Namecheap logo

Inciting Violence vs Freedom of Speech (Edited)

Addendum – Post has been edited to include additional commentary.

At Namecheap, we see both sides of the free speech consideration.  On the one hand, we cannot be the ones censoring content, unpopular though it may be.  On the other hand, and without question, the content appearing on the DailyStormer.lol is highly offensive, even more so in light of the recent events in Charlottesville, VA.  

We find ourselves in a difficult situation, where we must balance the repugnant nature of the content against our principles, beliefs and ongoing support of free speech. This has been particularly challenging given that the fallout from our decision will be in the public eye and subject to public scrutiny, no matter what path we may take.

So, the question, as I see it, is whether deletion of these domains contradicts our core principle of advocacy of free speech?  In this particular case, I state that the answer is “No.”

I’ve examined the website carefully. It purports to disclaim violence.  But, these words are profoundly hollow as the actual text supports both viewpoints as well as groups that specifically promote violence.  As an example: “It doesn’t take a Ph.D. in mathematics to understand that White men + pride + organization = Jews being stuffed into ovens.”

This statement clearly incites violence and endorses wholesale eradication of Jews through genocide championed by the Nazis.  Daily Stormer in all its content advocates that proud white men organize themselves.  It also presents the inevitable consequence of the organization of white men and their pride: “jews being stuffed into ovens.”  This alone is a drastic departure from traditional freedom of speech principles and endorsement of a very violent eventuality.  Based on this statement alone, the site should be legitimately shut down as the speech constitutes an incitement of violence.

This point is reinforced by the very tagline of the site: Daily Stormer: “Summer of Hate Edition.”  The site spends considerable effort demonizing Asians, Blacks, Mexicans, etc.

I have considered this from a Constitutional perspective and sought a legal perspective. I believe that hate speech and incitement of violence provides ample legal support for a proper termination of the domains.

Our commitment to free speech is well-documented, including through our support of EFF.org, but there is a line where free speech ends and incitement begins.  It may be an elusive one but, as United States Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart stated in his threshold test for obscenity in Jacobellis v. Ohio: “I know it when I see it.”

So it is here: the quality and context of the material, paired with the support for violent groups and causes passes from protected free speech into incitement.

We have, and always will continue to uphold our principles in support of privacy, freedom of speech and Internet freedom.

Sincerely,

Richard Kirkendall
CEO, Namecheap

Addendum:

I woke up this morning feeling conflicted about our decision to pull down this domain. The fact is, this should have never had to be our decision. Yes the domain fits into our description of what constitutes incitement of violence and I believe that their violation of our ToS would hold up in a court of law. In reality, it was just the morally right thing to do here as this type of hateful speech and veiled call to violence really has no place on this Earth.. That is my personal belief and I would make the same decision again but it is just that, my personal opinion and a business decision.  But is this the right thing for freedom of speech and should a registrar be the one making this decision? I don’t think so. In a perfect world, a registrar should be able to remain neutral in these situations regardless of public opinion but the fact of the matter is that this cannot happen in reality. Any business cannot operate under these circumstances due to the mob mentality and the nature of our current politics. As you well know, on the Internet, the truth can be turned and twisted and used as a tool to fit into any one group’s narrative.

Let me be frank here and I’ll repeat, this was the right decision for the human race but it was also an existential threat for our company. While I feel I made the right decision, I also thought about what this meant for us as a business. What it would mean for the dream we have to deliver everything we’ve imagined for the future of our platform to solve customer problems. More importantly,  I thought about our 1100 team members that directly depend on this company for their livelihood and our millions of customers that depend on us for stability and peace of mind that we are keeping their domains safe. With these things in mind and as a leader of a company that has a direct responsibility to do what is best for our customers and our people,  could I have made any other decision here? I don’t think I could have and therein lies the problem.

Registrars need a set of guidelines just as the internet does that empowers or requires them to remain neutral and a clear judicial process to solve these types of issues quickly and effectively. These matters should not be solved in the courts of public opinion because public opinion is not always right. I’ll refer you to a quote I read in an excellent piece written by our friends at the Electronic Frontier Foundation:  “All fair-minded people must stand against the hateful violence and aggression that seems to be growing across our country. But we must also recognize that on the Internet, any tactic used now to silence neo-Nazis will soon be used against others, including people whose opinions we agree with. Those on the left face calls to characterize the Black Lives Matter movement as a hate group. In the Civil Rights Era cases that formed the basis of today’s protections of freedom of speech, the NAACP’s voice was the one attacked.” This is a powerful statement that clearly shows the dangers of compromising on freedom of speech. Depending on who is in power, it could be your belief system or community that is seen to be the evil one next.

