Tech Companies Blacklist White Supremacist Site

Aug 22, 2017
Originally published on August 18, 2017 8:07 am
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Silicon Valley is making a real effort to shut down white nationalism on the Internet. Both Facebook and PayPal have suspended user accounts. Spotify is delisting white supremacist music. One hate group website has in particular been a focus of this crackdown, The Daily Stormer. NPR's Aarti Shahani reached out to one of its leaders.

ANDREW AUERNHEIMER: Hail.

AARTI SHAHANI, BYLINE: Andrew Auernheimer, also known as Weev, answers my Skype call saying hail, the Nazi greeting. He's in a corner of Eastern Europe you've probably never heard of, Transnistria.

AUERNHEIMER: It's a republic on the border of Ukraine and Moldova.

SHAHANI: Technically, it's a self-proclaimed state with a decent Wi-Fi connection. Auernheimer is from Arkansas. He served about a year in a U.S. prison for hacking AT&T. He says about that time...

AUERNHEIMER: The U.S. government kidnapped and tortured me under false pretense. And I'm working to make sure that the people that did that pay for it very dearly.

SHAHANI: His conviction was later vacated. The 31-year-old now has the long-term goal of radical political transformation.

AUERNHEIMER: I want a global empire run by whites.

SHAHANI: He's been jumping between countries since 2014 and has re-emerged as an operative for The Daily Stormer, the neo-Nazi site. He's their chief technology officer, kind of.

AUERNHEIMER: Well, you know, it's not - we're not exactly like a normal company, you know (laughter)? It's not like we all have executive titles and venture backing.

SHAHANI: The site has become the target of a campaign by firms with venture backing and by the largest tech companies on earth to weed out white nationalism from the Internet. Over the weekend, after a driver killed a woman in Charlottesville, The Daily Stormer posted an article making fun of her, calling her fat and childless. Weev and his colleagues did not mourn the loss of life.

AUERNHEIMER: We're supposed to react with outrage? No, I think we should laugh in the faces of their bloody shirts.

SHAHANI: And The Daily Stormer paid for it. Facebook, where the article went viral, set out to delete every link to it unless a user posted language clearly condemning the blog. Two different companies that register webpages, Google and GoDaddy, kicked thedailystormer.com off so it doesn't load when you try to visit. Google says the website was inciting violence, a clear violation of its terms of service. Auernheimer says it's pure censorship.

AUERNHEIMER: I just want to know what they think will happen when they take away our right to speak.

SHAHANI: Auernheimer enjoys being provocative. He misstates the facts. He says he doesn't read much outside of white nationalist sites because he can't be bothered. That said, at least one tech CEO who pulled the plug on The Daily Stormer is conflicted about it - Matthew Prince, chief of Cloudflare.

MATTHEW PRINCE: I made a determination based on my own moral code that these people were jerks.

SHAHANI: Prince says tech companies, which claim to be neutral platforms, are exercising editorial judgment. Today it's against neo-Nazis. Tomorrow it could be against democracy activists in China because the CEO is trying to break into that market.

PRINCE: That set of people making that determination is driven by their own moral and economic interests.

SHAHANI: Prince questions if he and other CEOs should have the kind of power they just exercised. He even wonders if there should be some kind of government regulation. Meanwhile, The Daily Stormer is operating in the shadows, a part of the Internet designed to be untraceable and anonymous.

Aarti Shahani, NPR News, San Francisco.

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