The Cloudflare CEO just took the bravest decision of his life (and may have changed the internet for good)
Overnight, Matthew Price, the CEO of Cloudflare - an internet website protection company - made the decision to withhold their protection services from far-right hate website The Daily Stormer. A move which will have long reaching and possibly damaging effects on the wider internet as a whole.
Let us be clear - what he did was the right thing. The Daily Stormer is a site run by Nazis that is intent on whipping and organising the extreme far right. They were intrinsically involved in the events in Charlottesville that resulted in the death of Heather Heyer and comments from their inner circle since show they have not a shred of decency. What Matthew Prince did, by denying them the protection of Cloudflare should be widely praised.
His actions were done because they were 100% the right thing to do. In a memo sent around to Cloudflare staff in the wake of his decision he insisted the decision was his alone and made because "the people behind the Daily Stomer are assholes". Is that a massive applause we hear?
In fact, let's take a look at that memo...
Earlier today Cloudflare terminated the account of the Daily Stormer. We’ve stopped proxying their traffic and stopped answering DNS requests for their sites. We’ve taken measures to ensure that they cannot sign up for Cloudflare’s services again.
This was my decision. Our terms of service reserve the right for us to terminate users of our network at our sole discretion. My rationale for making this decision was simple: the people behind the Daily Stormer are assholes and I’d had enough.
Let me be clear: this was an arbitrary decision. It was different than what I’d talked talked with our senior team about yesterday. I woke up this morning in a bad mood and decided to kick them off the Internet. I called our legal team and told them what we were going to do. I called our Trust & Safety team and had them stop the service. It was a decision I could make because I’m the CEO of a major Internet infrastructure company.
Having made that decision we now need to talk about why it is so dangerous. I’ll be posting something on our blog later today. Literally, I woke up in a bad mood and decided someone shouldn’t be allowed on the Internet. No one should have that power.
[Cloudflare employee’s name redacted] asked after I told him what we were going to do: “Is this the day the Internet dies?” He was half joking, but I actually think it’s an important question. It’s important that what we did today not set a precedent. The right answer is for us to be consistently content neutral. But we need to have a conversation about who and how the content online is controlled. We couldn’t have that conversation while the Daily Stormer site was using us. Now, hopefully, we can.
I’ll be publishing a blog post with all our thoughts on this issue in a few hours. Until then, I’d ask that you not talk about this externally.
Co-founder & CEO
Since sending this memo, Prince has published a more detailed rationale behind his thoughts and what happened here.
Yes, despite all the good reasoning and positive action around this decision there is now a lingering question over whether it was actually the right thing to have done for the wider internet. It's already a minefield and net neutrality is a very complicated subject - no one company, government or person should have any control over the content of the internet; it should remain entirely independent of political or personal interference and no-one person or organisation should be targeted or given advantages over another. Power over internet, by definition, should be outside of the reach of any one person.
And it IS something that is important for both free speech and for activism across the world. Regimes want the ability to stifle those that stand up to them - censorship in more dictatorial countries is a real problem and they'll see these actions as a great benefit to themselves.
By taking this decision, one which has huge political implications, Cloudflare have opened a gaping hole in net neutrality and there will be wide fallout.
Yet, we won't be criticising this decision - instead, as Prince says in his memo and has made the first steps to actually DO in his blog post, this is the time to have the discussion - involving everyone who has the power to do the thing Prince did. The world will be a better place without the Daily Stormer and without Nazis - and the moves by GoDaddy, Google and others to remove this site from the internet (and now the dark web) are all worthy of acclaim.
So, Matthew, with your whim you may have ushered in a new era for the internet - a never ending debate has just been shaken to its core with the decision of one man and maybe that's what we needed. Too long have people with abhorrent views been using the fallacy that "free speech" should protect them - "free speech" is something that people fought and died for; they fought the exact kind of people who are now the ones that are whipping up hate across the world - the white supremacists, the bigots, the fascists and the religious extremists.
What we need now is to ensure the events of this last week aren't hidden under the carpet. These people are out there - they work and live in society and they have more confidence than they've had any time since the end of the second World War. It's not a problem for America, it's a problem for the world. They are so bold that they no longer need to hide their faces. When people say they're nazis - they're not thinking of the armies and death camps - they're thinking of the extreme right that rose to power in Germany in the 1930s.
The internet has been tightly entwined in the rise of the new extreme right - it has given dispersed groups communications channels that they didn't have before, and protections from the eyes of the authorities. It has allowed them to grow by spreading their views, initially through chat groups and forums, but now to the point where we have white supremacists at the heart of the most powerful government on this planet. No longer do these people need to hide - they have a legitimacy they couldn't have even dreamed of even a few years ago.
Individuals, such as Matthew Prince, making these big decisions have just as much, if not MORE, sway over how we tackle the hate and abhorrent behaviour going forward. It may be that we have to put aside more of our ideals on how the internet, and by extension, society should be in order to starve those with hateful beliefs of the ability to spread their view. It's HOW we do that which is important - swing too much the other way and we stifle wider political debate and open discourse; this is something we cannot allow to happen...