The fact is, that all of us are walking a dangerous tightrope and this has the ability to morph into something that is much more evil than even these hateful Nazis we are dealing with today. At the very least, they are a vocal and an easy target that is in plain view that is easily countered. The real danger in my opinion is what lies invisible yet is the most dangerous force that anyone of us will ever know. That is the insidious and dangerous force of power. The power to control our thoughts, our privacy, our opinions and most importantly our speech that lies within the dark nature of absolute power itself and takes over seemingly well meaning politicians, presidents, governments, movements that then use this power against us. This is the real danger that we must all be watchful for.

In the end we all have a part and a responsibility to insure that everyone has a voice and platform to share their thoughts and beliefs as long as it allows for basic human and animal rights, even if it makes us feel uncomfortable. This is and should be a human right in and of itself.

Sincerely,

Richard Kirkendall
CEO, Namecheap

46 thoughts on “Inciting Violence vs Freedom of Speech (Edited)”

  1. I know decisions like this are never easy but personally I glad you made this move. Freedom of speech is important but it is not and never has been meant to allow people to promote hatred for others thank you for taking a stand for what is right rather than turning a blind eye like a lot do

  2. Political speech should never be censored — whether it’s some radical calling for revolution or someone demonizing groups he feels (erroneously) threaten or harm the country.

    Suppressing free speech that is not criminal but political reflects poorly on your company.

  3. Well done. Just as any business should do if they consider themselves morally ethical and have a decent amount of integrity.

  4. I had considered moving my domains and hosting to Namecheap because of your previous stand.

    My sites are non-controversial, and perhaps (I hate to admit) dull, boring. I still wanted someone that would protect me should I ever raise the ire of the mob (not so difficult in the current outrage climate).

    I wanted to move from Godaddy because they had lost my trust on this. Namecheap looked like a good alternative but I waited to see if they would hold up. Of course they failed, caving under pressure, with confused and meaningless uphold free-speech rhetoric.

    Today it’s Daily Stormer, tomorrow the NRA, and eventually my dull boring site because I accidentally miss-gendered someone (or something).

    If you are hosting or domain registering any Antifa or BLM sites, I hope you will now monitor them for pro-violence rhetoric and take similar action. Given that you have given up on a pure free-speech defense to not do so would be a show of support and make you complicit.

  5. You ARE censoring content, and trying to sleaze your way out by lying and saying you support freedom of speech. From now on nobody will trust you, and you will be held up as an example of the kind of cowardly, traitorous loser who tries to play both sides and loses everything in the process.

    1. It’s their choice. When you run a business, you can choose to not serve people (as long as it does not violate the Civil Rights act of ’63.)

  6. I thought you were a pro-free speech registrar. Constitutional protections for the first amendment don’t only extend to speech you agree with. Very disappointed namecheap. However, judging by the reviews on the Facebook, you probably won’t be in business much longer anyway.

    1. This is isn’t about freedom of speech.

      Hiding behind freedom of speech rhetoric to justify hate speech is cowardly.
      1. A business deciding not to host a blog does fall within the domain of freedom of speech
      2. You are free to say anything (except terms/speech that the supreme court has deemed inciting riot, threats, true threats or words that incite violence)
      3. Free speech does NOT apply to a business/place of employment or any others structured entity.

      Examples:
      You are free to say what you want as a customer to a business – but they are also free to deny you service.

      You are free to say what you want to your boss, but he is free to fire you.

      You are free to say what you want to a judge, just know that you may be held in contempt of court and placed in jail for said contempt.

      You are free to write any blog you wish, but hosting services can refuse to host your blog as they see fit.

      Conclusions:
      Freedom of speech does not make one immune from consequences of said “freedom” to speak.

      Famous Example:
      Collin Kaepernick is free to say what he wants about the flag, and take a knee, but every NFL team is also free to not hire him.

      See how that works?

    2. Free speech is one thing; hate-mongering speech is something else. I agree with their decision. Someone will take those people. It just won’t be this company, which has morals.

    3. Didn’t you read the post? Free speech does not mean Namecheap has to provide a service to people who promote hate and incite violence.

  7. Good points. These guys went way beyond even the strongest protections of free speech. It’s time for a national conversation on this matter.

