Monday, October 08, 2018

Well before Charlottesville, a web host had taken down a very extreme anti-gay site; are "hate speech" provisions a slippery slope?



In August 2017 there was a minor epidemic of a few extremist right wing (or white supremacist) websites being blacklisted from domain name registrars and webhosts after complaints, particularly with regard to insulting material of the murder victim, but also some other content.

We’re becoming familiar with occasions where social media companies suspend accounts for harassment or for hate speech (which it particularly connected to the extreme right in most cases) but this is also possible with web hosting companies, which have AUP’s but which are supposed to be a lot more neutral than social media companies.
  
In fact, this has happened with LGBT issues.  Back in 2011, a fundamentalist “Christian” site called “Christchurchquake dot net” had published generally offensive material blaming gays and lesbians for the 2011 New Zealand earthquakes.  (Imagine that in Indonesia now, with the scenes of liquified earth.)  Some news stories, at least UK Pink News, had reported the extremist content and published the “abuse” content to the web hosting company, Bluehost, to which thousands of readers responded.
     
The site was taken down.  Domain Tools shows that the domain name has been deleted and is available.

Yet in 2016 Pink News and BBC reported similar content, again, apparently after more quakes? 

While the original content must have been outlandish and so crude and silly that it would have been ignored by most visitors, activists have become very protective in wanting companies (that make profits off user content) to shut down content which urges unstable people into violence.  True, most hosts have AUP’s that prohibit targeting people (including recognized suspect classes) so they could act if reported.

Yet, we are moving away from a libertarian view where only the direct perpetrator of a violent act is to be punished for his crimes.  We obviously see this with the gun control debate.
  
Yet interpreting what is “hate speech” can be a very slippery slope indeed. While this case seems to have no rebuttal, consider the claims made in the early 1980s (before HIV or HTLV-III were identified) made by the religious right (especially in Texas) that gay men practicing chain-letter sex could, in some sci-fi scenarios we could imagine, later endanger the entire population. (There was Kimberly Bergalis, after all.)  That claim could not be seen as completely incorrect based on the knowledge at the time.

Westboro Baptist Church's site ("God Hates Fags", which I won't link to) is still up and rated green by Trend Micro.

And Tueday USA Today recalled the murder of Matthew Shepard in Wyoming in 1998, here. 

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