Protect Internet Companies' Freedom to Refuse to Host Racists, or Anyone Else They Don't Like

If government censorship is the fear, then we must protect private free association.


Matthew Prince
Li Yuze Xinhua News Agency/Newscom

When I edited a small-town newspaper, I eventually ended up rejecting letters to the editor from an elderly gentleman who had many interesting things to say about the issues of the day. He was, in some ways, a boon to the op-ed page—online commenting has completely demolished the number letters sent to many news outlets.

But he was also a bigot, and this became obvious and more overt once Barack Obama was elected president. The final straw was a letter explaining how he could tell walking into a house that black people lived there based on the way the house smelled. I would run no more letters from him. I informed my publisher and he agreed.

We deprived him from a platform of communication and we didn't regret it one bit. The impact in this case was small—the growth of the Internet means that there are plenty of other ways to get your message out when the local media tell you no. But that didn't used to be the case. Go back 30 years, and the average American's ability to communicate ideas to the larger public was much more limited. Yet newspaper editors regularly censored or refused to run letters to the editor they felt were in bad taste.

There was never any question that newspapers had the authority to make those calls. The First Amendment is very clear here.

Now that mass communication has moved online, a whole new crop of companies have the power to decide whether to host controversial content. They don't see themselves as "media outlets." They're just hosts and service providers. Traditionally they have not cared what people are saying.

But in the wake of the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, some of these companies are making the same decisions that old-fashioned media outlets have made in the past. They have decided that they do not want to provide their services to neo-Nazi outlets like The Daily Stormer. Earlier in the week GoDaddy and Google booted the white supremacist site as customers. The CEO of CloudFlare, a service that helps protect sites from cyberattacks, subsequently decided abruptly to dump Daily Stormer as a customer.

Now the CEO, Matthew Prince, has some regrets. He's concerned about betraying his neutrality as a service provider, about the potential consequences of taking sides in a highly charged political debate, and about his own power, saying at one point: "Literally, I woke up in a bad mood and decided someone shouldn't be allowed on the Internet. No one should have that power."

Fortunately, Prince doesn't actually have that power. CloudFlare is a major player, but it does have competition, and it's competition that should resolve this fear. Going back to the newspaper example: When enough people in a community felt like their local newspaper didn't serve them well enough, it created the environment for rival newspapers to pop up and thrive. The entire alternative newsweekly industry exists because traditional dailies were not meeting a younger, more liberal readership's needs.

If Prince were to get so drunk on his power that he starts cutting ties with customers willy-nilly, that wouldn't just be bad for the customers. It would be bad for CloudFlare, because it would lose business to its competitors. There's a subtext to Prince's statements, one that suggests that what he really wants is not to be seen as responsible for controversial corporate decisions.

The idea that a handful of companies have complete control over whether or not you can communicate your beliefs online creates a significant tension around the issue of censorship. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is worried that careless censorship by companies will bolster the efforts by governments to turn these decisions into demands.

It is true that we should be very, very concerned about government censorship. Germany, for example, would be happy to force every online service to reject Daily Stormer as a customer. And if these neo-Nazis had been writing in Germany, cops would have been busting down their doors and arresting them.

But a lengthy blog post expressing EFF's concerns hits an odd spot very early on:

Protecting free speech is not something we do because we agree with all of the speech that gets protected. We do it because we believe that no one—not the government and not private commercial enterprises—should decide who gets to speak and who doesn't.

There's a big problem with this argument. There is no outcome to a speech conflict (or really any conflict that involves liberty) that doesn't involve either the government or a private enterprise making a decision. A newspaper (a private commercial enterprise) decides what letters to run, what news stories to run, which quotes to use, and even who writes for them. The government determines when speech crosses over into incitement, libel, or another form of unprotected expression.

There are few decisions about the transmission of speech to a broader audience that are not subject to either private or government participation. Post a note on a bulletin board at a laundromat? The shop's owner gets to decide if it stays. Yell on a public street corner about how we're all going to hell? The government will protect that speech. Probably.

Further into the post, EFF takes a more nuanced position: What they really want is a more transparent process open to appeals before an internet service cuts off a customer's ability to communicate.

That would certainly be a better business practice than how Prince decided to approach The Daily Stormer. But it is still CloudFlare's decision. Prince and his colleagues can put a new process in place, but it's still their process. They are still deciding who gets a platform. They are not surrendering the right to freedom of association, and they absolutely shouldn't surrender that right.

Embedded within EFF's argument is the idea that if companies involved in domain registering and hosting start making decisions about customers based on politics, then governments will follow suit and invoke the authority to do the same. And indeed, we're seeing that play out in Europe. YouTube and Google announced a crackdown on extremist content in order to satisfy government demands, and we're already seeing the censorship of journalism and research as a consequence.

But that's precisely why organizations like EFF should be defending Prince's right to make these decisions. If the point of free speech is to defend controversial speech, the point of freedom of association is to defend controversial associations. If people with a financial stake in CloudFlare don't like Prince's choices, they are the ones who should make him change them or dump him.

Freedom cannot merely mean that companies must follow a certain process before dumping customers. That's not freedom. I might not have made the same decision Prince made, but he was well within his rights as the CEO of CloudFlare to do so.

NEXT: In Defense of Lenin Statues and Canyon of Heroes Plaques

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  1. I’m sorry, but we need net neutrality.

    The internet is a public utility. We can’t let them choose who gets bandwidth and who doesn’t, any more than we can turn off a racist’s water.

    So, sorry, but we have to give every racist fascist equal bandwidth rights.

    For the sake of a fair and equal internet… and democracy.

    1. Net Neutrality, once you strip away the fearmongering hypotheticals, is nothing more than welfare for geeks. They want to stream their Game of Thrones for the same price grandma pays to get access to her email. Even though streaming videoaccounts for the overwhelming content flowing through the internet tubes.

