystormer/stormfront type edge cases are rare. We did have a white supremacist site sneak on last summer and we dumped them, but even a cursory read of their material would fall under the aforementioned “hate speech” category.
What is far more common is for people to demand we take down some site that has a legitimate right to exist whether you or we agree with their views or not. I’ve been critical of a couple political movements in my personal social media lately, only to find out that they both use us for DNS. I see some of the antics of some of their self-professed supporters in the real world and am chagrined – yet when I go to those sites and read their content, I don’t see any hate speech. I may see highly charged rhetoric, bombastic vitriol, histrionics or even worse, bad writing but none of that is illegal and none of it should be taken down without a due process (and to be fair, I also see these aforementioned traits on sites of political factions I tend to sympathize with).
Further, people need to understand the difference between real world acts and written ideas. When somebody does something in the real world, the parties to be held responsible are those people who actually committed the acts. If somebody at a Martian Separatist rally commits a violent act or flings their own feces at police (stay classy folks), then they have to be held accountable for that.
But then taking down MartianSeparatists.org is a separate issue and a separate process. If there is a sticky post at the top of the site, written by the admins describing how and why to commit violence and fling feces, then yes – there is a legitimate issue there. If there’s a comment saying that, ten pages in and by an anonymous poster, then that’s something else again.
You have to use some judgement. One must examine the context. But lately there is a concerted push to abandon context and reason in order to conflate the acts of miscreants in real world with written expressions of thought in the online one; even in the absence of tenable connections between them.
It is these ever widening rings of “guilt-by-association” perpetrated by literal mobs that is pushing this entire phenomenon of ideological rage into “batshit crazy” land.
To those who want to paint everybody remotely connected to some ideological antagonist as somehow tainted and in need of takedowns, boycotts and shaming, who among you has a good answer for “Where does it stop?”
Martian Separatists – and everybody else who interacts with them, use iPhones, the public road system, wear clothes, have healthcare needs, do we blanketly shun them and deny all services and any interaction to them on the basis that they are, or possibly sympathize with, or are not hostile enough to the Martian Separatist cause? Should they be shunned and ostracized completely until they die, naked in the streets, of starvation? (Have you seen The Circle yet?)
Personally, I’d rather see the angst between two opposing parties take place online and in written form and debate, than out in the streets with sticks and hammers.
But what about Martian Separatists? Is it still ok to punch one in the face?
If you’re reading this thinking “tl/tr; easyDNS condones Martian Separatism” I would have to accuse you of being willfully ignorant to everything said herein, and thus, unlikely to be reasoned with in any capacity. Congratulations, you are part of the problem.
The fact is, we are all connected to each other. You not only have 6-degrees of separation from Kevin Bacon, you are probably similarly positioned to both your revered cultural hero and your most reviled political opponent. We are all human, yet we are all unique, and we need to remember that and start treating each other that way.
The internet achieved its critical mass riding a wave of free exchange of ideas, not the stifling of them. I am still a true believer in free markets, and that philosophies will ultimately succeed or fail on their own merits within the marketplace of ideas. They can’t do that if we’re going to actively censor content and penalize plain vanilla infrastructure suppliers just for providing the scaffolding.
There is also the reality that suppression tends to backfire. You want some idea to shrivel up and die? Then stop screaming at everybody about how bad it is. (The one thing guaranteed to kill an idea, is disinterest.)
 While the decisions by Godaddy and Network Solutions respectively to take down those sites were largely content based and thus by definition debatable, I still uphold any company’s right to do decide who they do business with. Similar to how you can’t force a bible-thumping fundamentalist baker to make a cake for a gay wedding if they don’t want to; providers can boot people for whatever reason they want – even flimsy ones.
But what platform providers cannot do, especially in the case of domain registrars, is prevent you from moving to another registrar. Like it or not, Network Solutions cannot hold stormfront’s domain in this respect. It is the exact same scenario we successfully argued back in 2014 regarding those domains locked down at another registrar because of the City of London IPCU’s campaign to hijack traffic of bittorrent search engines. Those are the rules, either ICANN changes them or the Registrars must follow them.