  8. Bullshit. You have zero principles. You’ll happily take the business of criminals. I represented a party against you in SolidHost v. NameCheap where you knew full well that a domain had been stolen. Your view? “We are a neutral host, can’t do shit.”

    You’re on a bandwagon here – and it is not the free speech and internet freedom bandwagon. Say what you need to to virtue signal, but you’re full of shit.

    The EFF, on the other hand, has a principled view: https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2017/08/fighting-neo-nazis-future-free-expression

  9. Few years ago this kind of censoring was unthinkable. In 2-5 years from now this type of censoring free speech is going to be industry standard for any political wrongthink. In 10-20 years people who were complicit in this type of censoring are going to be prosecuted for crimes against humanity.

  10. What a bunch of hypocrites. “We support free speech BUT – except when we don’t.” The one example of violent speech you cherry picked was obviously satire, in case you didn’t get that.

    1. Mere, you are the exact type of person that Namecheap does not want to do business with. “jews are buying up the internet”? Your Nazism is very transparent. Kindly eat your own excrement.

      Everyone has the right to freedom of association. No one is guaranteed a platform.

  11. When you say you “sought a legal perspective”, you really mean that you asked your Jewish lawyer what he thinks, right? I bet he thought it was “like another Shoah”!

  12. Good move! It’s sad to see you folks seem to be anti-Muslim though. I thought the daily stormers articles to kill all Muslims in America would have been enough to block. Time for us to change registrars.

  13. This is a poor excuse. The First Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees free speech, and the degree to which incitement is protected speech is determined by the imminent lawless action test introduced by the 1969 Supreme Court decision in the case Brandenburg v. Ohio. The court ruled that incitement of events in the indefinite future was protected, but encouragement of “imminent” illegal acts was not protected. Even so, the quote you mentioned was obviously sarcastic humor implying the exact opposite of the literal interpretation. Anglin should be presumed innocent until found guilty of incitement in a court of law, then and only then do you have the moral authority to ban the domain. Just admit it, you’re anti free speech.

  14. I am deeply disappointed on namecheap for taking a pro censorship stance on this issue. I am far from a white nationalist (in fact I am a minority, and these idiots would probably see me as part of the problem), but I come from a communist totalitarian country, and I KNOW what THOUGHT CENSORSHIP is like.

    Say what you will about the dailystormer but they truly were exercising their first amendment to the fullest capacity, and shame on you namecheap for censoring their content.

    Antifa, black lives matter, black nationalists, communists, anarchists, racist and zealot jews, radical christians: you probably host the domains of a lot of these kinds on your platform, and yet I doubt you are coming down on them for their content even if it explicitly advocates hate or violence.

    You are on the wrong side of history, and there are only 2 possible outcomes from your actions. The first outcome will be that the free speech that you suppress today, will be the free speech taken from YOU (and your family) tomorrow. It might not be today, or tomorrow, but in due time what you have done will personally affect someone you care about, but by then it will be too late and you will regret ever being a part of this disgraceful censorship of speech. The second outcome will be a lost of reputation and the catalyst for newer, free speech companies to emerge that will eventually run you out of business because they have the will of the people on their side

    In either case is a dark day for anyone that cares about freedom of speech, regardless of political leanings.

  15. What does pulling down the domain achieve, in the end? A state of martyrdom and victimhood for the Daily Stormer. Thousands of eyes upon them that would never have given them a second glance otherwise and plenty of people feeling that their hosting providers or domain registrars are compromised.
    It’s certainly not going to hurt the Daily Stormer as much as the tech companies in question would like to believe it will as they morally grandstand. The ideas espoused by these people aren’t going to go anywhere just because 1 of their platforms was arbitrarily removed. If anything, this arbitrary action against them legitimizes whatever they are preaching in the eyes of many people.

    I mostly share the opinion of the EFF that this is going to backfire and have unintended consequences. I’m a bit less optimistic than they are, though.

  16. As a Namecheap client myself, I’d like to thank you for doing your part to prevent the rise of another Nazi party. If more businesses had stood up to the Nazis last century, maybe WW2 wouldn’t have happened.

  17. What these commenters, many of them, do not seem to understand, is that NameCheap, as an entity, does not need to allow for their resources to be used to promote vile, disgusting, hate speech. This is not a supression of speech as much as a discussion of free association.