      Phone data plans can do this. You pay for the data you use. Use more pay more. But not regular internet. Due to quirk of history, people pay for access and speed, but not for usage. Then people scream for gub’ment to stop any changes. Charge more for expensive packets? People cry to gub’ment. Charge more for more use? People cry to gub’ment. LOWER rates for your customer? Cry to gub’ment because not fair that some get stuff cheaper. It’s crazy.

      All because of some crazy conspiracy what-ifs that have never happened. “But then I might have to pay more than grandma pays if I want to stream Game of Thrones in HD!!! Can’t let eebil capitalism rape me like that!!! Want moar gub’ment!!!”

      1. Mr. Buck, you’ve confusing two completely different service pricing strategies. One is related to the quantity of data transferred, the other to the speed at which data is delivered to you.

        If you pay for 2GB of data per month, it doesn’t matter how quickly that data is transferred; when it’s done, it’s done. You buy more or you wait for next month.

        If you pay for 1MB per second, you can use that every second of every day of the month. Period.

        Don’t confuse them– you run the very real risk of confusing yourself and others.

      2. You very clearly have no idea what net neutrality means, like seemingly 99% of people who choose to argue for or against it on the internet

        1. The key feature of net neutrality that Reddit seems to care about is price discrimination or access discrimination on the basis of content or origin.

          They say they don’t want Netflix to be forced to pay a premium for reliable service, because that premium will be passed on to consumers. Nevermind that this already happens.

          What they really worry about is throttling of BitTorrent.

          1. My main issue with NN is that it’s not really a problem at the moment. We don’t need to “fix” something that isn’t broken. It would more likely backfire.

    2. We need free speech, no matter how disagreeable it is to others. We do not want to drive these people underground. With free speech these people expose themselves for what they are, rather than build a larger group of disaffected individuals we have no idea what they are up too/

      1. “We do not want to drive these people underground. ”

        Yes we do.

  2. I agree, but it’s an alarming thing when private companies fold quickly to public pressure when we’re talking free expression. There’s a whole buttload of the progressive left and the alt-right that are anti-“Zionist.” Are pro-Israel, pro-Jewish sites next to be denied service?

    It may be right to let private companies deny a platform for disseminating speech at their discretion, but is this a culture we’d want to live in? Especially people with minority views?

    1. It’s a terrible idea, but they are free to do truly terrible things.

      But we the people can also seek to have our government cut ALL perks to them — including protection for their rampant information harvesting and selling — and let them enjoy life.

    2. If it’s ok for google, who arguably has close to a practical monopoly, why is it not ok for florists, bakers, and photographers?

      If Nazis are evil and must be banned, why do governments employ Marxians by the boatload in universities, when Marxians murderd ten times as many people as Nazis did in the last century?

      It’s the hypocrisy which infuriates me. A pox on them all.

      1. “If Nazis are evil and must be banned, why do governments employ Marxians by the boatload in universities”
        Let’s pretend I accept your characterization for a moment.

        They do that, because few people who are qualified to teach after interested in doing so. As much as libertarian and conservatives like to complain about “liberal” or “Marxist” teachers, none are willing to start their own universities, and Free are willing to their their hats into the ring.

        1. Food dang autocorrect.
          “Qualified to teach *are* interested in doing so”
          “*Few* are willing to *throw* their hats into the ring”

        2. So if Nazis were the only ones qualified to teach, say, German history 1933-1945, would they be hired?

          Hell no, because their version of history would be warped precisely because they are Nazis. So it is with Marxists. They espouse an ideology which has consistently failed, even is failing right now, and which murdered ten times as many people as Nazis. Does that excuse hiring them, especially to teach the very subjects they have demonstrated failure in (economics, political theory, sociology, …)?

          Liek I said, it’s the sheer hypocrisy which galls me. People like you excuse followers of mass murderers, and whether you personally want to ban Nazis, too many Marxists and their followers do.

        3. Yes, because a job where one can basically not get fired is one nobody wants.

          That conservatives know, from the word go, that they have basically no shot at tenure puts them at the same level as Jewish kids going to Ivy League schools long ago.

          1. Conservatives are good at math and realize during graduate school that almost no one has a shot at tenure. Only the delusional marxists continue on, so they swell the ranks of both full professors and adjunct faculty.

        4. Marxists aren’t qualified to teach social sciences any more than creationists are to teach biology.

          There are plenty of racialists who are willing to teach these fields too, Steve Sailor, Jared Taylor types, who are at least no less wrong or idiotic than garden variety Marxists professors. You’re head is in your ass if you think the prevalence of Marxists on the public payroll is bevause ‘well gosh, everyone who understands sociology is a Marxist.’ While I don’t doubt Marxists believe that, it’s demonstrably insipid.

    3. I’m not sure what you’re suggesting. First, removal of a specific platform is not the same as denying freedom of speech. But, more to the point, are you saying that if the KKK wants to run a commercial on ESPN that ESPN shouldn’t have the right to say no? Or are you saying that they should have the right, but they shouldn’t use that option?

      I’m not trying to be a dick or create strawman versions of your argument… just trying to figure out what you would propose.

      1. I realize you weren’t replying to me, but my answer would be that it should be just as valid for florists, bakers, and photographers to reject some customers.

