A white supremacist website was effectively shut down after one CEO’s order to pull service. Is free speech under threat when a site can be banned from the internet based on ideology?
Michael C. Moynihan, correspondent for “Vice News Tonight” on HBO, joined Glenn on radio Wednesday to talk about his interview with Cloudflare CEO Matthew Prince, who essentially banned the Daily Stormer from the internet by denying service to the Nazi site. Is there any way to make sure private companies stay neutral on free speech without bringing in more government regulation?
“We’ve come into a country that is now so fearful that I think that reason has shut down,” Glenn said.
Cloudflare offers a service that protects websites from denial-of-service attacks, which happen when a site is targeted and overloaded with bad requests. Without being shielded by Cloudflare, sites can be kept offline. A helpful analogy is that Cloudflare is like having security that protects you while you speak in public.
Moynihan talked about the difficult balance between not bringing in more regulation and ensuring that a range of opinion is available on the internet.
“We lurch into this area when companies like Cloudflare, Twitter and Facebook accrue so much power and influence that people say, ‘Hey, you know we really should regulate them like public utilities,’” he said.
Instead, people need to realize that more speech is the answer, not censoring repugnant speech.
“The Nazis should be shut down. I want them shut down, and I want them shut down in debate,” Moynihan said. “I don’t want them shut down by companies or by the government.”
EDITOR'S NOTE: This article provided courtesy of TheBlaze.
David McNew/Getty Images
This is a rush transcript and may contain errors.
GLENN: Only 37 percent of Americans can name any of the rights protected under the First Amendment. There are five of them, by the way. Just in the First Amendment, there are five rights. Can you name all five?
If you can name all five, you are very rare. But only 37 percent can name any of the rights. And this is going become very, very important because there are some things that feel good and there are some things that you just feel like, that’s right. That’s right, as a knee-jerk reaction.
Like, these Nazis have got to be shut up. Yeah, it does feel right, doesn’t it? I mean, I don’t want that. I don’t want the Nazis around me. I don’t agree with the Nazis. The Nazis have led to a lot of, you know, really bad, horrible things. Understatement of the century.
I don’t think they should be able to — wait. Wait. Wait. Because the First Amendment, it’s only there because you need to protect the rights of everybody. And the only right of free speech that really needs protection is the stuff that everybody goes, “Right. We got to shut that down. That’s crazy.”
The CEO of Cloudflare, which is — which controls a lot of who gets on the internet and who doesn’t get on the internet. The CEO’s name is Matthew Prince.
And a few weeks ago, he made a decision by himself to begin to regulate the internet. Michael Moynihan from Vice spoke to him.
VOICE: I found The Daily Stormer repugnant. I am not shedding a tear that that content isn’t online anymore.
But one of my fellow employees came up to me the day that we took it offline and said, “Hey, is this the day the internet dies?”
VOICE: There wasn’t a due process. You woke up one morning, and you said, this is bad, and I’m going to do something about it.
VOICE: The thing that was the tipping point for us was I woke up one day and opened Twitter, and there were a whole bunch of screenshots of some of the people behind the site saying, “Cloudflare actually supports us, and the upper echelons of their leadership are white nationalists.”
VOICE: But that’s easily dismissed, though, isn’t it?
VOICE: You’re absolutely right, but what it had become was such a distraction that we couldn’t have the really important conversation about what role should Cloudflare be playing in regulating the internet. And so I am deeply concerned that I had the authority and the power to wake up one morning and say, “You know what, I’m done. These guys — I’m sick of this. So screw them. They’re off the internet.”
GLENN: That seems like a circus and kind of disturbing. Nobody should have that power.
Michael Moynihan from Vice joins us now. Michael, when you talked to him, I could see your frustration. I could see — I’m watching it — because I’m thinking the same thing you are, “Do you realize what you’re even doing or saying?” What were you left with?
Well, what I was left with was a few things. I mean, I don’t like to ever use the phrase “free speech fundamentalist” because I don’t like to associate the word “fundamentalist” with free speech. But I am somebody who is a free speech absolutist.
Matthew Prince, the CEO of Cloudflare, knew that going in. And I told him, look, I understand why you did it. You’re a private company. You can do what you want.
