Until this week, Cloudflare had never dropped a customer because of political pressure.
It’s this fact that the company’s CEO, Matthew Prince, says makes him so “deeply uncomfortable” with his decision early Wednesday to stop providing paid services to The Daily Stormer, including protecting its website from attackers.
As it turns out, attackers took down the neo-Nazi site as soon as Cloudflare stopped protecting it, Prince told Business Insider. Daily Stormer remained offline on Wednesday evening.
The Daily Stormer drew national scrutiny and condemnation after it published a story demeaning Heather Heyer, the 32-year-old woman who was killed Saturday when a driver rammed into people protesting against a white-supremacist demonstration in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Prince made clear that he found the website’s content “vile.” But he regrets that he alone was able to decide its fate.
“The ability of somebody to single-handedly choose to knock content offline doesn’t align with core ideas of due process or justice,” Prince told Business Insider on Wednesday. “Whether that’s a national government launching attacks or an individual launching attacks.”
Prince said his team would debate how to address such issues moving forward. Gizmodo obtained an emotional memo he sent to staffers about the decision. It said:
“My rationale for making this decision was simple: the people behind the Daily Stormer are assholes and I’d had enough … I woke up this morning in a bad mood and decided to kick them off the Internet.”
How it ended
While Cloudflare may have been The Daily Stormer’s last line of defense, Prince’s decision didn’t actually take the company’s site offline by itself. Earlier in the week, both GoDaddy and Google publicly announced they had dropped The Daily Stormer as a customer of their domain-hosting services.
And then there were the attackers.
Cloudflare provides a sort of buffer between visitors and websites that seeks to protect sites from denial-of-service attacks. It does this in part by obfuscating the identity of the websites’ hosts. Before this week, that service was protecting The Daily Stormer.
“The size and scale of the attacks that can now easily be launched online make it such that if you don’t have a network like Cloudflare in front of your content, and you upset anyone, you will be knocked offline,” Prince wrote in a blog post Wednesday. “In fact, in the case of the Daily Stormer, the initial requests we received to terminate their service came from hackers who literally said: ‘Get out of the way so we can DDoS this site off the Internet.'”
Cloudflare says it handles 10% of all internet requests. So while this is the first time Cloudflare has stopped working with a website for political reasons, Prince said his company had faced plenty of external and international government pressure.
“There are human rights organizations that are criticizing the Chinese government that we continuously get pressured to restrict,” he said. “There are LGBT organizations in the Middle East. Often times it’s things covering abuses by government that governments would rather not have online.”
This is not the first time, though, that Cloudflare has dropped support for a site. It has ended service to other websites in response to illegal activity, such as child pornography. And in 2015, a court ordered Cloudflare to block websites associated with the music-streaming service Grooveshark, which was in trouble over copyright violations.
In this case, though, Cloudflare dropped The Daily Stormer because the neo-Nazis claimed the company supported their cause.
“The tipping point for us making this decision,” Prince wrote in the blog, “was that the team behind Daily Stormer made the claim that we were secretly supporters of their ideology.”