  3. If only Reason were so concerned about free association in person, instead of just online.

    1. Could you elaborate for those of us who have no idea what you’re referring to?

      1. Some of the reason authors are ok with jailing florists and bakers because gays.

    2. The Reason Foundation did file an amicus brief at the Supreme Court in support of the bakers. So, Zeb was right all along. Damn you, Zeb

  4. One of the good things about free speech is that it lets you know where people stand. Like the bigoted old man writing letters to the editor – was your readership better off not knowing that their neighbor was bigoted? If you’re a racist hatemonger, I’d just as soon you proudly wear that evidence in public so I can know to avoid you. Would Cloudflare maybe have been better off keeping the Stormers website right where everybody can see it and know just who and what these people are? Now they’re hidden, they’re harder to spot. I’d just as soon they stay someplace where people can keep an eye on them.

    1. This is why reasonable people want to ban free speech. It also lets people of similar views more easily find each other and eventually form their own private army to overthrown the government and put everyone else into concentration camps.

  5. One problem is that once you start down this road, you’ve now set the expectation that any web host (or any other business) that does business with the Daily Stormer and its ilk therefore tacitly endorses them to some extent. After all, if it becomes the “normal” thing to do to refuse to do business with people whose views you find abhorrent, then businesses will be guilty by association with any unsavory groups they do business with.

    So yes, the company has every right to tell the nitwits at the Daily Stormer to go pound sand, but it definitely is worth asking whether this sort of thing is a good thing in the grand scheme of things. It’s probably even a bad thing for the company itself as it now is subject to scrutiny over _everyone_ it chooses to host.

    1. It’s probably even a bad thing for the company itself as it now is subject to scrutiny over _everyone_ it chooses to host.

      You can bet that as we speak there is an army of basement-dwelling black bloc nerds scouring the internet to find out who’s hosting every wrongthinking site out there. This is most successful way to stamp out bad thought they’ve come up with in decades. Nobody’s going to host the bad guys ever again, because the one company left to stand up to them will simply be put of business.

      1. “stand up to them (the black bloc nerds)”

        1. I don’t know what black bloc means but I’m calling “RACIST”.

          1. Same as “antifa”. I went with “black bloc” for some alliteration fun that mostly didn’t survive my half-assed editing.

      2. Actually, this sounds like a business opportunity. I could charge a premium for not giving a shit.

        I am really good at not giving a shit. My wife isn’t as good at being an asshole, but she could run a server… Hmmm…

    2. Yes, Google and GoDadfy have given up their claims to being a neutral party, which may be more important in the kind of business they are in. Can any of their customers trust that they will not be thrown off because of a sudden shift in public perception? It is not a question of legal or illegal, but is it right for selling the service they provide?

      1. They gave up their claim to neutrality long ago when they stopped accepting firearms business.

        1. GoDaddy accepts firearms businesses.

      2. As it turns out, GoDaddy sucks and no one should be doing business with them anyway.

      3. I’ve shifted my email from google after they started deleting/suspending everything Google based on a person’s comments on Youtube or for no apparent reason (Jordan Peterson).

        I was going to register more domains with Godaddy (they are pretty cheap), but won’t now that I know how quickly they’ll fold (and screw the customer out of the remainder of their subscription).

        Cloudflare will obviously never get my business now that I know how they operate.

    3. Once you start?

      Someone hasn’t been paying attention. Baking a cake had been”participation” for something like a decade. Treating a sick kid has been “endorsement” of the parents. And so-on.

      You guys have been defending this “path”, where commercial transactions are affirmation, for quite a while now. It’s both weird and late to worry *now* when it’s Nazis and white supremacists on the receiving end.

      1. What on earth are your talking about? Public accommodation laws apply to cake baking but not provision of other services apparently, and that contradictions hurts, not helps, your case.

        And treating a sick kid for what? You’re not making sense.

    4. The other problem is that companies like Google have become gigantic. If Standard Oil was too big, isn’t Google?

      1. Exactly (and Google is now a trust as it controls YouTube, Gmail, Google Maps as well).

        Break up Google, break up Facebook, break up Twitter. Restore competition to these markets.

  6. “When I edited a small-town newspaper, I eventually ended up rejecting letters to the editor from an elderly gentleman who had many interesting things to say about the issues of the day. He was, in some ways, a boon to the op-ed page?online commenting has completely demolished the number letters sent to many news outlets.

    But he was also a bigot, and this became obvious and more overt once Barack Obama was elected president. The final straw was a letter explaining how he could tell walking into a house that black people lived there based on the way the house smelled. I would run no more letters from him. I informed my publisher and he agreed.”

    Nothing controversial here. You were specifically in the business of ideas, so the old man’s ideas were relevant. It was your job to decide what was newsworthy. I was your job to judge what letters represented a rational contribution and what letters didn’t. The only thing wrong here is that apparently you black-balled him, when you should have accepted/rejected his letters on an individual basis.

    1. The only thing wrong here is that apparently you black-balled him, when you should have accepted/rejected his letters on an individual basis.

      Oh, that’s all. The *only thing* was rejecting all his letters, instead of just some.

      He admitted the guy was a boon to their op-ed page, but he was an Heretic, so *regardless* of the quality of the thoughts expressed in the letters, “we deprived him from a platform of communication”.

      Deprive *him*. Not even deprived his *bigotry* a platform. Denied *him* a platform.

      Banish the Heretic!

      You ready and eager to have everyone play by those rules?

  7. It’s funny watching people who have yelled ‘muh..Nazi cakes’ now actually defend Nazis and the people who said ‘muh..bigots’ suddenly and conveniently virtue signal about freedom of association.


    1. This seems like a great time to discuss true freedom of association…but nah.

  8. So what happens when Goolog et alia decide to cut off cannabis advocates because they are subverting our youth? Or 2nd Amendment advocates because they are causing “gun violence?” Or maybe cut off Reason because Reason promotes subversive ideas about liberty?

    I’ll also note that there is a heck of a difference between a small town newspaper and a media mega-giant like Goolog. A small town newspaper will have competition from local and national newspapers, as well as assorted other print media. But how does the market provide an alternative to the social media giants?

