Matthew Prince and Alissa Starzak, writing on Cloudflare’s weblog:
Thousands of times per day we receive calls that we terminate security services based on content that someone reports as offensive. Most of these don’t make news. Most of the time these decisions don’t conflict with our moral views. Yet two times in the past we decided to terminate content from our security services because we found it reprehensible. […]
In a deeply troubling response, after both terminations we saw a dramatic increase in authoritarian regimes attempting to have us terminate security services for human rights organizations — often citing the language from our own justification back to us.
Since those decisions, we have had significant discussions with policy makers worldwide. From those discussions we concluded that the power to terminate security services for the sites was not a power Cloudflare should hold. Not because the content of those sites wasn’t abhorrent — it was — but because security services most closely resemble Internet utilities.
Just as the telephone company doesn’t terminate your line if you say awful, racist, bigoted things, we have concluded in consultation with politicians, policy makers, and experts that turning off security services because we think what you publish is despicable is the wrong policy. To be clear, just because we did it in a limited set of cases before doesn’t mean we were right when we did. Or that we will ever do it again.
If you aren’t aware, there’s been an activist campaign attempting to convince Cloudflare to drop Kiwi Farms — an internet forum that allows nearly all legal speech and whose users often go far beyond what is typically allowed on mainstream platforms.
It’s an unenviable situation to be in for Cloudflare, to say the least, but I think they ultimately made the right decision. As abhorrent as some of the content on Kiwi Farms is, if we don’t have web service companies that are willing to work with sites that host any and all legal content — even in its most despicable forms — then we simply don’t have freedom of speech online.
Of course, there are limits on legal speech and you may believe that the current line that differentiates lawful from unlawful speech should be shifted. But the best way forward to that end is legislatively, not by pressuring companies to terminate services. Because that is a slippery slope.