Tech world divided over approach of handling neo-Nazis

The recent violence in Charlottesville brought something to mainstream media that many people seemed to have forgotten: white supremacy and neo-Nazi groups are both alive and well, bolstering their ranks and potential influence as political unrest continues.

Another thing that it brought to light once more was that tech firms are quick to appear united on the front of anti-violence, condemning any and all actions that undermine concepts such as social justice, equality, and peace.

Let’s take a look at some more specific examples. Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, circulated a memo to his employees, saying, amongst other things, hate and bigotry should not be permitted, and that it’s not about politics but “about human decency and morality”.

Uber has also made it clear that it will continue banning members of hate groups from using its services. Airbnb has taken a similar approach, and both companies have already made good on such promises.

This time, even Google took a stand. While the company usually tries to remain neutral in terms of its users and its services, it instantly banned neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer after it was banned from GoDaddy. CloudFlare, a service that protects websites against online attacks, also followed suit.

The message portrayed is clear: tech companies embrace diversity and abolish hate. An unprecedented number of tech companies have handed out bans, issued out statements, and generally took a stance against this kind of violence.

In theory, I absolutely agree with these companies. No group of any kind should take precedence over others, and violence is abhorrent in almost all its forms. Like Cook said, hate truly is a cancer and stopping it before it grows is of paramount importance.

However, as we have discussed on this platform before, tech companies have immense power and a lot of responsibility for it, even when they try to weasel their way out of it. Because of this, the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s statements are also worth a look.

Responding to this growing number of tech companies and their fights against neo-Nazis, the EFF warned of a dangerous approach that might do more to hurt free speech than many realize.

No one wants to listen to people who hold opposite views, especially if those views are seeing as disgraceful, violent, and unjust. However, that is the point of free speech: protecting those who say things that go against the current mainstream thought, progressive or regressive as they might be.

Of course, the EFF wants to make it clear that it does not condone neo-Nazis or hateful violence. However, the point they are trying to make is that if these companies have free reign to ban whoever they want, they might be violating the First Amendment.

With all that said, one could argue that the kind of hate speech spewed by websites like The Daily Stormer definitely incite violence, which presents a “clear and present danger”, something not protected either by the First Amendment or any of the other similar laws in developed nations.

Everyday users should definitely realize the kind of power tech companies have over censorship and content guidance. However, hate should not be allowed in any of its forms. Walking that line is dangerous, but both acting and not means taking a stance.

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