    Reason just may be writing the epithet for our liberties.

    Good going…

    1. Goolog

      Awesome new Soviet search site? Intentional? Unintentional?

      1. It sounds like an awful dessert the mother-in-law brought over for Christmas dinner.

    2. But how does the market provide an alternative to the social media giants?

      There literally isn’t another single search engine on the whole Internet. And nobody is allowed to build one either.

      I’m reminded of the nitwit who was whining the other morning about being forced to look at Pepe memes. He had to see them every day because people put them on the website that he can’t possibly stop using. And it’s even worse because he doesn’t have a job so he’s stuck on that website all day.

      1. Right, because building a search engine from scratch is so cheap.

        It took Google 10 years to become profitable and they didn’t have a much bigger competitor.

        Some industries/markets inherently favor consolidation. Search, social media, online video are examples.

      2. This is just another example of the Government using a 3rd party to take away peoples rights. The government assigns a monopoly, the ‘private’ business who obtains the monopoly then gets free reign to shit on everyone’s rights because they’re ‘private.’

        This is so basic and blatant. I can’t believe that no one is up in arms over this.

    3. Well, if you’re that worried about a single company dominating the market that much, there is this thing called “anti-trust law” you could come around on.

      1. I would argue the opposite: instead we should eliminate regulations or tax laws that effectively favor established companies over new ones, so as to clear the way for market entry and competition.

        But I guess that’ unsatisfying when you see regulation as an end in itself.

        1. A solid libertarian answer.

          Also only effective at preventing monopolies if the humans running businesses stop acting like humans, and start acting like some libertarian ethical ideal.

      2. anti trust law only applies to artificial monopolies. You are allowed to grow one organically.

  9. The final straw was a letter explaining how he could tell walking into a house that black people lived there based on the way the house smelled. I would run no more letters from him. I informed my publisher and he agreed.

    Did he at least make a fried chicken joke in that letter?

    I think neutrality makes more sense. As I’ve said, once you stop being totally neutral, you’re implicitly supporting anything you put on your service.

    1. As I’ve said, once you stop being totally neutral, you’re implicitly supporting anything you put on your service.

      Just because you’ve said that doesn’t mean you’ve been right.

      1. $parkY, if a company shows that there are things they will not host because it is offensive, anything they do host, by definition, is not offensive — correct?

        Does this logic somehow not make any sense?

        1. $parkY, if a company shows that there are things they will not host because it is offensive, anything they do host, by definition, is not offensive — correct?

          No. You’re arguing that torturing animals is not offensive because a company won’t host hardcore porn sites but will host a site where people post videos of themselves torturing their pets.

          1. You could also says that Nazis are offensive and since porn isn’t banned then porn is not offensive.

            1. Or that porn is offensive but Nazis aren’t.

        2. Only if “offensive” is a Boolean value and not a gradient.

          It’s quite possible to say “we’ll host offensive content that doesn’t cross a line”.

          1. Only if “offensive” is a universally objective Boolean value and not a gradient.

          2. What if ‘offensive’ is purely subjective?

            1. … and? It’s their standards to apply. Other people can reach as they wish. If the reaction is big and negative enough, the company may course-correct.

              Why are you suddenly acting that routine business/public relations that have been going on forever will break down because of a new (and routine) incident?

        3. Soarky doesn’t get it.

          1. My ‘o’s identify as ‘p’s.

    2. Not necessarily: it just means you think what you’re publishing is ‘socially acceptable.’

      That’s fine and fairly easy to say ‘taxes should be raised’ and ‘taxes should be lowered’ are both acceptable even though one must be wrong. It’s when one gets to ‘kill all blacks’ or ‘women are stupid’ are unacceptable but ‘kill all whites’ or ‘men are stupid’ are acceptable.

  10. “They don’t see themselves as “media outlets.” They’re just hosts and service providers. Traditionally they have not cared what people are saying.”

    But now that they ‘care’, are they not open to the argument that they are no longer simple conduits, hosts and service providers, not responsible for the content? Free speech nonsense aside, I think they just shot themselves in the foot drawing too fast.
    Sooner of later (as in by noon tomorrow) there will be a lawsuit, and those companies that have chosen to abandon neutrality will find themselves responsible for content they could have refused. This week it is far right (real of supposed), but next week it may be far left.

    For example; a someone who was in Charllottesville can find sites where ‘the groups without permits’ have left traces of the premeditated conspiracy to violate the constitutional rights of ‘the group with permits’. So is not that service provider now an accomplice?

  11. My argument is not with Google and Cloudfare and others having the right to not do business with whomever they want. It’s with those very same hypocrites who applaud these moves not seeing the parallel with bakers, florists, and photographers, who have much more competition than Google.

    It’s also the hypocrisy of being shocked, SHOCKED, at neoNazis, when there are zillions of Marxist professors teaching at universities on the public dime, when Marxists murdered 100M people last century while Nazis only murdered one tenth that number, and there are real live Marxists nowadays continuing to murder right now, while the closest Nazis get to that is the recent death by car, which is the first Nazi murder I can remember.

    It’s the hypocrisy that galls me more than anything. OK to punch a Nazi in the face because hate speech, but not ok for amateur Nazis to march around with tiki torches.

    Fuck ’em all. I am so tired of coercive government making all these damned statists useful. I want no government, so these clowns would have to actually convince others voluntarily.

    1. Well, neo-Nazis are not a “protected” class, they would say. Why a class should be protected is not something they are going to have a rational answer to.

      1. In some states (but not all) political affiliation is also a protected class. It will be interesting to see if social media companies can refuse service to whomever they wish based upon their political beliefs.

