For some white supremacist and neo-Nazi groups, operating online has become much harder in the wake of last week's "Unite the Right" protests in Charlottesville, Virginia, that resulted in violent clashes between extremist groups and counterprotesters.
They are being booted off or locked out of their websites. Some can no longer blog. Their electronic payment systems are being canceled. Even their music can’t be heard.
On Thursday, the Daily Stormer, a neo-Nazi and white supremacist news site and one of the organizers of last weekend’s demonstrations, was reportedly ejected from a Russian internet domain provider that was hosting its site. Its removal came at the request of Russia's internet watchdog, according to the French news agency.
The Daily Stormer had recently turned to the Russian firm after being knocked offline by its U.S. providers, first GoDaddy and then Google. As of Thursday night, the Daily Stormer was not online.
That laissez-faire approach appeared to be changing after last weekend’s demonstrations prompted by the rally's violence and the recognition that extremist groups rely on a host of digital services to organize. But the shift comes with great ambivalence.
CloudFlare, which makes websites secure and fast, decided to stop serving the Daily Stormer. But it wasn’t an easy decision, wrote Matthew Prince, the firm’s chief executive. “Someone on our team asked after I announced we were going to terminate the Daily Stormer: ‘Is this the day the internet dies?’”
On Thursday, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a nonprofit that advocates for civil liberties in the digital world and one that has stood with tech companies in its battles with the U.S. government on surveillance, criticized the tech companies’ actions.
“We strongly believe that what GoDaddy, Google and Cloudflare did here was dangerous,” the organization wrote in a statement on its blog.
Tech companies, with few competitors, increasingly have more power to control online speech, EFF wrote, and “the consequences of their decisions have far-reaching impacts on speech around the world."
While Google, GoDaddy and Cloudflare refused to host the Daily Stormer site, other extremist groups and supporters were affected in other ways, such as where they could stay, how they exchanged money and the music they listened to.
Ahead of the protests, Airbnb banned users from staying in Charlottesville if it appeared they were coming for the protests.
PayPal said it does not allow groups such as the Ku Klux Klan or neo-Nazi groups engaged in “activities that promote hate, violence or racial intolerance” to use its service for processing payments. Apple Pay also pulled its services for groups selling far-right merchandise.
Spotify removed “hate bands” from its service.