Since the deplorable violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, many individuals and companies have found the need to take sides. Web hosting giant GoDaddy did just that last night, telling neo-Nazi and white supremacist site The Daily Stormer that it had 24 hours to find a new home. Complicating the picture, though, is a note on the site, apparently a hoax, claiming hactivist collective Anonymous has taken it over.
A dizzying set of events in some ugly times, and a confusing situation for GoDaddy, which has seen its share of controversy in the past. Telling a hate site to take its domain registration and go elsewhere seems admirable. But as Google recently learned, doing the right thing can be more complicated than it seems. Even firing people for racist beliefs because they were at the Charlottesville event is more complicated than many might think.
When is enough enough?
GoDaddy tweeted Sunday evening that it had given The Daily Stormer 24 hours to move its domain to another provider because of a violation of the company's terms of service.
We informed The Daily Stormer that they have 24 hours to move the domain to another provider, as they have violated our terms of service.-- GoDaddy (@GoDaddy) August 14, 2017
Activist Amy Siskind had pointed to a headline on the site, which called the car plowing through protestors opposing the white supremacist march in Charlottesville an act of "road rage" and called victim Heather Heyer a "fat, childless 32-year-old slut." GoDaddy responded within an hour.
Here is the explanation that GoDaddy spokesperson Dan Race sent me:
Given The Daily Stormer's article yesterday came on the immediate heels of a violent act, we believe this type of article could incite additional violence, which violates our terms of service.
We have informed The Daily Stormer that they have 24 hours to move the domain to another provider, as they have violated our terms of service. If no action is taken after 24 hours, we will cancel the service.
NOTE: GoDaddy is not the host for the website in question (i.e., the content of the website is not on our servers). Only the domain is with GoDaddy.
But this was hardly the first time the Daily Stormer ran extreme material. When many on Twitter were upset after the election of Donald Trump, the site's publisher, Andrew Anglin, reportedly wrote the following:
You can troll these people and definitely get some of them to kill themselves. Just be like "it's the only way you can prove to the racists that Hillary was right all along." "Mass Suicides After Trump Victory" would be a headline the media would play up, but all it would do would demoralize the left even further.
I asked Race why yesterday's statement was a breach of the terms of service, as many other headlines and stories had been at least that extreme. He didn't respond, but the company told The Daily Beast in July 2017 that an action on The Daily Stormer at the time wasn't one:
On Wednesday, The Daily Stormer promised to "track down" the parents, siblings, spouses, and children of CNN staffers after claiming the network blackmailed a 15-year-old internet troll, who CNN says is actually a middle-aged man. The network also insists it hadn't spoken to him until after he apologized for anti-Semitic images the troll posted to Reddit's Donald Trump fan forum r/The_Donald and an anti-CNN GIF he created that was later tweeted by the president.
Ben Butler, GoDaddy's director of network abuse, told The Daily Beast that this latest Daily Stormer article did not breach Domains by Proxy's terms. "We do not see a reason to take any action under our terms of service as [the article] does not promote or encourage violence against people. While we detest the sentiment of this site and the article in question, we support First Amendment rights and, similar to the principles of free speech, that sometimes means allowing such tasteless, ignorant content."
And now, here's Anonymous
Complicating GoDaddy's decisions even more, within hours of the notice to The Daily Stormer, the neo-Nazi site suddenly looked somewhat different, with the main article saying that hactivist group Anonymous had taken it over, claiming that it would permanently shut it down in 24 hours and stating, "We want you Nazis to know: Your time is short."
It might be seen as anticlimactic, except there were some oddities. The right-hand side of the page still has Daily Stormer content, including requests for financial support. Clicking on article links before the message supposedly from Anonymous still leads to those articles. This is hardly a full-site takedown.
In addition, there was a tweet from the AnonJournal, which is supposedly a news source for Anonymous actions, claiming that the note was a "false flag" operation by Daily Stormer owner Andrew Anglin "to implicate Anonymous in his website's shutdown."
The Anonymous twitter account @AnonyInfo retweeted that message and has also said that the amorphous group was "99 percent confident" that the action was a fake.
So, maybe GoDaddy did the right thing. Maybe it did so late in the game, or possibly not, which shows why having clear terms of service and predictably acting within them is a wise move. Or maybe people will ultimately credit Anonymous, whether the group thinks it did it or not. In any case, call it a complicated mess for crisis public relations.