In the wake of the violent confrontations in Charlottesville, Virginia, that culminated in the slaying of Heather Heyer, the massive web host company GoDaddy is telling neo-Nazi site Daily Stormer to go pound sand.
In a tweet over the weekend, subsequently confirmed as accurate, GoDaddy told the site to go find a new host for their white nationalist content. A Daily Stormer post about Heyer's death insulted her and said people are "glad she is dead"; the host company ruled that this violated its terms. A spokesman told The Washington Post that the article, coming right on the heels of the protests, could "incite additional violence."
GoDaddy has been under pressure to stop hosting sites that spout "hate speech," but it had resisted the idea, citing the First Amendment as a reason to keep hosting racist content. But since GoDaddy is a private company, it doesn't have to use the First Amendment as a guidepost. The First Amendment restricts government censorship, not media or Internet hosting site censorship. Invoking the First Amendment here is a way for the company to establish that it's going to attempt to take all comers and to serve as many people as it can, as long as they're willing to pay.
But if GoDaddy does not want to play host to these hateful messages, it's absolutely the company's right to say no. That's what freedom of association is all about. GoDaddy should not have to play host to content it finds offensive or abhorrent.
That's one good reason to keep web hosting in the hands of private companies and not turn the internet into a government-managed utility. If, for example, GoDaddy had to operate as though it were a government agency, it might be required to prove that Daily Stormer's piece insulting Heyer meets a legal threshold for incitement. As a private company, GoDaddy can decide for itself what counts as instigation.
And if freedom of association is a right for GoDaddy, then it's a right for everybody. GoDaddy shouldn't have to host Nazis. T-shirt companies shouldn't be required by the government to print gay pride messages if they don't approve. Office Depot shouldn't be required to make photocopies of anti-abortion fliers.
It's not a perfect solution. In fact, it's a very messy solution, one where people often use social pressure and public outrage as a way to try to influence company behavior. GoDaddy's decision came after people tweeted at them to ask whether they would do anything about the Daily Stormer's postings. At other times people have tried to get other people fired for expressing opinions they don't like, as we saw with Google.
It's nevertheless preferable to solutions that involve the government, because once the government is involved, resolving the conflict becomes a matter of using force, not influence and social pressure. Police in the United Kingdom and Germany have responded to hate speech by raiding people's homes and arresting them. That's not a better solution. Not only does this create the extremely obvious problem that a person's speech limits will be determined by whoever is in control of the government (spoiler: It's not you), but it also increases the likelihood that somebody will be injured or killed by police during these interactions.
So regardless of whether any particular person agrees that GoDaddy made the right choice to dump these guys, we should support their right to do so. And we should perhaps keep that in mind when other businesses don't want to play a role in producing or carrying messages with which they do not agree.
UPDATE: Daily Stormer attempted to move its hosting to Google, but now Google is also rejecting them on the grounds of the site violating their terms of service.