      2. Some animals are more equal!

    2. It’s the hypocrisy that galls me more than anything.

      People are hypocrites. Accept it or IT WILL EAT YOU ALIVE

      1. Awareness is not acceptance.

    3. The mayor of Seattle wants to remove monuments of both Confederate soldiers and Vladimir Lenin. The catch? They are both privately owned and on private property. Murray hasn’t yet said how he intends to have the monuments removed.

      1. The way everyone forces some other bullshit on everyone else…. government.

      2. He’ll tax the plebes to get the funds to purchase the statues and turn them into slag, at least the Confederate statue. The one of Lenin he’ll probably have cleaned up and placed on the lawn of the Capitol building.

  12. The final straw was a letter explaining how he could tell walking into a house that black people lived there based on the way the house smelled.
    Oh Scott, I can walk into a house and by the smell know that a white person lives there.

    I can walk into a house and by the smell know that an Indian person lives there.

    1. Keep in mind that some people never associate with anyone who’s not exactly like them, and therefore are unaware that people from different backgrounds like to cook different kinds of food.

    2. or that a cat lives there.

  13. So, Scott, what is reason’s plan for the day when its service provider pulls the plug?

    I wouldn’t wait too long if I were you…

    1. I’ve actually seen ‘Reason’ referred to as a white supremacist site. It won’t be long until and these idiots will be staring at each other wide eyed and blank.

      First they came for…

  14. This is the great disintermediation, right? No more gatekeepers.

  15. Would all the people defending the right of companies to refuse service to Nazis and other despicable characters also defend the right of racists to refuse service to black people?

    There are two issues. One is whether companies have the right to refuse service to people with whom they disagree. The other is whether it is right to do so.

    Forget for a moment that these are Nazi scum. No one begins oppression by starting with boy scouts and great philanthropists. They pick the lowest of the low and then begin raising the bar. First the overt racists, then anyone who suggests that some people are less talented than others. Then anyone who doesn’t believe in forced equality of outcome. Then anyone who suggests that forced equality might have a downside.

    Universities have led the way here. Hollywood and the media have jumped on the bandwagon with corporations fighting for a seat on the censorship express. With government prosecuting corporations for real or imagined prejudice how long before this “private” denial of service becomes the arm of the state. A government-business partnership allowing a First Amendment bypass.

    Don’t cheer the companies denying service to scum or soon enough you’ll find the definition of scum has widened to include you.

    1. Comments like this demonstrate that you don’t understand the moral argument for non-discrimination laws.

      In brief, the argument is that it’s immoral to discriminate against people for things that aren’t their fault*. Someone can’t choose their skin color, so it’s not fair to punish them for it.

      Ideology *is* a choice though, so even by that reasoning, it’s acceptable to discriminate based on ideology.

      So yeah, you can (broadly) be for non-discrimination laws and not think they should cover ideology, just like some folks say non-discrimination laws should cover religion and race but not sexuality. It’s only necessary a conflict if you strawman the reasons *why* someone thinks non-discrimination law is acceptable.

      *That things like religion and veteran status admittedly obfuscate this.

      1. That said, as I’ve tried to make clear elsewhere, I’d be fine with getting rid of non-discrimination law as it applies to private entities. What I’m not fine with is keeping non-discrimination law for religion while giving a religious “out” to following non-discrimination law when it comes to gay people.

        We all have to play nice, or we all get freedom to be jerks. But this halfsies bullshit had for to go.

        1. It is wrong to use force against anyone no matter whether it’s because of their skin or their ideas. Compelling anyone by threats to life, limb or property to serve anyone else for any reason whatsoever is morally indefensible.

          The anti-discrimination laws are immoral. The fact that they are used to cower corporations and individuals into acquiescing to state authority demonstrates their fundamental wrongness. The vileness of racism was used as emotional blackmail inducing people to accept the principle that government should be the final arbiter of all dealings between people. That made the country ripe for a fascist economic system.

          1. And? I wasn’t talking about *your* views. I was talking about the people you were trying to call hypocrites by strawmanning them.

            You are, of course, free to think someone is immoral*. But if you want to call them a hypocrite, then you have to argue that by *their* morals they’ve done something wrong. And you can’t do that with such a dishonest portrayal of their views.
            *though on this case you’re calling most of America immoral. The number of people that share the hardline libertarian stance on non-discrimination laws is very very small.

            1. Do you believe the War in Iraq was immoral? If so, you believe most Americans are immoral, as most supported it.

              Your point is trivial: nearly everyone believes most Americans support some policy that is immoral. That’s practically a tautology; that’s what political disagreements are about. A small minority of Americans share your view on the morality of Christianity. So what?

      2. Well in states, political affiliation is a protected class. That is about as “choice” as it gets. I think the interesting facet will be if someone sues for discrimination from one of those states. Can social media companies operate within the confines of a state while violating some of it’s laws? While I can see chaos ensuing because of various state laws being different, it’s not really any different than MA law barring the chicken eggs (an article on it ran on this site last week I believe.)

        1. Found the article:


      3. “In brief, the argument is that it’s immoral to discriminate against people for things that aren’t their fault*. ”

        Can the religious baker refuse to bake a cake for someone after she asks them if they’ve had premarital sex and they answer in the affirmative? Having premarital sex (gay or not) is a choice.

        Can we pass a secular federal law that declares that the bacon cheeseburger is the national food, and all restaurants, food trucks, etc. must include it on their menu and properly prepare and serve it? No exemptions for Kosher delis, Hindu diners, and halal restaurants? What about atheist hippy vegan places?

        1. Only if they ask everyone.

          The difference is that once the heterosexual gets married and asks forgiveness for the premarital sex, they are off the hook.

          The gays don’t have that out in many religions.

      4. In brief, the argument is that it’s immoral to discriminate against people for things that aren’t their fault*.

        Yeah, you can’t get away with that completely false statement by putting an asterisk on it. Especially when you’re condescendingly stating that “you don’t understand the moral argument”.

