Should tech companies be able to shut down neo-Nazis?

Should tech companies be able to shut down neo-Nazis?

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In the aftermath of the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., where dozens were injured and one counter-protestor was killed, the battle moved online.

The four-year-old neo-Nazi website the Daily Stormer was evicted by web hosts GoDaddy and Google after it disparaged the woman killed in Charlottesville, Heather Heyer. And then web infrastructure company Cloudflare, which had previously been criticized for how it handled reports of abuse by the website, publicly and permanently terminated the Stormer’s account, too, forcing it to the dark web.

But should a tech company have that power? Even Cloudflare’s CEO Matthew Prince, who personally decided to pull the plug, thinks the answer should be “no” in the future.

“I am confident we made the right decision in the short term because we needed to have this conversation,” Prince said on the latest episode of Too Embarrassed to Ask. “We couldn’t have the conversation until we made that determination. But it is the wrong decision in the long term. Infrastructure is never going to be the right place to make these sorts of editorial decisions.”

Interviewed by Recode’s Kara Swisher and The Verge’s Lauren Goode, Prince was joined on the new episode by the executive director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Cindy Cohn. Although the two organizations have worked together in the past, Cohn co-authored a public rebuke of Cloudflare’s decision, saying it threatened the “future of free expression.”

“The moment where this is about Nazis, to me, is very late in the conversation,” Cohn said, citing past attempts to shut down political websites. “What they do is they take down the whole website, they can’t just take down the one bad article. The whole Recode website comes down because you guys say something that pisses off some billionaire.”

“These companies, including Matthew’s, have a right to decide who they’re doing business with, but we urge them to be really, really cautious about this,” she added.

You can listen to the new podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts, Overcast or wherever you listen to podcasts.