In latest development, ProPublica targets anti-Jihad websites based on biased and politicized “hate” lists
This was a really bad week for freedom of speech and internet freedom.
As documented in my post Gathering Storms And Threats to Liberty, corporations that operate the gateways to the internet, such as domain registrars and services such as Cloudfare, have come under pressure and have capitulated to drive the neo-Nazi website Daily Stormer from the internet. That pressure is now moving to other organizations based on biased and politicized “hate” lists from groups such as the Southern Poverty Law Center and Anti-Defamation League.
I pointed out the danger to internet freedom:
Attempts to induce corporations to silence conservatives are nothing new. We have seen years of pressure tactics from groups such as Media Matter to shut down voices such as Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity by pressuring and harassing advertisers. Campaigns are currently underway to force advertisers away from websites such as Breitbart and Gateway Pundit….
That tactic now has gone to a completely different level with attempts to intimidate internet hosting companies and companies that provide internet infrastructure to cut off access to the internet. So far, the effort has been focused on the neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer. People might not care that The Daily Stormer is taken down, but the history of leftist tactics show that the target universe will expand dramatically and it will not be long before efforts are directed, as they are now for advertisers, at mainstream conservative and right-of-center websites….
Companies like Cloudfare and others who provide internet infrastrucure will come under increasing pressure, and it won’t be limited to the Storm Fronts of the world. We know from history that the “hate” label is broadly applied for political purposes, and will be used only against right-of-center websites.
Being cut off from domain registrars and other aspects of the internet backbone is something we expect from totalitarian governments. Now that power is in the control of almost-uniformly left-wing corporate managers.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation also was highly critical of the Cloudfare move against Daily Stormer:
Even for free speech advocates, this situation is deeply fraught with emotional, logistical, and legal twists and turns. All fair-minded people must stand against the hateful violence and aggression that seems to be growing across our country. But we must also recognize that on the Internet, any tactic used now to silence neo-Nazis will soon be used against others, including people whose opinions we agree with. Those on the left face calls to characterize the Black Lives Matter movement as a hate group. In the Civil Rights Era cases that formed the basis of today’s protections of freedom of speech, the NAACP’s voice was the one attacked.
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.
An important background on this damaging Cloudfare move involves The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). SPLC has criticized Cloudfare for providing services to groups “hate” groups at least as far back as March 2017, Cloudflare Optimizing Content Delivery For At Least 48 Hate Sites Across Europe.
This fits a pattern for SPLC that I have addressed its “hate” lists many times over the years. SPLC’s political bias and how it uses the lists to drive an anti-conservative agenda and fundraise.
Most recently, in my post Southern Poverty Law Center “extremist” lists used “to silence speech and speakers”, I discussed a very important Politico Magazine article in which I was quoted, Has a Civil Rights Stalwart Lost Its Way?
William Jacobson, a law professor at Cornell and critic of the SPLC, says the group has wrapped itself in the mantle of the civil rights struggle to engage in partisan political crusading. “Time and again, I see the SPLC using the reputation it gained decades ago fighting the Klan as a tool to bludgeon mainstream politically conservative opponents,” he says. “For groups that do not threaten violence, the use of SPLC ‘hate group’ or ‘extremist’ designations frequently are exploited as an excuse to silence speech and speakers,” Jacobson adds. “It taints not only the group or person, but others who associate with them.”
The Anti-Defamation League also has gotten into the business of “hate” lists, From Alt Right to Alt Lite: Naming the Hate. The ADL list is particularly pernicious because of the use of the term and listing of “Alt Lite,” as Haaretz reported:
Right-wing activists who have tried to distance themselves from the white nationalist “alt-right” movement have slammed the Anti-Defamation League after it included them on a list Tuesday of extreme conservatives it says disseminate hatred.
“The ADL is trying to get my family murdered,” tweeted Mike Cernovich, who is part of the so-called alt-lite (or “New Right”) movement. “There is no reason to add me to a hate list,” he added in a video he posted online.
The ADL defined the alt-lite as a “loosely connected movement of right-wing activists who reject the overtly white supremacist ideology of the alt-right, but whose hateful impact is more significant than their ‘lite’ name suggests.”
On a personal note, it’s disheartening to see ADL move in this direction. A worthy organization focused on combating anti-Semitism increasingly is becoming a political player in the anti-Trump resistance. I suppose that was inevitable after Jonathan Greenblatt, a former Obama assistant, took over. Great damage has been done to ADL’s non-partisan credibility.
In another important development this weekend, involving the left-leaning ProPublica research group, funded heavily by left-wing donors like Herbert and Marion Sandler and Soro-related entities. ProPublica took SPLC’s hate list, and also a private list provided to it by ADL, and used those lists to run internet algorithms to ferret out sources of revenue for the supposed “hate” groups.
