It can be risky to offer the target of a journalistic attack-piece an entire weekend to respond to questions.
On Friday, Matthew Prince, the CEO of CloudFare, which offers free and commercial cloud-based services to accelerate websites, posted an email he’d received from James Cook, a reporter at European tech blog, the Kernel.
Although Cook’s story was not due to publish until Monday, it was clear from his questions that the focus of the piece would be one of CloudFlare’s customers, which Prince describes as a site that “advocates for Chechen independence.” According to Prince’s post, entitled “CloudFlare and free speech,” Cook’s inflammatory questions included…
Do you support campaigns of murder and terror waged [by some controversial group]? If not, why would you allow such hateful material to be protected by your services?
Prince responded that “CloudFlare’s mission is to build a better web. Inherently, there will be things on our network that make us uncomfortable.” But, he added: “We will continue to abide by the law, serve all customers, and hold consistently to a belief that our proper role is not that of Internet censor.”
Prince also linked to a Guardian report concerning the Kernel’s shuttering in March, a move that — combined with his decision to refer to Cook as a “blogger” — prompted the Kernel to expand its story to focus more specifically on CloudFlare, Cook told PandoDaily via email.
The site in question, which Prince declined to name on the record because of a CloudFlare policy against confirming users to the media without permission, has reportedly been connected to Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. Kernel editor-in-chief Milo Yiannopoulos says that CloudFlare is just one of the companies the Kernel attempted to contact regarding the story — “two hosting companies” are said to have been contacted regarding their involvement with the site in question.
Prince says that CloudFlare, like other companies, does not monitor every website or request that uses its service — nor should it. “I just don’t think that any technology provider, when they are in a position to shutdown an entire medium, that they should be doing that,” he says. “That is a long-term risk both to the medium and to a free exchange of ideas.”
The sentiment echoes one expressed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) in September 2012 following YouTube’s decision not to block a video showing clips from “The Innocence of Muslims,” an “an anti-Islamic film that depicts Prophet Mohammed as a philanderer who approves of child abuse,” outside of Egypt and Libya.
“Once YouTube has made the decision to pro-actively censor its content, they start down a slippery slope that ends in YouTube Knows Best moral policing of every video on their site,” the EFF wrote on its blog. It continued:
It is disappointing to see YouTube turn its back on policies that have allowed it to become a such a strong platform for freedom of expression. We hope that this new-found enthusiasm for pro-active censorship is a temporary aberration rather than a sign of things to come.
Capitulating to calls for a piece of content — a video, a website, a tweet — to be taken down is not unheard of, however.
In 2010, Amazon removed WikiLeaks, a self-described “not-for-profit media organization” said to be in possession of more than one million classified documents, from its cloud hosting service. The act, praised by government officials who wished to block access to WikiLeaks’ website, was seen by some as a signal of the power government agencies and private companies have over free speech on the Internet.
Reached by email, Yiannopoulos told PandoDaily:
The focus of the report, of which the CloudFlare story is one part, is technology companies who support terrorist activity through a naive commitment to “free speech”. We think the site in question goes way over the line and that CloudFlare’s support of it is outrageous. Their claim that CloudFlare is somehow insignificant to the site in question does not bear scrutiny: during the repeated DDoS attacks on the site in question, CloudFlare is the only thing keeping it online. Further, as a CDN, an argument could be made that CloudFlare is itself republishing potentially illegal material and directly assisting in the planning of attacks on US soil and the spread of radical Islamism.
Although the Kernel is still showing a pre-launch countdown page, a draft of Cook’s article was available online on Sunday evening simply by viewing the source code of this page, which had already been indexed by Google. In the draft, Cook identifies the site in question as belonging to “The Kavkaz Center” and describes CloudFlare as “The Terrorists’ Little Helper.”
[Image via Tunafishy]