How to shut down a website

– After the horrific shooting in El Paso, a small barely moderated forum became the center of attention. – 8chan. – After 8chan. – I mean it was on 8chan. – A site 8chan. – The killer posted a
rambling essay on 8chan, laying out his hate fueled motives. And it wasn’t the first time
this had happened either. Since it’s launch in 2013,
8chan has become known as a place where hate can thrive. Even it’s founder has
said we’d be better off if the site just disappeared. And any company that works with 8chan is under pressure to kick it offline. But how do you take a
site off the internet? Running a website requires
a whole stack of services. And if it gets blocked, or
deplatformed at any level it can become either hard to use or completely inaccessible. At the bottom of the
stack you’ve got the host. The server that actually holds
information for the site. If you wanna reach that
host by typing a link you need a registered domain which is handled by an
organization called ICANN and a series of companies
called registrars. In the middle, you’ve got other services that serve more specialized roles. If a site wants to collect
money with credit cards for example it needs a payment processor, like Stripe or PayPal. If it wants to protect
itself from denial-of-service or DDoS attacks, it needs
a mitigation service from a company like Cloudflare. And on top on all that, there
are big social networks, mobile app stores and search engines that can boost the sites reach. Opponents of sites like 8chan
have targeted every level of that stack and they’ve
seen some success. Cloudflare cut off 8chan’s
DDoS protection shortly after the shooting,
leaving it open to attack. 8chan moved to a competing
provider called Epik but that provider was
leasing hardware from a different company called Voxility, which banned Epik as soon
as it heard about 8chan. After that, 8chan just
dropped off the internet. Is it going to stay offline though? Probably not. There are all kinds of internet
infrastructure companies that specialize in keeping offensive or even illegal sites online. Sometimes just outside the
reach of law enforcement. Anonymity networks like Tor can disguise where content is hosted
or let sites bypass the traditional domain name system. There’s usually no way to ban a site from the internet forever. One of the clearest examples
of this happened in 2017. When the neo-Nazi blog, Daily Stormer was widely condemned for mocking the death of anti-racist protester, Heather Heyer. GoDaddy, Cloudflare, Google and others, all stopped working with the site. And for a while it couldn’t
find anywhere to register a domain name, which made
it very hard to find. But once the controversy died down it found a new registrar
and resumed operating. Members of a site can also
just go form a new community. A lot of 8chan’s members came
from another message board called 4chan, which had
tried to moderate some of its most toxic elements and ended up just sending them somewhere worse. If 8chan gets shut down, users
can move on to other forums or launch private chat rooms. So, what’s the point then? Well, there are a few major arguments for pressuring companies
to deplatform hate sites. It makes it a lot harder
for sites to collect money or run ads, even if they get traffic. It can also make it harder
for people to encounter these dark corners of the
internet in the first place. These aren’t huge platforms
like Reddit or Twitter. At the end of the day, 8chan
is a pretty small place. And as we saw earlier this week, revoking things like DDoS protection can knock a site offline
while it’s experiencing a burst of publicity. Just because you can’t keep something off the internet forever, doesn’t mean you can’t reduce its power. But there’s also a dark
side to deplatforming because it basically
involves asking a handful of private companies or CEOs to act like internet gatekeepers. Cloudflare is incredibly powerful. Almost 20% of the top 10 000 internet properties use it right now. And it has no real system of
accountability or transparency. When Cloudflare kicked off
the Daily Stormer in 2017, Cloudflare’s CEO, Matthew
Prince essentially got mad, pushed a button and dropped the site. – I woke up one morning and got sick of these jerks using our
platform and I flipped a switch and they were no longer on the internet. And I’m not sure that that’s a power that any individual,
especially any individual that isn’t politically sort of, has a political legitimacy to them that any individual should be making. – Cloudflare is a private company, and it has every right to ban a customer. But Prince said that he wasn’t comfortable making arbitrary decisions about which sites can stay online. These lower level
infrastructure businesses have traditionally tried to
stay out of content moderation. Because any decisions they make
will have huge ramifications for freedom of speech on the internet. And while banning some ugly sites might seem like an easy call, these companies also face pressure to ban political dissidents
across the world. And repressive governments use a lot of the same arguments to paint those groups as hateful and dangerous. It’s certainly not
ideal to have a few CEOs making huge decisions with no
oversight or appeals process. Cloudflare certainly thinks so. When it kicked out 8chan
it asked governments to establish better guidelines for when to pull a site offline. Lots of countries can access 8chan and if it weren’t so easy
to carry out mass shootings in America, online hate might not spill into deadly violence so often. But at least in the US,
where Cloudflare operates, institutions don’t seem sure how to deal with white nationalist terrorism. And when Congress has amended the law to keep bad content offline,
it’s often turned out badly. Like the FOSTA SESTA bill, which is meant to stop online trafficking. But has ended up making
web companies marginalize sex workers or purge
adult content in general. Crafting policies to address hate online and setting up systems to enforce them could take a long time
if it happens at all. So if people wanna keep
these sites off the internet they basically have to pressure
companies like Cloudflare. Even if the companies don’t
want to be making those calls. Thank you for watching this
is a very serious topic that goes far beyond just the internet. If you wanna help out some
of the communities affected or fight hate groups please just check out the links in the
description of this video.


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