ProPublica described its methodology, including the recognition that the “hate” lists were subjective and disputed, How We Investigated Technology Companies Supporting Hate Sites:
Deciding what constitutes a hate or extremist website is a difficult and subjective task. To develop our list, we sought counsel from the leading organizations that track extremism in the United States — The Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League.
We relied in part on the 2016 list of “Active Hate Groups” published by the SPLC in February. It tracks ten types of hate groups: Ku Klux Klan, Neo-Nazi, White Nationalist, Racist Skinhead, Christian Identity, Neo-Confederate, Black Separatist, Anti-LGBT, Anti-Muslim and General Hate.
The SPLC list is controversial in some circles, but the group does provide detailed public explanations for many of its designations. For instance, the SPLC documented its decision to include the Family Research Council, an evangelical lobbying group, on its list by citing the group’s reliance on discredited science and unsubstantiated attacks on gay and lesbian people.
We supplemented the SPLC list with a list of top extremist websites provided to us by the Anti-Defamation League. The ADL does not publish this list and supplied it to us for research purposes…..
[After screening for only sites with meaningful traffic] We then wrote software to automatically browse to each website and collect a list of external domains contacted by each website.
ProPublica may have more in store, but this weekend rolled out its investigation into Robert Spencer’s anti-Jihad website, Jihad Watch, Despite Disavowals, Leading Tech Companies Help Extremist Sites Monetize Hate
Because of its “extreme hostility toward Muslims,” the website Jihadwatch.org is considered an active hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League. The views of the site’s director, Robert Spencer, on Islam led the British Home Office to ban him from entering the country in 2013.
But its designation as a hate site hasn’t stopped tech companies — including PayPal, Amazon and Newsmax — from maintaining partnerships with Jihad Watch that help to sustain it financially. PayPal facilitates donations to the site. Newsmax — the online news network run by President Donald Trump’s close friend Chris Ruddy — pays Jihad Watch in return for users clicking on its headlines. Until recently, Amazon allowed Jihad Watch to participate in a program that promised a cut of any book sales that the site generated. All three companies have policies that say they don’t do business with hate groups.
[See Spencer denial below.]
ProPublica then reached out to the three sources of revenue for Jihad Watch. When an entity like ProPublica makes such a contact, and inquires as to why the groups still are sources of revenue, it’s not just a contact, it’s an intimidation move.
Spencer, on his own website, called out ProPublica even before the article ran, Leftist “journalist” Lauren Kirchner of ProPublica threatens Jihad Watch:
The Left is mounting an all-out assault against the freedom of speech, and using Charlottesville to try to crush all dissent. I received this email today. I know also that Lauren Kirchner has sent it to other counter-jihad sites as well….
[Question in Email followed by Spencer answer]
1) Do you disagree with the designation of your website as hate or extremist? Why?
Yes, certainly I do. For years, Leftists and Muslim groups with numerous ties to Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood have smeared as “hate” all attempts to speak honestly about the motivating ideology behind jihad terrorism. In reality, it is not hateful, racist or extremist to oppose jihad terror, and the claim that it is [is] not only libelous but insidious: the intent has clearly been to intimidate people into thinking it wrong to oppose jihad terror, and it has worked, as illustrated by the neighbors of the San Bernardino jihad murderers, who saw suspicious activity at their home but didn’t report them for fear of being “racist.”
2) We identified several tech companies on your website: PayPal, Amazon, Newsmax, and Revcontent. Can you confirm that you receive funds from your relationship with those tech companies? How would the loss of those funds affect your operations, and how would you be able to replace them?
The intent of your questions, and no doubt of your forthcoming article, will be to try to compel these sites to cut off any connection with us based on our opposition to jihad terror. Are you comfortable with what you’re enabling? Not only are you inhibiting honest analysis of the nature and magnitude of the jihad threat, but you’re aiding the attempt to deny people a platform based on their political views. This could come back to bite you if your own views ever fall out of favor. Have you ever lived in a totalitarian state, where the powerful determine the parameters of the public discourse and cut off all voice from the powerless? Do you really want to live in one now? You might find, once you get there, that it isn’t as wonderful as you thought it would be.
3) Have you been shut down by other tech companies for being an alleged hate or extremist web site? Which companies?
No. This is a new thing. First came the ridiculous claim that opposing jihad terror was “hate,” and now comes the other shoe dropping: the attempt to cut out the ground from under the feet of those who “hate.” You can only hope that you aren’t similarly defamed one day; perhaps if that does happen, you will realize (too late) why the freedom of speech is an indispensable element of a free society.
4) Many people opposed to sites like yours are currently pressuring tech companies to cease their relationships with them – what is your view of this campaign? Why?