    I find it ironic that many of these commenters, who are sympathizers of Daily Stormer, would try to pull this argument around the concept of speech. At the core of fascist ideology is an almost deification of the concept of the state, or within Nazi theory the body-national. Within this concept one attempts to use the force of the state in order to eliminate all things that disrupt the mythology of social uniformity, the notion of the unified, generic social body. In this sense, it is amazingly ironic that these people, of all people, would be trying to argue this on the level of speech.

    This aside, and I am never one to take Nazis seriously, the question here becomes two fold. The first is whether any private entity, or person, has to allow for their resources to be used by any other person. The implications of insisting that one must allow for anyone else to use their resources is patently absurd, clearly. In this case NameCheap was providing a service, they used their resources to provide a service to Daily Stormer, and then they decided not to do so. End of story, it is that simple.

    This does not prevent Daily Stormer from going literally anywhere else (except the growing list of companies that are rejecting fascist violence). They could go host a .onion site, and have done so. What is important here is that they still have access to the internet, no one has prevented them from being able to have access, and have people come there if they would like. All that has happened is that some companies have decided to not allow their staff time, server space and project bandwidth to be used to support this project. This is their choice.

    The second issue at hand here, and this has been pointed out in the more intelligent discussions around this question, is the issue pointed to in this letter, the centralization of certain services on the internet by large companies. As Cloudflare pointed out, the decision of a CEO has the ability to prevent someone from using the internet safely. It is this that must change. The internet has come to be a space that is dominated by a handful of large conglomerates, and this does lead to questions of access and censorship.

    What is important here is that we have to separate these two questions. The first is a question of free association, or whether one wants to lend their resources to a project that they feel is dangerous. Clearly, in this case one is in no way obligated to do so. The second question is whether, due to the structural inequalities that have destroyed the idea of a horizontal internet, this banishment has implications that prevent access at all to the network.

    It seems like overkill, a product of typical right-wing freak outs at even the slightest implication of resistance, to argue that companies refusing to allow for their resources to go to service a far right wing, violent project like Daily Stormer in some way prevents access to the internet. If they had any skills at all they could host their own services, roll them on a hidden service and move from there. To do so, for them, would be to come to terms with the fact that hate speech, like any speech, has consequences, and the consequences here are that everyone thinks they are assholes, and wants nothing to do with them.

    At the core of this question is not a question of speech or even free association, it is a question of the capitalist concentration of power on the internet. Within the internet, as we know it today the service provider has the ability to deny service, and this can have wide reaching implications. It is the ability of the private entity (the ISP, the hosting company, etc) to prevent access, but this is a core issue of a capitalist internet, not one of speech in itself. In other words, the problem has become that the internet, as it exists today, has become a central and core element of human knowledge production and communication, yet is controlled by private companies who wield incredible power. To prevent this from happening we are not speaking of a question of speech purely in itself, but are speaking of a fundamental realignment of the internet around decentralized infrastructure; nothing short of internet revolution. This is something that could and should happen, but falls far outside of the question of speech.

    For as much as they cry and whine about no one liking them, or paying attention to them, for as many toddler level temper tantrums that they will throw, remember, they are a small group of over privileged spoiled brats. Many people, those who can understand simple nuance, support this decision. We always have to keep in mind that our dedication to speech and free expression does not mean that we have to provide infrastructural support for hate speech or tolerate it without consequences.

    1. Very well stated, sir. I would add that the First Amendment protects only the right of an individual to speak free from government interference. This protection does not apply to any other context.

      The free market being what it is, no company is obliged to sell a product or service to anyone. This has certainly been shown to be the case in the matter of some bakery refusing to sell wedding cakes for gay weddings, albeit for religious reasons so dear to the heart of right wingers. If a baker can refuse to sell a cake because of moral objections, then it stands to reason that a provider of internet services can also refuse to sell a service to a client because of moral objections.

    2. Some reasonable questions.
      And despite I think that denying service to Daily Stormer was wrong and very dangerous response, I do like that CEOs of NameCheap and CloudFlare did express that they dont think they should have right to decide who can be their costume and who cant based on politics or based on outrage from public with this shaming culture that become so popular lately.
      In this particular situation things are even more complicated since DS on their main page denounces all violence and some consider whole site as satire. But this isnt that important, DS will do just fine without those companies.

      I see few possible solutions to prevent this slippery slope.
      One is, as recently suggested by Bannon, to regulate big IT companies as utilities, which would force them to accept any customer and moderation would need to be supervised by government. But this solves problem only in US. Companies can move servers or register companies abroad to avoid this and people not in US would not be protected under this.