We lurch into this thing — and you were just talking about the expansion of government power. You know, we lurch into this area when companies like Cloudflare and Twitter and Facebook accrue so much power and influence, that people say, hey, you know, we really should regulate them like public utilities.
You know, I don’t want that at all. And I think Matthew Prince should be able to do what he does.
In one clarification, by the way: Cloudflare doesn’t host anything. Basically what they do is they protect websites. They protect websites from denial of service attacks. And for listeners who don’t know what that is, it’s essentially you can hire people, you can do it yourself, to press a button and to flood a website with bad data to keep it offline.
So Cloudflare will protect you from that and essentially keep you online. So what Matthew Prince did, when he removed that protection from The Daily Stormer, is he said, you know, you guys can go offline at any minute. And it’s sort of effectively what happened.
But, you know, I really like Matthew. I think it’s a fascinating thing that he did wake up and say, “I do have too much power.” Most people who have too much power don’t say that. They — they relish it, and they envy having that much power.
So, you know, I like the fact that he did that. But I don’t buy, to be totally frank, when he says, you know, I just wanted to start the conversation.
Okay. The conversation is started. I’m on Glenn Beck’s radio show talking about it. You are on our program on HBO. Let them back on your network.
No, that’s not going to happen.
And The Daily Stormer — and one must do the throat-clearing thing and say it is the most repugnant website.
GLENN: Oh, it’s awful. It’s awful.
MICHAEL: A series of repugnant, fascist websites, that harass people, troll people, et cetera.
But, you know, they can’t find a home online now. And you do get into some sticky territory. Because when GoDaddy, the enormous company GoDaddy said, “You’re not going to be on our network,” GoDaddy was actually not hosting them. They were a DNS provider. And basically what that means is when you type in “Daily Stormer” into your browser, the DNS provider translates that word into a series of numbers and directs you to it.
So it’s essentially not like we’re not allowing the pedophile to buy a house in our neighborhood. It’s actually taking them off the map and taking the street signs down. But I have a certain amount of faith in the American people and people everywhere that if they see this stuff, they will be repulsed by it and they will be convinced by it.
GLENN: Only 37 percent of the American people can name their rights protected under the First Amendment. What gives you the feeling that — when I see people — I have faith in the American people, are going to stand up against this, when they don’t even know what the First Amendment protects.
MICHAEL: Yeah, I don’t — I mean, I don’t have that much faith in them.
GLENN: Yes, okay. All right.
MICHAEL: Glenn, I want it — they may not have freedom of assembly, but not freedom of petition. Pretty specific things.
GLENN: No, no, no, no. Only 37 percent can name any of the rights.
MICHAEL: Name one. Well, one of the things you’ll notice recently, and it kind of collapsed my confidence in people and kind of their understanding of constitutional rights is this idea that exists in Europe that does not exist in the United States, you know, of hate speech.
MICHAEL: We do have hate crimes, and as a conflation of those things, which I think are also in a way problematic of prosecuting people for the things that are going through their heads when they commit crimes that are already on the statute books. But I routinely talk to people who say, “Hate speech. We can’t have hate speech,” which doesn’t exist. And as you said in your intro, there is a reason that we have First Amendment protections. And most people don’t understand this. And that is not to protect my speech.
MICHAEL: It is to protect the most loathsome speech that is out there. And when we grimace at hearing this stuff, it doesn’t mean that we should take this away because it will influence other people and make them bad people.
The entire purpose of the First Amendment is to protect the speech over repulsive, knuckle-dragging, mouth-breathing psychopaths like those who run The Daily Stormer.
GLENN: So, Michael, what is the answer here? Because we have — we’ve come into a country that is now so fearful, that I think that reason has shut down.
And — and so people are not in a place where they can say, “You know what — I mean, let’s — can I — let’s take it from another angle. Everybody has an opinion. Very few people have a different perspective.”
And that’s important that we look at things with perspective. We’re — it feels too good to say, “The Nazis and Antifa should be shut down,” to the average person. How do you make the case?
