Samuel Sandor argues that we must hold internet platforms allowing the publication of hate speech and racist content online to account.
Since the tragic death of George Floyd on 25 May this year, the world’s attention has been drawn towards the complexities and details of the horrifying and deeply immoral treatment to which ethnic minorities have been subjected in the USA (and, indeed, internationally) for centuries. Through protests and other means, the racial injustices of the past and present have been unavoidably brought to the forefront of the public consciousness, with focus chiefly being on the police force; an institution rife with prejudicial issues. This is as it should be: when neither peace nor safety are assured for ethnic minorities by the very body charged with guaranteeing such protections, it makes sense to challenge this institution. However, as many have acknowledged, we ought not to let other equally as culpable institutions slip under our radar.
One section of society which requires such intense scrutiny is big business. In particular, companies which provide a web hosting service, allowing other companies, groups, and individuals to create websites accessible on the Internet. Such companies have often had significant issues relating to racial hatred brought to the attention of their top-ranking executives who have subsequently failed to provide an adequate response. This article will set out which organisations are at fault, and how you can help. To ensure that this article does not in any way promote or publicise any hateful websites, the names of all extremist/hateful sites will not be given.
In July 2019, Gizmodo, a technology and media platform, exposed a number of companies hosting and providing web services to white supremacist groups, Neo-Nazis, the Klu Klux Klan, and several other racist and hateful groups. Overall, the report identified a combined 391 “hateful” sites being served by 151 web-servicing companies. If you are interested, it is certainly worth reading through the report, and circulating it, but this article will only discuss the companies from the list which are large and frequently used by regular consumers, in order to identify companies which you are able to actively boycott.
In my opinion, arguably the worst offender of all the identified web infrastructure companies is GoDaddy. When the article was released, GoDaddy hosted 130 of the 391 hateful websites found. Among the worst of these websites, alleged the Gizmodo report, is a front for a Neo-Nazi music network. This site was created by the lead singer of a British white supremacist metal band; a deplorable group of people who advocate for violent race war. In 2011, two members of the website were given life sentences for murdering two homeless people. Their “justification” was that they “considered the homeless to be an inferior class”. When asked to sever their relationship with this website, alongside the 129 other hateful websites they earn money from, they refused. Their response stated that “GoDaddy does not condone content that advocates expressions of hate, racism, bigotry”, but that they “generally do not take action on complaints that would constitute censorship of content and limit the exercise of freedom of speech and expression on the Internet”. The problem with this response is such: if we cannot have free speech without hate, particularly hate which leads to hateful action, then we ought not to have full freedom of speech. Such a right comes with an enormous amount of responsibility and if we, as a society, are not up to the task of using it responsibly, then we must rethink our approach to the issue. Already, inciting racial hatred through hate speech is illegal in the UK. The US, and indeed many other countries, are yet to pass such a law. When the freedom of one person impinges on the freedom of others, as the freedom of speech of hate groups does, that freedom must be curtailed.
Another example of a company deeply involved with hateful websites is the web-service provider, Cloudflare. Cloudflare represents the slightly brighter side of these companies, however. When questioned in 2017 about their association with a notorious white supremacist website (one that, if named, I am sure many readers would have heard of), Cloudflare made the decision to cut ties. However, the company have since stated that this was an exception to the rule, and that “to come up with a consistent policy you can apply to the 16 million websites that use us for various services in a predictable and consistent way is very difficult”. This response contrasts to GoDaddy’s, and is much less concerning. Instead of somehow claiming a moral responsibility to allow hateful sites to continue, Cloudflare claims it would be very difficult to execute such a task as ridding their customer base of hateful extremists. Unfortunately, as a result of this policy, Cloudflare still hosts a white supremacist online bulletin board, the members of which are responsible for a combined total of nearly 100 murders, according to a 2014 report from the Southern Poverty Law Centre.
Perhaps more shocking than those already mentioned is the inclusion of Microsoft in the report. Despite only working with five of the investigated extremist websites, among these five includes what is likely the most powerful anti-LGBTQ organisation in the USA. One of the group’s previous endeavours was to legally represent the Colorado baker who refused to make a wedding cake for a gay couple. They also have a history of vying for legal changes to the criminal status of gay intercourse. Hypocritically, Microsoft allows all this whilst claiming in a 2018 statement, that “Microsoft has a history of supporting and advocating for LGBTQ+ rights”. In response to Gizmodo, Microsoft argued that its cloud platform, Azur, is “general purpose”, stating that they “believe this core technology should be available broadly and not based on whether a customer’s views align with our own.” Interestingly, the company stated that they did “reserve the right to suspend or terminate the customer’s use of Azure” in the case of a customer violating certain codes. Unfortunately, as far as my research could deduce at time of writing, it does not appear that any of the five problematic websites hosted by Microsoft have met this criteria for suspension or termination.
Other household-name companies alleged to engage with hateful groups are Google and Amazon. Google hosts 27 sites which Gizmodo classified as hateful or extremist while Amazon hosts nine. The most deplorable of the groups which Google deals with, according to Gizmodo, is a Neo-Nazi terrorist group. This particular group is known for orchestrating a series of nail bomb attacks in largely minority-inhabited UK areas.
Other sites which engage in similar practices, according to Gizmodo, to those mentioned are OVH, Tucows, Endurance International Group, Dreamhost, Automattic (who run WordPress), Network Solutions and MarkMonitor, although MarkMonitor’s 24 hateful sites are actually all hosted on either Google or WordPress systems.
It is disturbing to learn of the roles that large-scale, often household-name companies have in supporting the most problematic and dangerous groups on the internet. Each company seems to have a justification, but it never feels sufficient. If we are to beat the hateful thinking which has led to the death of George Floyd and so many others, the corporate indifference mentioned in this article must begin to be stamped out, whether at the expense of profit, or even, to an extent, free speech. You can help lead these businesses to action through using competitor services instead. GoDaddy can easily be replaced with Squarespace, Ebay is usually a worthy substitute to Amazon in terms of online shopping, and Ecosia is a brilliant alternative to Google, for a whole host of reasons. There are many other alternatives to these companies, but these are just a few useful examples.
In boycotting as many of these businesses as you possibly can, you are doing a great service to the fight against hate. Although small, the cumulative benefit of such actions are immense. If you want to enhance the benefit of your actions, it would be even better to email or write letters to these companies; telling them that you are boycotting and encouraging them to act.