      Second possible solution would be customers voting with their wallets. So, not using platforms that dont respect free speech. But this doesnt seem it will happen. What is happening is polarization. Major social media has left leaning administration that limits right wing ideas more than left wing. This caused a lot of right wing figure heads to be banned, and start promoting alternative sites. So far it seems to me we will get two echo chamber versions of major social media platforms twitter/gab facebook/minds youtube/vidme… There are few others too. It will be similar polarization as we can see at MSM. And this is in no way good for any side.

      Third and most interesting option is smart coding and encryption, that would technically prevent censorship. There are already some good solutions outhere and many in the making. Three examples:

      nntpchan uses decentralized structure where if some content gets deleted on some nodes, it can still be accessible on other nodes.For some content to be completely delted all nodes admins need to agree to delete it.

      zerobin/sebsauvage/mega uses smart encryption. In this case server has no knowledge of content. Server never sees the decrypted content or keys. With implementation of such system there is no legal way to blame server owner for content on it, since there is no technical way for server owner to decrypt content and check if it might be illegal. Such system can be applied to social media too. And it moves responsibility for posted content from service providers to posters themselves.

      steemit Blog platform build around blockchain. Blockchians integrity checking mechanism assures that nothing can ever be deleted.

      This are three solutions I know about. There are some other whole networks like TOR, freenet, diaspora, i2p, onlyzero… And many other similar projects

    3. Hear, hear!
      This well-informed, well-reasoned comment achieves an elevated goal: providing education and presenting a compelling argument encouraging further effort on the part of the reader.
      The issue it raises needs intelligent, vigorous debate.

  18. Hi Richard, I’ve been following the case of Daily Stormer closely since it got censored, and updating the wikipedia page.

    You might want to get in touch with the Cloudflare CEO Matthew Prince and discuss what’s going on, since it seems you guys are experiencing many similar thoughts over this dilemma. This may be a big turning point in the internet, where your advice will be heard, and you guys have got to get it right.

    I worry that your recommendation for internet-wide extrajudicial rules is going set up the groundwork for a sort of ‘Code of Conduct’ for the entire internet, like we have seen infesting various online projects over the last years. These codes of conduct are typically vague enough that they can be used as a blunt instrument to censor anyone who has less-than-progressive views. The only safe extrajudicial power that I can imagine would be restricted to answering only this question: “Is this website likely to be found illegal in a court of law?”

    Cheers,

  19. I am proud of you Namecheap for pulling the plug on Neo Nazis, thank you Richard, you did the right thing, I am glad i get all my domains from you.

  20. You absolutely have a right to free speech in the US – but that does not give you the right to yell fire in a crowded theater – nor does it give you the right to encourage people to acts of violence. Well done Namecheap.

  21. I’m a racial minority and a (now former) Namecheap customer. Like most sane people, I detest white supremacists. However I find it hypocritical that Namecheap claims to care about network neutrality while at the same time imposing judgments on traffic it doesn’t like.

  22. Very disappointed in you guys. I’ll likely move my domains and hosting elsewhere – if you won’t stand up for a radical political group, how long is my anti-NSA content going to last under you?

  23. Mr Kirkendall, congratulations on having the courage to tackle the forces of hate and evil. ‘Free speech’ is meaningless if it does not protect the powerless, prevent violence, or work towards making this a better planet.

  24. Richard, All I can say is Good Job!!! Tough decision but ultimately the correct thing to do. DO NOT PAY ATTENTION TO THE UNEDUCATED COMMENTS HERE. We will continue to support you.

  25. I’m a Namecheap customer and I think your decision is the right one. As you said, it was existential for your company. There is no way I would allow my domains to be hosted on the same platform as literal Nazis. So thanks for doing the right thing here. And also thank you for your careful considerations of the ramifications of groupthink and public pressure, which may come in the future against organizations who are far more tolerant and reasonable.

    Your standard of “incites violence” is the right standard and a relatively clear one to follow in the future. Good luck with your business!

  26. Been a customer with you guys for 13 years, and I’m really glad you’ve taken this stance on websites that promote hate and murder. Don’t listen to the people saying you are censoring, you’re not. You don’t owe anyone anything, and you’re free to deal with websites that literally wants to kill people as you see fit.

  27. Thanks Namecheap. I’m a current customer and will stay one (as long as you guys can keep my DNSSEC from breaking every two weeks).

    Hate has no place in this world, and it’s nice to see someone making the decision to lessen its impact.

Leave a Reply