        You can legally discriminate against someone for eye color, having a big nose, having six fingers, or having detached vs attached ear lobes, none of which are the person’s fault. So it’s wrong in the other direction too.

        There is no real moral argument that matches the set of anti-discrimination laws we have. These are just categories that have for whatever reason been chosen for protection.

        1. Pointing out that the ideal doesn’t perfectly match the reality is taken as evidence that there is no ideal?


      5. Your notion of non-discrimination equates to the principle that people are only free when it involves things they have no control over.

        It’s moronic.

        If government exists to ensure liberty then surely it exists to ensure the widest degree of discretion (including personal discrimination) possible.

  16. What libertarians are missing here is that so-called “private” internet companies are almost entirely based on local government protectionism, federal communication regulations squashing competition, eminent domain, and even government subsidy. ISP’s are effectively a public utility owned and operated by a hand-picked private business.

    Therefore, they do not have rights enjoyed by private companies that do not rely on the government to operate. And as long as they retain this protectorate status, they need to serve the public.

    If we eliminate the government regulations and other restrictions that currently make it impossible for a homeowner to provide internet service to his neighborhood, for example, then my opinion on this will change.

  17. Bloody well make sure that they aren’t prejudiced against Maoists, though.

  18. So basically by this logic, anyone with political opinions the left doesn’t like can’t hold a job, cannot be sold food, cannot have electricity or water.

    Is that really acceptable?

    Is that even smart? Everything to the right of Marx is going to be labeled a Nazi sooner or later. It’s already common to Republicans Nazis and libertarians are hated almost as much, despite all the virtue signaling you do at Reason.

    1. They are OK with being devoured last.

    2. The irony being that the Nazis were socialists.

  19. the left already hates libertarians so how soon before Reason is denied access to the internet or maybe thats why Reason has been leaning left lately.

    I would say that internet companies should be able to work with who they wish just like all other companies, if only that were equally enforced across the board and not just for the preferred speech or groups. However some NGO’s, that are required to use to work with the government, that I have had to work with require a Facebook account hence many sites are now defacto utilities and should not be able to deny anyone

    1. It’s not that Reason runs left. It’s that you run right.

  20. The newspaper analogy does not hold. A newspaper is selling a product, which is the newspaper itself. Whether or not the owners should or shouldn’t exclude certain content from it comes down to whether that will make the product more or less appealing to the consumers of it.

    An ISP is selling a service, which is a set amount of memory on a server and so much allowed bandwidth for accessing the content of that memory per month. Whether the owners of that service should be able to exclude people or organizations from it comes down to your philosophy on public accommodation laws. A better comparison would be if T-mobile decided it doesn’t want to allow a particular person to have a cell phone number.

    I actually think it is dangerous for de-facto monopolies to be able to exclude organizations or individuals from using their services based on non-objective criteria. As pointed out by others, many of those companies are where they are because the government limits competition which means there is no market-based mitigation of the effect they are able to have. I just can’t see any good coming from this except to make a bunch of already self-righteous people feel even more smug about their righteousness.

    Still don’t want government to intervene though…

  21. Reason’s Editors and writers have already shouted against speech they didn’t like in this & seem fine with Goofle, YouTube, etc – as MONOPOLIES in 85%+ of any communication via online to do the same…

    Problem is that YouTube, DNC, Google, etc has directly identified Reason; it’s editors; contributors next!

    Miss Maggie Ward has been long associated with Gavin McG. on truly libertarian platforms, for example, yet Gavin is already been personally named…

    Wow, Reason! Way to be the Violent Left’s useful idiots! Way to lose all credibility in the importance of Free Speech for all. Liberty and Justice for All. The White Racists, not just your championed here SJW BIGGOTS!

  22. The final straw was a letter explaining how he could tell walking into a house that black people lived there based on the way the house smelled. I would run no more letters from him.

    You might have felt good with that bit of virtue signalling, but the only effect running his letters would have had would be to show people what an idiot he was. And IIRC letters to the editor have the person’s real name attached.

    One of the greatest benefits of free speech is that it allows idiots to broadcast to the world how much of an idiot they are.

  23. And this is how the Liberals win.

    The (supposed) defenders of classical liberalism (ahem, Reason) promote the idea that a private entity’s rights to deny service for whatever reason it so chooses is an absolute. Now, because in this particular case Liberals support the suppression of views they deem harmful, they applaud Reason for its stance.

    But when a business refuses to, say, make a cake for a gay wedding, Liberals deny any such private prerogative, regardless of the inconsistency of principle. And no pleading for even-handedness from the likes of Reason will change their minds.

    But Reason is fighting the good fight, and that’s all that matters. Right? Sure, but it makes little difference. And the Liberal agenda is nicely advanced. As always.

    It mimics the open borders policy of Reason and its role as useful idiot to the Liberal agenda. The Liberals aren’t concerned about the free movement of people, they’re wholly interested in changing demographics to increase their electoral support, support which will not result in bakeries being allowed to refuse service but will result in more Liberal-biased companies engaging in their own forms of denial.

    1. It’s sad and scary how simple this is and that the staff at Reason doesn’t see it.

  24. That the gentleman you call a bigot could discern the body odor of African-American is not indicative of his bigotry it’s indicative that he has a good sense of smell. The gene for body odor is highly genetically dependent and very different among African-Americans.

    1. I have to say….Mexican people have a certain smell too as I am sure us white people do too. just an observation. I had the same reaction you did to that in the piece. Did not seem overtly racist to me.

    2. I’ve read that many Asian people – particularly the Japanese – will tell you that caucasians or white people smell different. They attribute it to the fact that whites (Americans anyway) eat much more red meat.

