The fight against lethal bigotry is as feeble as the fight against money laundering. Whether they are banks handling looted resources or Silicon Valley companies resisting demands to spend a portion of their profits on hiring editors to moderate content, the guilty parties can rely on governments to regulate them with the lightest of touches.
At the level of traditional policing, few can fault the state’s vigilance. The British neo-Nazi outfit National Action celebrated Jo Cox’s murder – “only 640 MPs to go”, it declared. The government banned it and in July a judge jailed two of its members for plotting the murder of another Labour woman, Rosie Cooper MP. In a pattern familiar to watchers of Islamist groups, National Action rebranded itself as NS131 (National Socialist Anti-Capitalist Action) and the government had to ban the reincarnation too.
Yet as far as the online world is concerned, NS131 remains an active propagandist. Google it and you reach its site as you can reach the sites of Bomb Islam, God Hates Fags, the American Nazi party and many another incendiary organisation.
National Action is guarded by the San Francisco company Cloudflare, which serves about 100,000 of the million most-visited sites. The first amendment to the US constitution gives vast protections to freedom of publication, which are extended to the extremists whose content Cloudflare holds. So vigorously does it seek their business that Wired magazine described Cloudflare as “acting like the muscle guarding the podium at a Nazi rally”. No global tech conglomerate can operate with a base in just one country, however.
To speed up downloads, Cloudflare has built “edge servers” – data centres that store content locally. There are 30 in Europe, including one in London and one in Manchester. The British government cannot regulate the worldwide web, but it could enforce the law in Britain. The anti-fascists at Hope not Hate begged ministers to make Cloudflare’s British operations comply with anti-Nazi legislation.
You see what’s done there?
Anti-incitement to violence legislation, sure, why not? Anti-bigotry legislation? Hmm, well, maybe. But what a nice twist to turn that into anti-Nazi legislation. As if Nazis are the only people capable of bigotry or incitement….