In praise of Matthew Prince

August 17, 2017


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Cloudflare just kicked the far-right website Daily Stormer off its cloud proxy service.
What this looks like is just another step in Silicon Valley censoring right-wing views off the internet.

It’s a lot cleverer than that, though. He makes clear that he’s not happy with taking this step. He says he believes in Cloudflare being content-neutral, and that it is dangerous for companies like his to be making decisions about who to use.
You can read his statement as being, “let’s get together and work out who else to remove”.

“We need to have a discussion around this, with clear rules and clear frameworks. My whims and those of Jeff [Bezos] and Larry [Page] and Satya [Nadella] and Mark [Zuckerberg], that shouldn’t be what determines what should be online,” he said. “I think the people who run The Daily Stormer are abhorrent. But again I don’t think my political decisions should determine who should and shouldn’t be on the internet.”

I think he’s being a bit more subtle than that, though: this is the same trap that Moldbug pulled at Strange Loop: I can’t find the actual pages, but it amounted to: “Tell me what I’m supposed to pretend to believe about race, and I’ll pretend to believe it.” Prince is saying, “Come up with clear and consistent rules about what is allowed on the internet, and I’ll follow them”. In both cases, the challenge is impossible: the censors’ position is a collection of emotional responses, not a set of concrete propositions.
In the meantime, Prince said that content neutrality is still Cloudflare’s policy. He implies that he’s willing to defend and fight for it, but because it is a real fight, and because he is not a moron, he is not going to go into battle alongside a bunch of Nazi flags. He made an explicitly unprincipled exception for the Daily Stormer. I’m not kidding: he said “Literally, I woke up in a bad mood and decided someone shouldn’t be allowed on the Internet.”
That’s giving in to power, but it’s not giving up any principle. What the leftists want is to have it agreed that the internet and speech generally are open for everyone, with an exception for “hate”, and that that’s a sensible set of rules that everyone can follow. They want Cloudflare to say that DS broke some rule, and thus cannot be allowed. Prince is refusing to tell that lie. He is refusing to pretend that the leftists can get their way and that the free internet is still in place.
If the bad guys want him to actually give up his principle, rather than make an unprincipled exception, they will have to pick a battle that suits their purposes less well than the Daily Stormer does.

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