Internet infrastructure companies take a more active role in policing borderline content; Cloudflare and Kiwi Farms

Hoeg Law held a casual Friday livestream session Free Speech meets Free Association as the infrastructure companies of the Internet begin to take a more active policing role. It took about 25 minutes to get beyond QEII’s passing to the main subject which was triggered by Cloudflare’s pulling of service from KiwiFarms on Sept. 4.

I had noted this troubling event in a comment Sept. 4 where I gave Cloudflare's sudden blog post (see next). Hoeg points out there had been a more general post a few days earlier (Aug 31) where Cloudflare gave out its rationale on how it enforces its acceptable use policies, which might be more stringent on sites its hosts than on those it provides DDOS protections for.

Generally, given its role as  part of a private Internet backbone, Matthew Prince says he does not want have the power to police content, which should come from due process of law.  He opposes removing customers as political cancellations, using the analogy that you would not let a fire department refuse to put out a fire because it didn’t like the homeowner’s morals.  I’ve note before there are indeed dangers, that the Left, for example, can build coalitions with boycott threats that could force some providers into those positions (like forcing participation in affirmative anti-racism). 

Ashley Belanger follows through with Cloudflare explains why Kiwi Farms was its most dangerous customer ever: Cloudflare wants government to be responsible for blocking sites like Kiwi Farms (link) On Ars Technica. The fire department analogy applies. By pulling its service, Cloudflare allowed the DDOS-ers – the mob – to swarm in and somehow protect the life of the trans celebrity known as Keffals. Could Cloudflare have simply called authorities (in Canada, apparently)?

Before starting my Friday morning (music club? The 50s indeed) I had intended to comment today on a short paper the Nassim Nicholas Taleb circulated by email Sept 4., Ethics of Precaution and Systemic Risk on March 15, 2020, at the start of the lockdowns for the coronavirus pandemic. It came packaged in a folder that you could unzip to see all kinds of other supporting papers.

The suddenness and severity of the business closures and stay-at-home orders (though much less severe than in Italy and other countries in Europe, let alone China) had seemed necessary because of an almost unprecedented threat. Data Scientist Michael Donnelly (here, and several followup articles into April 2020) had made a much more detailed analysis which essentially backs up what Taleb says in this short piece.

The virus has the property of being quite unusually contagious before causing symptoms, and also not being as harmful to many people (mostly younger people) as to older people or people with almost any hidden medical vulnerabilities they don’t know about.  So it envelops the idea of an individual’s not invisibly harming more vulnerable people in pursuing the individual’s own agency.

But I am reminded of something more pervasive. All of the social justice activism from the Left leacwa me wondering, 'What is required of me as an individual, to do about it?'

They (at least on the extremes of wokeness) talk of reparatively resegregating to make people with 'whiteness' own up to the sins they have inherited from others. (That's the demand for anti-racism [ and now ant-heteronomativity]

What they could do is try to force major corporate players (Internet infrastructure companies and even financial institutions), through collective pressure (requiring solidarity and boycotts) to look at the “social credit” of the individual people they work with. That would indeed be very Marxist (in a sightly different way because race and gender would be less an issue, and we would be back to simply the privilege of growing up with economic advantage regardless of these things). I wonder if tech companies could develop their own way of scoring (virtue-signaled?) social credit (such as showing they can raise money for established charities, with Facebook constantly invites users to do).

But on an individual level, taking undue advantage of inherited 'privilege' is indeed a moral problem, very much the point of 'The Rich Young Ruler' parable in the New Testament (other religions will have similar texts and anecdotes).

I also need to point out that a dangerous bill had been floated in the South Carolina legislature that would have criminalized providing informatiom about abortion online, Electronic Frontier Foundation article by Paige Collins. Suddenly it's the radical "Christian right" again going back to acting like the Woke Left in trying to stop free speech online (and banning some books in at least school libraries). This could have had very dangerous consequences (bypassing Section 230) indeed. But as I recall the original Communications Decency Act of 1996 had tried to restrict speech on abortions.

Mukund Rathi also, for EFF, discusses content moderation under conditions of "jawboning" by government, as not "state action" under the First Amendment. These cases have occurred with respect to possible Covid "misinformation" and election integrity.

(Posted: Friday, September 9, 2022 at 3 PM EDT) by John W Boushka