      1. White people who spend a lot of time in Korea, eating a Korean diet, also learn to smell the difference.

  25. And if the internet companies are monopolies that do as the government tells them? Doesn’t the argument assume there always will be alternative channels for expression even if we dislike what’s said?

  26. Hmmm.. seems you are advocating precisely the same authority to choose whom you will serve that some bakers and photographers and florists insist is their right when it comes to procing their supportive services for weddings of “certain kinds”. this is good…. we ALL retain the right to decide with whom we will associate.

    The funny thing is, the same factions that are now crying for some censoring in some cases, (mostly without clearly and openly defining the differences between what is “acceptible” and what is “deplorable”) are the very ones who would force that florist in Richland Washington, the baker in Gresham Oregon, the pharmacist in Olympia,Washignton, the venue owner (which also happens to be their HOME) in Indiana, I think it was, to all be forced to provide support and agreement with these providers who have strongly held moral issues with the activity they are being forced to support by their artistry……

    so, which IS it…. individuals retain the right to associate/not associate as THEY please, or government FORCING under threat of a gun, to perform that which the providers have held to be an abomination, and that for many years.

    1. The interesting thing is, every one of those demanding certain services from an unwilling (and later persecuted) provider had plenty of other options… the pharmacy pilloried in Olympia over an abortion pill they refuse to carry was located within a five minute drive of nearly a dozen other pharmacies that would willingly sell that drug….. but no, the government DEMANDED they violate their strongly held moral standards and carry the offensive drug anyway. The neonazis, skinheads, whoever else, have other options, as well.. so let the providers decide whom they will serve. SImple

      1. There are plenty of places in the country (including in some of the largest cities in the US) where there do not exist multiple options for ISP’s. City councils all over the US are notorious for not even letting ISP giant Verizon into town. The barrier to entry here is absurdly high because of how the US government treats communications and property.

        Internet is a public utility. Regular people can’t offer it without specific approval from the city and within the constraints of FCC regulations. I have a friend who lives in the middle of nowhere, where cable wasn’t even available, so he offered internet service to his neighborhood as part of collective. He got in big trouble for it.

        This isn’t the wedding cake issue. The only way it would be analogous is if the government decided only Carvel can make wedding cakes and that it is illegal for all others, including private individuals, to make them.

        1. Yes, many Libertarians fundamentally misunderstand the nature of the Internet and Internet-based platforms. To analogize to the natural world it would be as if all roads, bridges, modes of transportation, even governing bodies were private, and in many cases mono- or oligopolies. In such a world, whither liberties? If these private firms decide to cut you off, your only effective option is to not communicate. There were liberty-based good reasons common carrier rules were created in the first place.

          Anyway, this disconnect is a reason I have never been comfortable calling myself Libertarian, rather than simply “classical liberal”. To quote the Declaration of Independence, it is “to secure these rights, [that] governments are instituted among men”. It is not only against government that I fear for my liberty, but also private authorities who will police me for my own good.

          1. The framers clearly saw the power that religions wielded at the time and inserted a specific amendment in the bill of rights to take away that power. I’m certain if the framers could see the corporations of today and the power they wield, with the government protections they enjoy, they would force these entities to observe inalienable human rights.

  27. So do you still have to make Gay Marriage cakes?

    1. zing!

  28. Scott, as has been said many times above, but not directly, you can’t have it both ways. Either you have the freedom to associate along with all your fellow citizens, or you don’t.

    In the 70’s and 80’s there was a policy enforced by the FCC on broadcasters who used “public” radio and television frequencies that was collective called “The Fairness Doctrine”. It required equal time for those who wanted to presented opposing (often unpopular) views. With the advent of cable television and now the internet, the FCC no longer is in any position to enforce such a doctrine and so it’s fallen by the wayside.

    I could suggest a few different ways for you to deal with your “bigot”, for example just allowing him equal time/space in your publication. But that would be your choice. Shutting him down completely seems intellectually barren to me, but it’s also in keeping with the political echo chambers we see rising all over in this “new” world of communications.

  29. So far the government/public opinion doesn’t have an issue with these private companies refusing service to people/organizations that are not associated with a protected class. What will happen when private companies refuse service to Black Lives Matter, LGBT, or anti-jewish/muslim groups?

  30. If Prince were to get so drunk on his power that he starts cutting ties with customers willy-nilly, that wouldn’t just be bad for the customers. It would be bad for CloudFlare, because it would lose business to its competitors. There’s a subtext to Prince’s statements, one that suggests that what he really wants is not to be seen as responsible for controversial corporate decisions.

    The idea that a handful of companies have complete control over whether or not you can communicate your beliefs online creates a significant tension around the issue of censorship. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is worried that careless censorship by companies will bolster the efforts by governments to turn these decisions into demands.

    The ideathat Prince will “get so drunk on his power that he starts cutting ties with customers willy-nilly” is a particularly flimsy strawman.

    The targets of such censorship will always be the relatively powerless, the lone voices shouting in the wilderness. The vast majority of Cloudflare’s customers neither hold nor are interested in unapproved ideas, be Prince’s standards.

    The fact that he can surgically trim out the most vulnerable voices is worrisome.The fact that there is so little condemnation of this move is more worrisome. And it’s not a matter of whether government should enforce such compliance.


    1. …cont….

      Yes, we all know the tired qualification that the first amendment only applies to government. We know. But the reason the founders applied it to government because it is an important principle in its own right. The value of free speech doesn’t end at the doors to the capital, the courthouse or the White House.

      Once upon a time, phrases such as “The remedy for bad speech is more speech,” and “I may disagree with what you have to say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” were virtually secular catechisms of the U.S. I was raised hearing and believing those statements.

      If we abandon those principles in our private and business lives, saying “Oh, that’s just a government thing,” then we are becoming a different and less free nation than the one in which I was raised.

