Removing white supremacist and neo-Nazi content from the internet is a dangerous move by technology companies like Google and GoDaddy, says Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital rights group.
The move threatens free expression online, the campaign group said, after web hosting firm GoDaddy forced white supremacist blog The Daily Stormer to leave its service. Hours earlier, the site had published a deeply offensive article about Heather Heyer, the 32-year-old woman who was killed when a car was driven into a group of people at a far-right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Published on the day of her death, the article was headlined: "Heather Heyer: woman killed in road rage incident was a fat, childless 32-year-old slut."
The Daily Stormer then moved its website to Google's domain management service and employed the services of CloudFlare to protect itself from denial-of-service attacks, where sites are bombarded with traffic until they are knocked offline. Both companies quickly took action, CloudFlare dropping the site as a customer and Google effectively taking temporary ownership of its address.
This, Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) says, sets a dangerous precedent for the future control of what can be said online and what can't. "We strongly believe that what GoDaddy, Google and Cloudflare did here was dangerous."
The foundation added: "Protecting free speech is not something we do because we agree with all of the speech that gets protected. We do it because we believe that no one – not the government and not private commercial enterprises – should decide who gets to speak and who doesn't."
EFF asks for companies who manage website addresses, including GoDaddy and Google, to "draw a hard line", adding: "They should not suspend or impair domain names based on the expressive content of websites or services."
The group's fear is that governments will start to use these takedown powers to censor less extremist content. "There's always a risk that others – including governments – will use the opaqueness of the takedown process to silence legitimate voices."
EFF's statement came after CloudFlare's chief executive Matthew Prince described his seemingly rash decision to offload Daily Stormer. "Literally, I woke up in a bad mood and decided someone shouldn't be allowed on the internet. No one should have that power."
Prince later told Reuters he "wholeheartedly" agreed with the EFF's position on the matter and said he was hopeful the incident would spark debate on internet regulation.