MICHAEL: Oh, yeah. No, it feels great to say the Nazis should be shut down. I want them shut down. And I want them shut down in debate. I don’t want them shut down by companies and the government. And what I often hear as comparisons to European countries. And I’ll give you one that is actually quite helpful. The Germans from — in the de-Nazification process from sort of 1945, up until I would say the American occupation ended, was a helpful thing and it was a good thing. And I understand the instinct to ban Nazi symbols, to ban Mein Kampf, to ban Nazi rhetoric, and to ban Nazi-affiliated parties. I mean, been trying to ban the NPD, which is the sort of post-Nazi party for quite a long time.
And they’re pointed to as a success story. Because you cannot have The Daily Stormer on a network if you are Google in Germany. I mean, you have to take it off your search engine.
After Charlottesville, which, you know, was a couple — three, 400 idiots raging through Virginia and making a national and international spectacle, a similar Nazi march happened in Berlin that was larger. And every year, on the anniversary of the bombing of Dresden and on Rudolf Höss’ birthday, Germans take — certain Germans, fascist Germans take to the streets and they march. David Irving’s books are banned in Germany. Holocaust denial is banned in Germany. Nazi symbols are banned in Germany. And the only copy that you can get of Mein Kampf in Germany is one that has been annotated recently by scholars.
So you can’t pick that up and get that on the internet, of course. This has not prevented hatred and fascism from laying down roots again in Germany. And you see this — now, they haven’t been incredibly successful in the political process. But do they exist? They certainly do. And I would say there are more Nazis — my guess, and I’m just going to say, I’m guessing, to sort of preface this — is that proportionally, there are probably more Nazis in all the European countries that ban Nazi propaganda than there are in the United States.
GLENN: So Matthew Prince was hiding behind — in some regard hiding behind. He is a private individual and a private company, I think do have the right to choose who they work with. So we’re balancing a couple of rights here.
MICHAEL: For sure.
GLENN: However, we are —
MICHAEL: I don’t want to have his rights — I don’t want to regulate his rights. No, you’re right.
GLENN: Correct. And I don’t want to either. However, we’re entering a time where Google and Facebook, in particular, they control so much, that, you know, if Google gets up in the morning and says, “You know what, you’re just not going to be able to search for Vice anymore,” depending on who is in power and what is popular, et cetera, et cetera, that’s extraordinarily dangerous. How do you balance this? What is the answer? Have you come up with one?
MICHAEL: Yeah. Well, one of the things — I once pitched a story, and the people at Google gave me a very quick and a very swift no. And I probably should have pitched it a different way.
But I noticed that essentially Google around the time of the innocence of Muslims controversy was acting essentially as a parallel state department. I mean, they were interfacing with foreign governments. They are talking about policy and about what stuff that their citizens can see.
And that gave me, you know, this sort of free speech absolutist, a sort of a chill. And somebody also who doesn’t want the government involved in this and saying what Google can and cannot do.
I do not think they’re a public utility. There are plenty of other options. I mean, if it’s a case — if it’s a monopoly of one internet provider that is, you know, running the show in an entire city, that’s problematic. But, you know, there is Yahoo. There are other search engines out there. But, yeah, there isn’t any easy answer to this, other than to kick up a lot of, you know, dust when this happens. You notice that the ACLU, for instance, has been pilloried by so many people, I think primarily on the left, for saying that these guys that are marching in their jackboots and shaved heads through Charlottesville have the right to do that. I mean, I think the first battle is convincing people, as you said, about understanding constitutional rights. But people do have the right to these opinions. And we have a right to debate them. And we should debate them. I think the biggest problem right now is the fact that, you know — you know, younger people today — and people I talk to routinely, don’t believe that free speech should be an unfettered right. They believe it’s something that should be qualified, if it lurches into the territory of, you know, racism, sexism, homophobia, et cetera. That is my bigger concern. Because I don’t see it — right now, I see, you know, Facebook sort of regulating stuff in their own way, but I see a lot of people going away from Facebook.
I don’t think Facebook is going to be the biggest thing in ten years, much in the way that Internet Explorer doesn’t have to be broken up by the European Union because it was going the way of the dodo. So I think the technology changes. And I think there’s a lot of stuff out there, where people can get this information. It’s not really going anywhere. But I don’t like the mindset. That’s the thing that bugs me the most, is that we really have to get rid of this stuff. If it infects people’s minds, then we’re done.
GLENN: Michael, thank you for your time.