Electronic Frontier Foundation slams tech companies for banning neo-Nazis

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The EFF are big proponents of online free speech.
Photo: EFF

The Electronic Frontier Foundation criticized tech companies that took action against white supremacist groups in the wake of deadly clashes in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Quick to take a stand against hate groups, tech companies removed some neo-Nazi groups’ access to web servers and online services. But the EFF issued a statement reminding them of the slippery slope of censorship.

“All fair-minded people must stand against the hateful violence and aggression that seems to be growing across our country,” the EFF said. However, the free speech group warned that tactics used to silence neo-Nazis could also be used against others, “including people whose opinions we agree with.”

The importance of free speech

“Protecting free speech is not something we do because we agree with all of the speech that gets protected,” a blog post by the EFF states. “We do it because we believe that no one — not the government and not private commercial enterprises — should decide who gets to speak and who doesn’t.”

The EFF’s blog post (which also includes some recommendations you can read here) was prompted by the decision of GoDaddy and Google to refuse to manage the domain registration for The Daily Stormer, a neo-Nazi website. Other companies that took action against similar sites include Uber, Facebook, Twitter, MailChimp, WordPress and Airbnb.

As Reuters notes:

“The blog post reflected years-long tension in Silicon Valley, where many company executives want to distance themselves from extremists but are concerned that picking and choosing what is acceptable on their platforms could invite more regulation from governments.”

Apple and the EFF

The EFF did not mention Apple in the post, although Cupertino also made moves to hamstring online hate speech. Specifically, Apple disabled Apple Pay support on three websites selling sweaters with Nazi symbols, “White Pride” paraphernalia and other offensive items.

While Apple didn’t issue an official statement about the decision, the company highlighted guidelines for Apple Pay, forbidding its use on sites that promote hate, intolerance and violence. In 2014, Apple removed songs from iTunes that the Southern Poverty Law Center referred to as “hate music.”

Apple has, at various times, argued on the same side and against the EFF on various issues. Most recently, the EFF supported Apple’s pro-privacy stance in Cupertino’s battle against the FBI. The EFF awarded Apple a full five stars in its “Who Has Your Back?” privacy report.