Inciting Violence vs Freedom of Speech (Edited)
Addendum – Post has been edited to include additional commentary.
At Namecheap, we see both sides of the free speech consideration. On the one hand, we cannot be the ones censoring content, unpopular though it may be. On the other hand, and without question, the content appearing on the DailyStormer.lol is highly offensive, even more so in light of the recent events in Charlottesville, VA.
We find ourselves in a difficult situation, where we must balance the repugnant nature of the content against our principles, beliefs and ongoing support of free speech. This has been particularly challenging given that the fallout from our decision will be in the public eye and subject to public scrutiny, no matter what path we may take.
So, the question, as I see it, is whether deletion of these domains contradicts our core principle of advocacy of free speech? In this particular case, I state that the answer is “No.”
I’ve examined the website carefully. It purports to disclaim violence. But, these words are profoundly hollow as the actual text supports both viewpoints as well as groups that specifically promote violence. As an example: “It doesn’t take a Ph.D. in mathematics to understand that White men + pride + organization = Jews being stuffed into ovens.”
This statement clearly incites violence and endorses wholesale eradication of Jews through genocide championed by the Nazis. Daily Stormer in all its content advocates that proud white men organize themselves. It also presents the inevitable consequence of the organization of white men and their pride: “jews being stuffed into ovens.” This alone is a drastic departure from traditional freedom of speech principles and endorsement of a very violent eventuality. Based on this statement alone, the site should be legitimately shut down as the speech constitutes an incitement of violence.
This point is reinforced by the very tagline of the site: Daily Stormer: “Summer of Hate Edition.” The site spends considerable effort demonizing Asians, Blacks, Mexicans, etc.
I have considered this from a Constitutional perspective and sought a legal perspective. I believe that hate speech and incitement of violence provides ample legal support for a proper termination of the domains.
Our commitment to free speech is well-documented, including through our support of EFF.org, but there is a line where free speech ends and incitement begins. It may be an elusive one but, as United States Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart stated in his threshold test for obscenity in Jacobellis v. Ohio: “I know it when I see it.”
So it is here: the quality and context of the material, paired with the support for violent groups and causes passes from protected free speech into incitement.
We have, and always will continue to uphold our principles in support of privacy, freedom of speech and Internet freedom.
I woke up this morning feeling conflicted about our decision to pull down this domain. The fact is, this should have never had to be our decision. Yes the domain fits into our description of what constitutes incitement of violence and I believe that their violation of our ToS would hold up in a court of law. In reality, it was just the morally right thing to do here as this type of hateful speech and veiled call to violence really has no place on this Earth.. That is my personal belief and I would make the same decision again but it is just that, my personal opinion and a business decision. But is this the right thing for freedom of speech and should a registrar be the one making this decision? I don’t think so. In a perfect world, a registrar should be able to remain neutral in these situations regardless of public opinion but the fact of the matter is that this cannot happen in reality. Any business cannot operate under these circumstances due to the mob mentality and the nature of our current politics. As you well know, on the Internet, the truth can be turned and twisted and used as a tool to fit into any one group’s narrative.
Let me be frank here and I’ll repeat, this was the right decision for the human race but it was also an existential threat for our company. While I feel I made the right decision, I also thought about what this meant for us as a business. What it would mean for the dream we have to deliver everything we’ve imagined for the future of our platform to solve customer problems. More importantly, I thought about our 1100 team members that directly depend on this company for their livelihood and our millions of customers that depend on us for stability and peace of mind that we are keeping their domains safe. With these things in mind and as a leader of a company that has a direct responsibility to do what is best for our customers and our people, could I have made any other decision here? I don’t think I could have and therein lies the problem.
Registrars need a set of guidelines just as the internet does that empowers or requires them to remain neutral and a clear judicial process to solve these types of issues quickly and effectively. These matters should not be solved in the courts of public opinion because public opinion is not always right. I’ll refer you to a quote I read in an excellent piece written by our friends at the Electronic Frontier Foundation: “All fair-minded people must stand against the hateful violence and aggression that seems to be growing across our country. But we must also recognize that on the Internet, any tactic used now to silence neo-Nazis will soon be used against others, including people whose opinions we agree with. Those on the left face calls to characterize the Black Lives Matter movement as a hate group. In the Civil Rights Era cases that formed the basis of today’s protections of freedom of speech, the NAACP’s voice was the one attacked.” This is a powerful statement that clearly shows the dangers of compromising on freedom of speech. Depending on who is in power, it could be your belief system or community that is seen to be the evil one next.
The fact is, that all of us are walking a dangerous tightrope and this has the ability to morph into something that is much more evil than even these hateful Nazis we are dealing with today. At the very least, they are a vocal and an easy target that is in plain view that is easily countered. The real danger in my opinion is what lies invisible yet is the most dangerous force that anyone of us will ever know. That is the insidious and dangerous force of power. The power to control our thoughts, our privacy, our opinions and most importantly our speech that lies within the dark nature of absolute power itself and takes over seemingly well meaning politicians, presidents, governments, movements that then use this power against us. This is the real danger that we must all be watchful for.
In the end we all have a part and a responsibility to insure that everyone has a voice and platform to share their thoughts and beliefs as long as it allows for basic human and animal rights, even if it makes us feel uncomfortable. This is and should be a human right in and of itself.