This week, Dedigeeks terminated the account of the an Australian white supremacy group. We’ve removed their services. We’ve also taken measures to ensure that they cannot sign up for Dedigeeks services ever again.
Our terms of service reserve the right for us to terminate users of our network at our sole discretion, as well as terminating any users that use our services to spread any kind of hate speech.
Our team has been thorough and have had thoughtful discussions about what the right policy is for censoring. Like a lot of people, we’ve felt angry at these hateful people for a long time, but we have followed the law and remained content neutral as a service provider. Our acceptable use policy now reinforces that we cannot remain neutral about these hate groups.
Now, having made that decision, we will explain why it’s so dangerous.
Where Do We Start Regulating Content on the Internet?
There are a number of different organisations that work together to bring you the Internet. They include:
- Content creators, who author the actual content online.
- Platforms (e.g., Facebook, WordPress, etc.), where the content is published.
- Hosts (e.g., Amazon Web Services, Dedigeeks, etc.), that provide infrastructure on which the platforms live.
- Transit Providers (e.g., Level(3), NTT, etc.), that connect the hosts to the rest of the Internet.
- Reverse Proxies/CDNs (e.g., Akamai, Cloudflare, etc.), that provide networks to ensure content loads fast and is protected from attack.
- Authoritative DNS Providers (e.g., Dyn, Cloudflare, etc.), that resolve the domains of sites.
- Registrars (e.g., GoDaddy, Tucows, etc.), that register the domains of sites.
- Registries (e.g., Verisign, Afilias, etc.), that run the top level domains like .com, .org, etc.
- Internet Service Providers (ISPs) (e.g., Telstra, TPG, etc.), that connect content consumers to the Internet.
- Recursive DNS Providers (e.g., OpenDNS, Google, etc.), that resolve content consumers’ DNS queries.
- Browsers (e.g., Firefox, Chrome, etc.), that parse and organize Internet content into a consumable form.
There are other players in the ecosystem, including:
- Search engines (e.g., Google, Bing, etc.), that help you find content.
- ICANN, the organisation that sets the rules for the Registrars and Registries.
- RIRs (e.g., ARIN, RIPE, APNIC, etc.), who provide IP addresses used by Internet infrastructure.
Any of the above could regulate content online. The question is: which of them should?
The rules and responsibilities for each of the organisations above in regulating content are and should be different.
It’s made sense for a long time, but increasingly may not be relevant. The size and scale of attacks that can now easily be launched online making it such that if you don’t have a security network in front of your content, and you upset anyone, you will be knocked offline. In fact, in our case of the Australian white supremacy group, the initial requests we received to terminate their service came from hackers who literally said: “Get out of the way so we can DDoS this site off the Internet.”
Increasing Dependence On A Few Networks
Soon, if we’re not already, if you’re going to put content on the Internet you may need to use a company with a big network like Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Amazon, or Alibaba.
With no clear framework as a guide for content regulation, a small number of companies will largely determine what can and cannot be online.
Freedom of Speech
The issue of who can and cannot be online has often been associated with Freedom of Speech. We think the more important principle is Due Process. Dedigeeks, personally, believe in Freedom of Speech protections, but also acknowledge that it is an idea that is not shared globally. On the other hand, the concept of Due Process is close to universal. At its most basic, Due Process means that you should be able to know the rules a system will follow if you participate in that system.
Due Process requires that decisions be public and not arbitrary. It’s why we’ve always said that our policy is to follow the guidance of the law in the jurisdictions in which we operate. Law enforcement, legislators, and courts have the political legitimacy and predictability to make decisions on what content should be restricted. Companies should not.
Establishing a Framework
Someone on our team asked after we announced we were going to terminate the white supremacist account “Is this the day the Internet dies?” They were half joking, but only half. They’re no fan of these groups or sites like it. But they do realise the risks of a company like Dedigeeks getting into content policing.
There’s a saying in legal circles that hard cases make bad law. We need to be careful of that here. What I do hope is it will allow us all to discuss what the framework for all of the organisations listed above should be when it comes to content restrictions.