Internet networks and "dangerous websites"

CloudFlare and Free Speech
At CloudFlare we believe in a free and open web. However, we regularly get questions about controversial content that flows through our network. Yesterday we we received the questions below from the about-to-be relaunched European technology blog, ...
Posted by Kromey at 6:54pm Aug 9 '13
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For those who don't know, CloudFlare is a network that aims to deliver improved performance and protection against DDoS (including the non-malicious kind, such as the well-known "Slashdotted"), among other benefits. But you don't really need to know that; all you need to know is that CloudFlare is a network through which information flows freely, much like the internet at large, and that it sits between the internet at large and the websites of its customers -- you visit a CloudFlare-enabled website (such as my own blog), you're looking at data that has come through their network.

Read the blog post on the link. Then come back here. I'll wait.

...You've read it now? No? Don't be lazy! Go read it! It's not long, and I'll still be here when you're done.

Okay, now that you've read it, what did you think?

I, for one, applaud CloudFlare's response. But more than that -- I see a dangerous and, yes I'll say it, creepy prejudice and bias overt in this "reporter's" questions. A prejudice that a private company such as CloudFlare should be policing the speech that flows across the network; nevermind the technical hurdles needed to be overcome to do that, that's not the role we ever want private companies to be in. What's next, asking ISPs to censor "dangerous" websites?

I myself -- on this site, no less! -- have been accused of holding and spreading "dangerous" ideas. At the same time, I've seen views expressed here that I find to be "dangerous". And there's the rub -- what defines "dangerous" speech?

The problem is that defining "dangerous" speech inherently results in putting a person in charge of deciding what can and cannot be said. And that, inevitably, will lead to decisions that others find capricious or arbitrary.

What then happens when it becomes dubbed "dangerous" to criticize decisions about what is and is not "dangerous"?

But there's another dangerous idea inherent behind this "reporter's" questions, namely that private companies should be making those decisions for the rest of us what is and is not "dangerous". It only takes a few companies in the right places to decide that, for example, MAIG's rhetoric is "dangerous" for them to all but disappear entirely from political discourse.

Just imagine what the gun control debate would look like if the companies controlling the backbone of the internet decided that anti-gun groups like MAIG and Brady Campaign were "dangerous" and censored them; their ideas would all but completely vanish from the internet -- which is also responsible these days for conveying what you see on TV or read in the paper -- leaving the NRA and the NGOA entirely unopposed!

While it's incontrovertible that the Founding Fathers couldn't have foreseen the development of the internet, nor the leaps in egalitarian free speech it brought, it's nonetheless common sense that they intended the First Amendment to protect all forms of speech. Even for you foreigners out there, surely you can see the value in protecting free speech, and not censoring ideas just because someone somewhere finds them "dangerous".

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