      Companies like Cloudflare and GoDaddy are far different than a newspaper. They protect or publish thousands, maybe tens of thousands of websites and don’t give a thought to the content of those sites. You have to do traceroutes and whois lookups to even know who is hosting a site. There’ s no implicit endorsement of the stie’s content as there is with what’s printed on a newspaper’s pages. Those companies are just punching down, using their power against the vulnerable. That should worry us all. You may be next.

  31. Sure, everything is fine at the small-town newspaper until “big news print” won’t sell you paper or ink because of what you publish.

  32. But these companies are in the left’s so called “public square” and thus are beholden to their (I think unconstitutional) Public Accommodation Laws. They must take ALL comers just as they used these laws to force Christian bakers to make gay wedding cakes.

  33. So let’s say that Internet companies get together and decide to cut Reason. No more web access, no more social media, no more uploading videos, no more online payments for subscriptions. All gone. Reason would, under the principle of Freedom of Association, meekly accept this situation? It would allow itself to lose its global reach and ability to raise income? Take it further: what if the phone company disconnected Reason’s phone lines on the grounds it did not like Reason’s politics? Or banks cut off Reason’s ability to use credit cards?

    The precedent being set here ought to be disturbing to any lover of liberty.

    Alas, Reason is joining the general hysteria over an alternative right rally without thinking things through.

  34. But he was also a bigot, and this became obvious and more overt once Barack Obama was elected president. … I would run no more letters from him. I informed my publisher and he agreed.

    Do the words “ad hominem” mean anything to you?

    Regardless of the content of the letters, you wouldn’t run his letters anymore, even though he was “a boon to the op-ed page”, once you realized he was a blasphemer against Progressive Puritanism.

    This is a demonstration of why SJWs are cancer to any organization. They put their personal ideological Jihad over the supposed shared purpose of the organization.

    We deprived him from a platform of communication

    Indeed you did. Are you ready for your culture war enemies to do the same, to you and everyone they hate?

    This is how far the termites have spread in Western Civilization.

    Anyone paying attention at all would have noted that it seemed that SJWs used whatever institutional power they had to screw Unbelievers. But once they wouldn’t come out and say it. They at least recognized they were engaged in a violation of the ideological cease fire people generally observe to make a diverse civilization function.

    Now they proudly announce their open warfare on Unbelievers. Even the concept of an ideological cease fire to achieve mutual ends is foreign to them. Totalitarian Jihad, day and night, night and day, without pause, scruple, or remorse.

    1. You know, they know, they’re doing wrong when they literally have to pull down statues at night.

  35. It’s a trap.

    By editorializing content, service providers become vicariously liable for it so some degree. If a newspaper publishes certain types of libel, even in the op-ed section, they may be sued. Yes this intertwines with censorship risk, but also civil liability as influenced by common law.

    Aditionally is this specific case, sense it is in ICANN’s interest to remain a common carrier, the refusal of google to maintain a DNS entry may violate agreements it has made with IACANN as a name registar.

  36. If Prince were to get so drunk on his power that he starts cutting ties with customers willy-nilly, that wouldn’t just be bad for the customers. It would be bad for CloudFlare, because it would lose business to its competitors.

    First of all that statement assumes that Cloudflare HAS competitors. The reality is that because of takeovers an increasing number of areas have (or effectively have) only ONE ISP servicing them. ComCast in particular has growing broadband monopoly.

    You think competition is the solution?

    OK then:

    1) Break up ComCast; and
    2) Stop all these mergers which was REDUCING competition,

    Competition is NOT a solution in a monopoly

  37. Even Queen Ayn Rand could not have predicted the emergence of a business model so titanic, extensive, and supremely intertwined with the daily lives of millions that constitutionally-enshrined rights can be deeply threatened with such wide impunity that the foundations of the American Republic face certain corrosion.

    This is a vast and modern phenomenon replete with far-ranging negative implications for liberty-centric societies- especially since these powerhouses dovetail advantageously with governments of all shades.

    Leviathans (particularly of the political persuasion) colluding to reshape the spirit of free society have clearly existed for decades and any fucking Libertarian worth their fucking salt deeply understands this or they ain’t what they claim to be. The contemporary tech-leviathan, however, is a supreme beast growing at a whole new level of spectacle and unparalleled in terms of social/cultural/government entrenchment and proximity to the rights of man.

    Only imps of the Libertarian grove protect these fake capitalist behemoths generating state-of-the-art abilities to re-code civilizations into malleable masses mined and glutted for the gains of domination.

  38. Some days I can’t decide what Scott Shackford is missing more: his mommy or his binkie.

  39. Whether or not it is “right”, this is a really bad idea. Now, hosting services have taken responsibility for the content of the sites they host and set themselves up as targets for boycotts. Or, worse, congress will now start holding them accountable for things like ITAR or penalties for copyright infringement. Most importantly, I would now find myself agreeing with the government on the questions. Assholes. I hate them for that.

    This was a really, really dumb move on their part.

  40. The DNS system is a hierarchical system with a government-mandated root organization. The alt-right can’t simply create a competing registrar and register domains there, which is what would happen in a free market. So, to pretend that Internet companies are private companies operating in a free market is ludicrously ignorant.

  41. Sorry for the late post but I spotted a interesting column who might be worth to read.…..edophiles/
    If that article is removed, it’s archived on

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  43. Many of these internet companies accept Federal Funding. Or taxpayer funding. If one can demonstrate that private corporations receive Federal Funding, contracts, etc. then one can argue that ones free expression cannot be restricted.

    Efforts to filter the Internet, no matter how noble they may seem, will always be incompatible with the principles of free expression.

    One man’s hate speech is another man’s poetry.

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