Nazis will be Nazis. Fascists will be fascists. Today they call themselves “Antifa” and the like, but they’re acting just like Hitler’s Brownshirts did, when they shouted down and assaulted anti-Nazi speakers. Now the violent thugs work in a more genteel fashion: they just pull the Internet plug on those they hate. You, Lauren Kirchner, are aiding and abetting a quintessentially fascist enterprise. Authoritarianism in service of any cause leads to a slave society despite the best intentions of those who helped usher it in.
In a separate post, Spencer indicates PayPal has dropped Jihad Watch:
First came the SPLC’s claim, uncritically accepted by the establishment media, that it was an impartial and reliable arbiter of what constituted a “hate group” and what didn’t. Then came the defaming of opposition to jihad terror as “hate.” And PayPal has dropped Jihad Watch, and more of this kind of thing is sure to come soon — and not just to Jihad Watch, but even to many for whom Jihad Watch is “controversial” for standing against jihad terror and Sharia oppression.
ProPublica, in its article about Jihad Watch, acknowledged the problem with using these lists to shut down revenue sources:
Where to set the boundaries between hate speech and legitimate advocacy for perspectives on the edge of the political spectrum, and who should set them, are complex and difficult questions. Like other media outlets, we relied in part on the Southern Poverty Law Center’s public list of “Active Hate Groups 2016.” This list is controversial in some circles, with critics questioning whether the SPLC is too quick to brand organizations on the right as hate groups.
Still, the center does provide detailed explanations for many of its designations. For instance, the SPLC documents its decision to include the Family Research Council by citing the evangelical lobbying group’s promotion of discredited science and unsubstantiated attacks on gay and lesbian people. We also consulted a list from ADL, which is not public and that was provided to us for research purposes. See our methodology here.
The sites that we identified from the ADL and SPLC lists vehemently denied that they are hate sites
Note that there is no claim that Jihad Watch advocates any form of violence or illegality. This would be a very different situation, for example, if Jihad Watch were a Jihadi website that advised people on how to make bombs or carry out attacks. We are talking about ideas, not weapons.
SPLC, presumably ADL, and ProPublica just don’t like Robert Spencer’s opinions about the practice of Islamism and Jihad. Yet as we have seen in other contexts, rather than winning the war of ideas, they seek to stifle free speech and, in this case, dry up sources of revenue for their political opponents.
Jeremy Carl at National Review notes that the internet anti-free speech Jihad (pun intended) will not end with neo-Nazis:
The decision of CloudFlare to ban Daily Stormer explained in a private company email and then subsequently largely reproduced in a public blogpost. is actually remarkable for its honesty. Mathew Prince, Cloudflare’s CEO, wrote that
“Let me be clear that this was an arbitrary decision. . . I woke up in a bad mood and decided to kick them off the Internet. . . It was a decision I could make because I’m the CEO of a major Internet infrastructure company. No one should have that power.”
According to Prince one of his employees, understanding the full import the banning, asked him: “ Is this the day the Internet dies?”
I don’t know. But I do know that the threats to free expression, particularly threats to speech from the right, on the Internet have never been greater. Conservatives, and more importantly, Republicans in Congress, need to speak up and put a stop to the censoring, speech-stifling madness of the Silicon Valley mafia. If we don’t stand up, even for speakers we loathe, the leftists will just increase their demands for censorship until they come to our own doorstep….
Paula Bolyard at PJ Media, who wrote about ProPublica and Spencer, cautions, Is Google Working with Liberal Groups to Snuff Out Conservative Websites?
If the SPLC and ADL, with their (growing) list of “hate groups” is going to be the arbiter for approved online speech, we have reached a very scary place in this country. It will be the end of the Internet as we know it and America will be no better than totalitarian China and N. Korea.
We are at an extremely dangerous moment for freedom of speech and internet freedom. Charlottesville is being exploited by left-wing groups to destroy the free exchange of ideas, opting instead to shut down speech.
Attorney Ron Coleman, who has represented Legal Insurrection and many conservative bloggers, tweeted some good advice:
Conservatives should prepare for intensifying corporate warfare on their free speech rights.
UPDATE 8-22-2017: Spencer reports that PayPal has reinstated him, Victory: PayPal removes ban on Jihad Watch:
The Left, seeing a golden opportunity when a Nazi psychopath plowed his car into a crowd of Leftists in Charlottesville, tried to use the moment as its Reichstag Fire, and crush all dissent from the hard-Left line. And there is no doubt that initiative will continue. But in banning Jihad Watch, PayPal overreached, and encountered a crowd of free citizens.
I have no intention of restoring the PayPal buttons on Jihad Watch. I know where they stand now, and do not intend to place myself at their mercy again. But nonetheless, this is a victory. Free people still exist in the United States, and the fascists who call themselves anti-fascists will not prevail.
Pamella Geller also has been restored to PayPal.DONATE
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