Ten years ago millions of people from all over the world spoke out against a U.S. bill that would’ve allowed courts to take problematic domain names offline.
When that SOPA law failed to pass, many internet users celebrated a victory for free speech.
A decade later, Internet curation is still a hot topic. However, many people who rallied against SOPA are now calling for companies, individuals, and websites to be ‘canceled’ online. Apparently, viewpoints have changed quite a bit.
There is no denying that the web is full of despicable content that deserves to be taken offline. But by whom and on what basis are unanswered questions.
Cloudflare & Kiwi Farms
Last week, Cloudflare took a stand. The company said that in order to shield itself from escalating removal demands, including plain censorship, it would no longer terminate customers without a court order. This was already the company’s policy, a policy it had deviated from twice by kicking out Daily Stormer and 8Chan.
Cloudflare’s comments were triggered by increasing calls to terminate the account of the controversial Kiwi Farms site, which does indeed contain terrible content. Ironically, Cloudflare’s firm stance was defeated just days later, when it terminated the troublesome forum, citing death threats as the reason.
Other companies decided to take action as well. DDoS-Guard, for example, swiftly followed Cloudflare’s example after Kiwi Farms attempted to move there. In addition, Google appears to have intervened as it no longer shows Kiwi Farm’s domains in the top search results. Even the Internet Archive has purged its archives of the controversial site.
Pirate Bay is OK
The people who called on Cloudflare to boot out Kiwi Farms will be pleased. Without any court intervention, they got their desired result. This is something some of the largest Hollywood companies and record labels failed to do with The Pirate Bay; a site that still uses Cloudflare to this day, despite its founders receiving criminal convictions in Sweden.
Kiwi Farms had plenty of deeply disturbing content but this is not an isolated incident. Cloudflare will receive more calls to kick out sites and this recent episode will be cited in court as well, where the company will have a harder time maintaining a content agnostic stance.
Domain Registrars, Registries & ISPs
The challenges won’t stop at Cloudflare either. As noted earlier, Google appears to have demoted the domain already, although that’s not officially confirmed. But what about Bing and DuckDuckGo? What is their role? Should they voluntarily take action against problematic sites?
We haven’t even mentioned the elephants in the room, including domain registrars and domain registries. If these companies decide to suspend a domain name, Cloudflare and search engines are irrelevant. Perhaps these are even better targets to take sites down based on their own evaluations?
Alternatively, Internet providers could be held accountable as well. They help to pass on many despicable sites, services, and opinions. Profiting from hate and crimes? Surely, they can be motivated to intervene to block both domain names and IP addresses without a court order?
Interestingly, copyright holders have made these suggestions for many years already, often without results. But the tide appears to be changing in their favor now, and this isn’t a boat they’re going to miss.
Voluntary curation of the web isn’t new and can often be very useful. Many services already use it to stop malware, for example. Whether it’s a good idea to expand this further depends on how slippery the slope gets. Like many other things, that’s a matter of perspective.
What this perspective should be isn’t clear for everyone. Apparently it’s quite a sensitive issue. TorrentFreak reached out to some activist groups that were leading the opposition against SOPA. However, these either haven’t responded or prefer not to comment at this time.