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Technology Companies' Response to Charlottesville

In the aftermath of the Charlottesville attack, several tech companies made the decision to remove neo-nazi website The Daily Stormer from their services over defaming articles posted about the death of Heather Heyer, a civil rights campaigner who died after a white supremacist deliberately rammed into counter-protesters.

GoDaddy and Google stated they would no longer serve as domain hosts for the platform, with both stating that the website had violated their terms of service (ToS). GoDaddy’s CEO Blake Irving stated the decision was made as the website had incited violence. Go Daddy’s ToS state that websites must not use their services in a way that “promotes, encourages or engages in terrorism, violence against people, animals, or property”. The Daily Stormer had helped organize the alt-right demonstration that lead to Heyer’s death. Google’s decision followed a similar logic, again citing the website had violated their terms of service, which prohibit the encouragement of illegal activities such as terrorism and hate speech, including the promotion of violence against individuals or the incitement of hatred.  The France-based server hosting company Scaleway locked the website’s hosting server and closed The Daily Stormer’s account, as per its Terms of Service.

CloudFlare, a web performance and security company that protected The Daily Stormer from DDOS attacks subsequently also dropped the website from its services. CloudFlare’s ToS state that “is not a hosting provider and has no way of removing abusive content on third party hosting services”. However, the company reserves the right to terminate users of its services at its discretion, a decision finally orchestrated by CloudFlare’s CEO Matthew Prince.

In the same vein, Squarespace also made the decision to remove websites of far right groups from its web-hosting platform. In a statement to the online news source The Verge, a Squarespace spokesperson commented that “In light of recent events, we have made the decision to remove a group of sites from our platform. We have given the site owners 48 hours’ notice.” However, Squarespace provided neither the number or names of the sites it had chosen to remove, or the date and time when it served these groups with the 48 hour notice. WordPress removed the website of white supremacist group Vanguard America which participated in the rally.

Citing a clause “Acceptable Use Guidelines”, Apple Pay disabled its support to three white nationalist sites that sold “sweaters with Nazi logos, T-shirts emblazoned with the phrase “White Pride,” and a bumper sticker showing a car plowing into stick figure demonstrators.” PayPal banned two of these sites from its services, explaining in a blogpost: “There are times when people may find an account that is using PayPal’s services to be offensive, but because the website and organization does not violate our Acceptable Use Policy, we will continue to process payments for the account as we respect and seek to uphold the values of freedom of expression and open dialogue.”

GoFundMe removed multiple fundraising campaigns for James Alex Fields (who rammed the car into the crowd) because “the company prohibits the promotion of hate speech and violence”. GoFundMe was joined by two other crowdfunding platforms, Kickstarter and Indiegogo, in publicly stating that the companies would remove any campaigns associated with raising funds for Fields.

Facebook, Reddit and Twitter all took steps to target hate groups and ban them from their platforms. Facebook deleted the event page for “Unite the Right” (the rightwing march that instigated the Charlottesville attack), removed the Facebook and Instagram profiles of protest attendee Christopher Cantwell, and banned at least eight group pages that were assessed to violate the social media company’s hate speech policies. In addition, Facebook also took steps to remove all links to the Daily Stormer’s article that wrongly attacked Heather Heyer – but, moderators did not remove these links if posters “explicitly condemned the source material”. Meanwhile, Reddit took the decision to remove the subreddit “Physical_Removal” as “users were posting content that incites violence”, and in comment to the Daily Beast stated that “We are very clear in our site terms of service that posting content that incites violence will get users banned from Reddit. We have banned /r/Physical_Removal due to violations of the terms of our content policy.”

Spotify has since removed from its platform any groups who have been flagged by the Southern Poverty Law Center as “hate bands”. Spotify was alerted to the content after Digital Music News posted an article “I Just Found 27 White Supremacist Hate bands on Spotify”. Commenting to the online music magazine BillBoard, a Spotify spokesman stated that “illegal content or material that favors hatred or incites violence against race, religion, sexuality or the like is not tolerated by us. Spotify takes immediate action to remove any such material as soon as it has been brought to our attention." In addition, the magazine also noted that on the same day Spotify was promoting a new playlist to users that same day, entitled “Patriotic Passion”.

In contrast to aforementioned companies, Airbnb took steps ahead of the protest to remove far right members from their platform. Ahead of the march, The Daily Stormer had tried to book accommodation for its participants through Airbnb. However, Airbnb moderators were alerted to the background of these potential guests via a thread on The Daily Stormer which participants were using to organize their travel logistics. Speaking to Quartz, an Airbnb spokesman explained that moderators “conducted case-by-case investigations to confirm which users were planning to attend the white nationalist event and deleted the accounts.”


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