Hosting or serving up content on the worldwide web used to be a simple matter of putting together a reliable server farm and connecting it to the internet. You asked customers not to do anything obviously illegal, or else they'd be disconnected.

Not so in 2017, thanks to the growing number of hate sites on the internet making life difficult for content hosters.

Any of the companies that sit between you and the content that is being accessed have tried for the longest time to be seen as neutral carriers.

There are very good reasons for that, too. Policing content is a nightmare on multiple levels, legal, privacy, political and commercial and providers have to walk on eggshells here.


This is unfortunately true even for a revolting neo-Nazi website like the Daily Stormer which after the Charlottesville death and mayhem found itself without any takers to host it in the United States and around the world.

You'd think that it would be a no-brainer to dump Daily Stormer and not look back because no sane person can defend a site dedicated to racism, bigotry, misogyny, intolerance and just plain awful material.

Ridiculous as it seems, disconnecting hate sites can have unintended consequences as they could strengthen authorities' and judiciaries' cases for policing content. That means content that's not necessarily offensive, but inconvenient material that those who oppose it want to suppress.

Cloudflare is a company that passes a large amount of internet traffic between its hardened and capacious proxy network, and the servers protected by it that would otherwise melt if they were directly exposed to the denial of service wrath of the internet.

Daily Stormer was kicked off Cloudflare not because the company decided it was their role to police content. Instead Cloudflare chief executive Matthew Prince got fed up with accusations that his company supported neo-Nazis like Daily Stormer, and pulled the plug on the site.

Afterwards, Prince was uneasy that the disconnection might have been a mistake, and digital lobby group Electronic Frontier Foundation agreed. Is this the slippery slope towards the end of free expression on the internet?

Neither Cloudflare nor EFF are neo-Nazi sympathisers but it's easy to see why they are wary about disconnecting even the vilest of sites, in case it amounts to a policing precedent that's used to remove legitimate political dissension.

What's more, booting the Nazis off the "normal" internet such as Google properties and domain name registrars only went that far to make their site unreachable.

They are now found via The Onion Router (TOR) anonymising network, which can be used to access almost every single dodgy thing on the internet, as well as allowing journalists and human rights activists facing deadly oppression to communicate.

Ironically, TOR was devised by the United States military and intelligence community to secure and anonymise their communications.

It is enormously difficult for society to decide where the limits of expression are. Even Germany of all countries struggles with outlawing Nazism completely, for fear of harming legitimate discussion that could help combat extremism.

That's the Achilles heel of democracy, unfortunately. The best we can do to stop online extremists is most likely to forcefully spread tolerance and understanding to make sure intolerance and bigotry don't take root.

Even so, it's tempting to join in and punch a Nazi, isn't it?