Cloudflare’s CEO Matthew Prince seems to be regretting his earlier decision to ban the Daily Stormer.
Cloudflare’s CEO Matthew Prince is back in the news again. He’s further elaborated on the events that led to his company banning the Daily Stormer from their service shortly after the Unite the Right rally.
He’s saying that he came under tremendous pressure from his customer base to ban the site. He says that the pressure was so severe that he had no choice but to order the ban.
Cloudflare CEO Matthew Prince hated cutting off service to the infamous neo-Nazi site the Daily Stormer in August. And he’s determined not to do it again.
“I’m almost a free-speech absolutist.” Prince said at an event at the New America Foundation last Wednesday. But in a subsequent interview with Ars, Prince argued that in the case of the Daily Stormer, the company didn’t have much choice.
Cloudflare runs a popular content delivery network that specializes in protecting clients from distributed denial-of-service attacks. The Daily Stormer published a post mocking a woman who was killed during the white supremacist protests in Charlottesville, Virginia in August. That had made a lot of people angry at the Daily Stormer, attracting massive attacks on the site.
The Stormer was a Cloudflare customer. Cloudflare had ample technical resources to battle DDOS attacks. The problem was that other Cloudflare customers started calling and threatening to cancel their service if Cloudflare didn’t cut the Daily Stormer off.
“The pressure to take it down just kept building and building,” Prince told Ars. “We thought that was the wrong policy. We reached out to various civil libertarian organizations and said we need some air cover here. People said ‘we’d rather not stick our necks out on this issue.'”
So, Prince said, “we needed to change the conversation.”
Obviously I don’t like what Prince did. I’ve been highly critical of him over the past few months since he ordered the ban. He justified banning the site because he thought we were “assholes” and happened to be in a bad mood. As a writer for the Daily Stormer I found this comment to be quite offensive. It was also an abandonment of principles. Up until that time, Cloudflare maintained a neutral stance on content. This was the correct position to have.
With that said, I can understand that he was put in a tough position. He had to do what he thought was best for the company at that time.
Now that the smoke has cleared, it appears as if he is seriously regretting the decision. It doesn’t look like idle talk either. He was just in Washington DC to advocate for changes that would ensure service providers like Cloudflare are no longer be put in a position like this.
Last week, Prince made a swing through DC to help ensure that the Daily Stormer decision does not, in fact, set a precedent. He met with officials from the Federal Communications Commission and with researchers at the libertarian Cato Institute and the left-of-center New America Foundation—all in an effort to ensure that he’d have the political cover he needed to say no next time he came under pressure to take down controversial content.
The law is strongly on Cloudflare’s side here. Internet infrastructure providers like Cloudflare have broad legal immunity for content created by their customers. But legal rights may not matter if Cloudflare comes under pressure from customers to take down content. And that’s why Prince is working to cultivate a social consensus that infrastructure providers like Cloudflare should not be in the censorship business—no matter how offensive its customers’ content might be.
He has a fair point. There’s no reason why the CEO of a service provider should be put in this type of position. Really what’s needed are laws that prohibit service providers, social media sites, domain registrars etc.. from censoring political content. That way a company like Cloudflare can simply tell people who whine about political content to pound sand. It would take the decision making process out of their hands because it would be illegal for them to intervene.
Prince does deserve credit for not going crazy with the ban hammer over the past few months. Outside of the Daily Stormer, he hasn’t gone out of his way to ban people publishing nationalist political content. Gab currently uses Cloudflare for ddos mitigation and all sorts of politically incorrect content gets posted there.
GoDaddy was responsible for suspending the original dailystormer.com domain. Since that time, the Daily Stormer has cycled through multiple top-level domains (.ru, .wang, .is, .hk etc..) to maintain an active presence on the tubes.
The bigger problem has been with the domain registrars. I’ve lost track of how many domains the Daily Stormer has gone through since this past August but it is now somewhere in the double digits. This is an insane situation that will hopefully be corrected soon. GoDaddy which maintained the registration for the original dailystormer.com domain set this ball in motion. They were the first domain registrar to suspend a domain name for political content in the history of the internet.
It’s good that Prince is advancing this conversation though. No company should have the power to render someone a non-person on the internet because of their beliefs. Nor should there be a situation where a company can be blackmailed or pressured into rendering someone a non-person.
I still think Prince should apologize for calling us “assholes” though. We are not “assholes” and are actually nice people. I’d be up to do a business lunch to try and bury the hatchet. What do you say Matt?