EFF: Silencing 'The Daily Stormer' Threatens Free Expression

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) criticized GoDaddy, Google, and Cloudflare's decisions to stop offering their services to The Daily Stormer neo-Nazi site. The digital rights organization said that effectively censoring The Daily Stormer could make it easier for companies to do the same with other, less obviously repugnant sites in the future, which could undermine the internet's ability to serve as a haven of free speech.

A quick refresher: The Daily Stormer is a website devoted to the alt-right and neo-Nazis. Earlier this week, GoDaddy gave the site 24 hours to find another host. Google refused to host the site. Not long after, Cloudflare decided to remove The Daily Stormer from its distributed-denial of service (DDoS) attack mitigation service. These decisions (plus some alleged hacking from Anonymous) made it hard for the site to stay online.

Note that First Amendment protections specifically apply to the governmental censorship; companies are free to manage their platforms however they like. GoDaddy, Google, and Cloudflare were all within their rights to bar The Daily Stormer from their services. (The First Amendment actually lets companies decide what appears on their platforms.) The question is how those decisions affect free speech as a principle.

As the EFF explained in its blog post about the issue:

[W]e strongly believe that what GoDaddy, Google, and Cloudflare did here was dangerous. That’s because, even when the facts are the most vile, we must remain vigilant when platforms exercise these rights. Because Internet intermediaries, especially those with few competitors, control so much online speech, the consequences of their decisions have far-reaching impacts on speech around the world.

Private companies and organizations do control how most people use the internet, which allows them to control how people communicate with each other. Barring certain speech from their platforms limits that speech's ability to find an audience. It's easy to support the decision to stifle some of that speech when you're talking about a neo-Nazi site; it would be much harder if the same companies disallowed less damaging speech.

That puts companies in the unenviable position of being accused of censorship if they don't allow hate speech on their platforms or of supporting that speech if they make sure it remains online. Cloudflare CEO Matthew Prince addressed that issue when he explained that the company removed The Daily Stormer's access to its services because the site "made the claim that we were secretly supporters of their ideology."

Not everyone landed on the same side of that quandary. After people discovered that The Daily Stormer moved to a Tor onion service, the Tor Project released a statement affirming its commitment to defending all types of speech, even if it's hateful. The organization said:

We are disgusted, angered, and appalled by everything these racists stand for and do. We feel this way any time the Tor network and software are used for vile purposes. But we can't build free and open source tools that protect journalists, human rights activists, and ordinary people around the world if we also control who uses those tools. Tor is designed to defend human rights and privacy by preventing anyone from censoring things, even us.

It's unclear how companies should move forward. Do they allow hate speech to remain online despite backlash from their customers and employees? Or do they raise fears about the possibility of them abusing their power by deciding what people can or cannot say? So far there is no consensus: The EFF and the Tor Project have sided with the former position, while GoDaddy, Google, and Cloudflare went with the latter.

Perhaps the only thing everyone can agree on is that giving private companies so much control over what speech is or isn't allowed online is dangerous. Individuals, rights organizations, and the companies themselves have all been worried about how The Daily Stormer was and will continue to be handled. And this is just one site—many others will continue to fan the flames of this debate about free speech and its limits.

Nathaniel Mott
Freelance News & Features Writer

Nathaniel Mott is a freelance news and features writer for Tom's Hardware US, covering breaking news, security, and the silliest aspects of the tech industry.

  • AgentBJ09
    "Because Internet intermediaries, especially those with few competitors, control so much online speech, the consequences of their decisions have far-reaching impacts on speech around the world."

    Pretty much, and since Charlottesville, there's been a non-stop purging going on of sites that are alt-right or support free expression. Here's a list:


    It's what TOR says about The Daily Stormer that really slays me, though. "We are disgusted, angered, and appalled by everything these racists stand for and do...But we can't build free and open source tools that protect journalists, human rights activists, and ordinary people around the world if we also control who uses those tools."

    Their platform is used by terrorists, child-molesters, pedos, and all manner of criminals, yet it's the 'white nationalists' they speak up against while mealy-mouthing the rest. Priorities.
  • therealdealmeal
    Of course a organization that has always had an all white board is gonna defend white supremacists.. There is no slippery slope here. These companies can set a hard line of not supporting literal nazis and violent white supremacists. I don't see the EFF making comments in support of ISIS having websites. Not one group defending these people would ever defend it if it was ISIS or any other group. Tells you all you need to know
  • COLGeek
    In the US, our citizens have the constitutional right to be on the wrong side of society and to speak about it. Otherwise, no one gets to express themselves.

    Essentially, our citizens have the right to be ignorant, to be bigots, and sociopaths of the highest order. Their ignorance and wrongheadedness is protected and they are allowed, under the right conditions, to express and demonstrate their ignorance.

    They are allowed to have a voice. However, the most effective means to "quiet" them is to simply ignore them. Let them share their ignorance with each other. Soon, even they will tire of their own distorted and twisted message.
  • tash.robinson
    BOO. The site has content which is clearly in violation of the TOS. A private company can set whatever TOS they choose to adhere to. Freedom of speech means the GOVERNMENT can not silence you, but a private company has no responsibility to host any type of speech they disagree with.
  • RedJaron
    As I said in the Cloudflare thread, some rules about discussing GRAPES have been temporarily stretched in threads like this because the topic itself is in the vineyard. That said, you all have very little leeway in proceeding. You've been given a little rope. Don't hang yourselves with it. First, last, and only warning
  • rwinches
    Freedom of Speech does not include a platform to speak from.
    You have the right to express yourself and others have the right to contradict.
    So one can expect to be shouted down or have others not be willing to listen to you.
    None of the above is censorship.
  • RedJaron
    As the article clearly states, EFF isn't talking about the LAW of freedom of expression, but the PRINCIPLE of it. As the Internet is a global thing, it doesn't adhere to just one nation's laws. They argue if the internet is supposed encapsulate the idea and principle of freedom of speech, then it's a bad precedent for a few of the big players to act like their word is law.
  • Co BIY
    As usual the EFF is several steps beyond where I am on the issues that they focus on. That's probably where they should be as advocates.

    I am also in total sympathy to a company or person who doesn't want to give a hateful racist a soapbox. I disagree that driving these idiots underground is helpful. I like them out in the open where their foolishness is apparent and easy to refute.

    Unfortunately once a company acting as an internet service provider starts to regulate the content of their customers it will always be pressured to continue to do so. Many of the larger internet companies have taken steps that are repressive towards views that they don't support and are concerning.

    The best solution is probably to have much more competition for these services so that no company is forced to host content that they do not want to and an individual company's refusal of service would not really restrict anyone's ability to communicate with others. (Also the broader market would benefit.)
  • chopscissors
    "The Daily Stormer is a website devoted to the alt-right"

    Come on...

    These days, the media consider anyone who voted for Trump "alt-right", and by extension a Nazi.
  • ommidiam
    Nazis have absolutely no rights. They gave them up when they decided that they are better than any one living being.