The shootout that killed 20 people in a shopping mall in El Paso, Texas, keeps getting noisy. Today, the Cloudflare platform announced to stop providing services to the 8Chan platform. The 21-year-old alleged perpetrator allegedly used the platform to post a long white nationalist message shortly before the attack. This has helped to draw attention to this platform, which has become a hatred of extreme right-wing movements over time. Previously, the perpetrator of the Christchurch slaughter had also poured his rhetoric on the platform, and the suspect in another shooting in Poway, California, had posted an anti-Semitic and racist letter there.
Faced with the rise of this site which asserted itself every day a little more like a major hub of these extreme and nauseating doctrines, Cloudflare announced to stop providing its service to 8Chan. This company offers anti-DDoS services, an attack planned to make a website out of order.
In fact, this decision exposes the platform to attacks by many activists who want to see it close. A justified choice in a blog post by Cloudflare CEO Matthew Prince:
Cloudflare promoted referee despite himself
A decision not taken lightly, according to Prince. The company was caught between the hammer and the anvil. On the one hand, there was a desire to provide a service to a client who did not directly violate the law (we recall that freedom of expression knows no legal limit in the US), and to “reluctantly tolerate” Content deemed objectionable. This posture may seem cynical but it is common as the reputation of the company depends on the protection it offers, and abandoning a client (even bulky) can be harmful in terms of brand image.
On the other hand, there was the will to refuse to play the devil’s advocate by endorsing a hate speech that “directly inspired tragic events“. It is ultimately this second consideration that prevailed, but the CEO is no illusion: Cloudflare has no right to life and death on the platform, and its decision is more symbolic than anything else thing. Especially since the company has no vocation to play the role of mediator at this level, as specified Prince. “We continue to feel very uncomfortable with the idea of acting as a content arbiter, and we do not want to use it often.“
The spectrum of freedom of speech on the Internet
The company wants to draw a clear line, and not become a tool of censorship or regulation. For the moment, 8chan is paying for this interruption: as soon as the protection was lifted, the site was taken out of service by attacks. But it should soon return online, protected by a competitor Cloudflare, as had been the case for the neo-Nazi platform The Daily Stormer. This site was also denied by Cloudflare in 2017. At the time, the CEO had declared “scoring points” by banning the Nazi cause, but had regretted a “harmful precedent where a firm decides what may or may not be on the Internet“.
This story is, therefore, the manifestation of a complex problem, rooted in the American vision of freedom of expression: there, any speech – even racist, anti-Semitic, etc. – falls under the influence of the famous freedom of speech and can not be condemned as in France. This is certainly not the last time that large companies on the net find themselves facing this difficult issue. It will be interesting to see if this can one day lead to a questioning of the sacred and absolute side of the freedom of expression in the United States, as it is mentioned with each new slaughter passing through the Internet.