The notorious website kiwi farms is no longer being protected by Cloudflare’s CDN (Content Delivery Network). This means that it is itself subject to DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) attacks and other cybersecurity risks.
It’s been a long time coming. I agree with Ryan Broderick’s take on this, that websites are like street corners, and it helps them to be conceptualised as such.
Prince said that Cloudflare’s security services, many of which are free and are used by an estimated 20 percent of the entire internet, should be thought of as a utility. “Just as the telephone company doesn’t terminate your line if you say awful, racist, bigoted things, we have concluded in consultation with politicians, policy makers, and experts that turning off security services because we think what you publish is despicable is the wrong policy,” Prince wrote.
Which is a good line. I’m sure people who are old enough to remember when telephones weren’t computers love it. But I’m not really sure it works here. Telephones are not publishing platforms, nor are they searchable public records. Comparing a message board that has around nine million visitors a month to someone saying something racist on the telephone is, actually, nuts.
But, more broadly, I don’t even think this is a free speech issue. Cloudflare isn’t a government entity and it’s not putting Kiwi Farms members in jail. In fact, it seems like some users have done that themselves. A German woman seems to have accidentally exposed her real identity amid the constant migration of the site and now may be charged for cyberstalking. Instead, Cloudflare, a private company, has removed their protection from the site, which allows activists and hackers to DDoS it, taking it down.
Websites are not similar to telephones. They are not even similar to books or magazines. They are street corners, they are billboards, they are parks, they are shopping malls, they are spaces where people congregate. Just because you cannot see the (hopefully) tens of thousands of other people reading this blog post right now doesn’t mean they’re not there. And that is doubly true for a user-generated content platform. And regardless of the right to free speech and the right to assemble guaranteed in America, if the crowd you bring together in a physical space starts to threaten people, even if they’re doing it in the periphery of your audience, the private security company you hired as crowd control no longer has to support you. To me, it’s honestly just that simple.
Image: Karol Smoczynski | Unsplash