The Internet Was Never Content Neutral

Today, Cloudflare's CEO Mathew Prince made a decision to stop serving The Daily Stormer, a neo-nazi website. Gizmodo's reporting on this leads with an odd sentiment:
Internet companies typically take a hands-off approach to offensive content on their networks, erring on the side of maintaining an open internet.
I find this to be an odd statement because it is categorically false.

This decision by Mathew Prince follows decisions by other companies to stop serving neo-nazi and white supremacist customers. Google and GoDaddy recently refused domain services to The Daily Stormer over the past couple of days. Paypal has been closing the accounts of neo-nazis and white supremacists for some time, according to CNN. This has sparked many conversations about whether or not internet companies should police the content on their platform, or whether the internet should remain 'content-neutral.'

This debate is a surprise to me because all companies already police the content on their services. I have seen it first hand and I have listened to the experiences of the people who have been targeted by that moderation.

Paypal, and most online payment processors, openly discriminate and refuse service to anyone tied to the sex industry - not to mention most financial institutions steal from sex workers. Why are people only speaking up now that white men in collared shirts are being denied payments?

Speaking to a self-identified sex worker, who primarily does nude modelling, I learned their accounts are frequently closed or suspended from Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, and Twitter for 'violating the code of conduct' while their content is distributed on those platforms without attribution. Why are the people who steal and repost this content not being hit with the same bans and suspensions as the creators?

Twitter has a history of banning and suspending people who speak out against verified white supremacists and politicians who advocate against transgender folk. While harassment mobs seem free to target people of color, and queer folk, and women while those victims get banned and suspended for defending themselves.

Youtube, one of the most widely identifiable tools for exercising free speech in many areas of the world, implemented a feature that hides queer content. While that feature is optional, Youtube has a history of taking down content created by sex workers that are not sexually explicit or even feature sexual references.

Cloudflare's CEO, Mathew Prince, stated in his email to the staff, he "woke up this morning in a bad mood and decided to kick them off the Internet." He explained how he did not take the decision lightly and that the decision could set a dangerous precedent.

I agree that it is a dangerous precedent, for what is effectively an internet service provider, to set. However, in all other cases on all other platforms the precedent was written into the code of conduct. Internet-based companies have never been content neutral.

They just haven't targeted straight white men in collared shirts before.

About the Author

AwfulyPrideful is a networking and telecommunications student with a passion for infosec. They can be found on twitter talking about infosec, technology, games, and politics. They maintain a blog of their journey into infosec, explaining complex topics in layman's terms, sharing the lessons they learn, and providing commentary of tech culture. If you want to support them directly you can do so via paypal and patreon.


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