Taking a stand on Charlottesville, technology companies seek balance with free speech

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For Silicon Valley companies that must balance the right to free speech with the risk of empowering and broadcasting abhorrent beliefs, the violence in Charlottesville has been a clarifying moment.

In a cascade of notes to employees and public statements, technology executives rushed to condemn the hatred and bigotry that underlay an attack on protesters who were rallying against a white supremacist march in Virginia. Apple CEO Tim Cook specifically denounced Donald Trump for asserting “a moral equivalence between white supremacists and Nazis” and told his employees the company would match donations to anti-discrimination groups to which he was personally directing $2 million.

There were more concrete developments than C-suite condemnations. One after another, companies moved to cut off services to customers linked to the bloodshed and to the constellation of beliefs surrounding it – or, at the minimum, to reiterate that they could.

Domain name service provider GoDaddy said it would no longer work with the neo-Nazi forum Daily Stormer, as did Google and Cloudflare, whose CEO called the site “reprehensible”.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg vowed in a post that the company would be vigilant in removing posts that promote “hate crimes or acts of terrorism.” PayPal released a statement saying it would not provide services to groups like the Ku Klux Klan or Nazis that “promote hate, violence or racial intolerance”, and Apple nixed Apple Pay support for websites that sell white supremacist apparel. Uber said in a statement that it opposed “discrimination of any kind” and retained the right to ban users from the app.

Even the dating app OKCupid piled on, saying in a tweet that after discovering a white supremacist using the app, “Within ten minutes we banned him for life.”

In explaining those moves, companies said they were simply hewing to preexisting policies that govern how their services are used and prohibit violent threats.

“This is not a shift or new policy, just a reiteration of our existing commitment to remaining vigilant against the advancement of hate, intolerance and violence on our platforms,” PayPal spokesman Justin Higgs said in an email.

[“Source-independent”]