Rebel Media is an organization that I know almost nothing about, except that it is avowedly not politically correct, but by my limited exposure, is nonetheless not in the slightest affiliated with “Nazi” viewpoints. And yet, it has been shut down, at about as fundamentally as a site can be shut down: the domain itself has been pulled.
Speaking as someone who knows a bit about web hosting, let me explain how it works. A person registers a domain with a registrar; the sole purpose of the registrar is to connect the domain name to a web server, via nameservers. The web server itself has a numerical identifier for itself and the account, but as people can’t remember a series of numbers very well, the Internet is pleased to have the the registrar convert the numerical identifier into the domain name.
A web server is like a piece of real estate while the actual website is like a renter who has a building on it. The domain name is, strictly speaking, optional: its like being included in a directory of buildings. If you are removed from that directory, then the only way to find the website is to EXACTLY know the IP address.
The web server itself is usually indifferent to the the activities of the renter, so long as the renter does not cause it too much trouble. Most people don’t associate the web server with the domain, just like most people do not blame the landlord for the fault of the renters. Generally speaking, that is for good reason: that would be stupid. In a sane universe, it is understood that the landlord does not necessarily endorse the views of the renters. Similarly, no one looks at a website and thinks to themselves, “Oh, this is registered by GoDaddy. GoDaddy must agree with the contents of the website.” If anyone did this, we would rightly consider that person an idiot. But until now, this has hardly ever, if ever, been done.
Mind you, this isn’t even a web server, ie, a landlord of a piece of real estate. Certainly they have some discretion in what kinds of businesses operate on their land, since the own the land. But the directories do nothing except to match names to numbers. There is zero connection to the nature of the content, which of course is why most of the registrars have no compunction whatsoever with hosting heavy porn and all sorts of other vile behavior. So much for standards, right?
The US Constitution is pretty clear in stating that we have a right to free speech, but it would be argued that private companies such as Cloudflare or GoDaddy need not comply with that. That would be correct, but it would also be equivalent of cutting off one’s nose to spite their face. In the long run, if companies who merely maintain what amounts to match making directories decide that they want to censor content, there will be a huge backlash which will hurt their bottom line. Naturally, ICAAN will back their play, because the International community is, to be frank, thoroughly proto-fascist, but eventually pressure would build up and even that would break.
But in the meantime, lets consider what would happen if the domain registrars begin taking sites out of their ‘directories.’
This would represent a staggering blow to whomever was using that registrar, but the underlying web server would still be there, serving web pages. ONLY the people who know the IP addresses of the websites would be able to see the web sites, but after a suitable amount of time, word would eventually spread (there are more ways to communicate than Google, Facebook, and email, after all), and naturally only the people who were most committed to the cause of those sites would once again visit those sites. This wouldn’t take as long as you think.
Within short order, two things would have been accomplished. 1., only the truest of believers would be associating and 2., no one else would have any clue what they are actually talking about.
In theory, you could go to the website of a dissenter, read what you see there, and either opine directly with them, or if illegal and dangerous behavior was being discussed, you could report them to authorities. But if you are not privy to the actual IP address, you will never be able to do either of these things. They could plan a full out revolution and no one would be the wiser. And, as true believers, feeling (rightly) targeted, they’re not going to be inclined to compromise.
Up until the time that ICAAN finally breaks, and the registrars are brought to heel (they are, after all, supposed to serve the PUBLIC, which includes people we don’t agree with and even often find vile), some seriously bad actors could carry out some seriously bad things.
Not that I’m saying that Rebel Media are these bad actors. Not at all. I’m not knowledgeable enough about them to know. What I’m saying is that what is happening to Rebel Media is a precedent that can only lead to seriously bad things happening, as the principles are extended to even more domains. The people who frequent those domains will eventually find a way to re-connect. Even if you get rid of the web servers themselves, a web server can be erected off of any person’s laptop, and at this point, with knowledge of the websites only being passed along by word of mouth, there is literally nothing you could do to stop them from interacting. And to so say that these people will be P-Oed, perpetually, is an underestimate, to put it mildly.
But that’s not where the potential holocaust lies.
For that, you need government sanction with government powers. It is inevitable that a government empowered with the ability to blacklist whole populations would extend that to any site that threatens its existence. We’ve already seen this in various ways in other countries. See, for example, this, this, and this.
Imagine this kind of viewpoint censoring throughout the globe, and imagine what governments would do with that power. Yes, even your American, Canadian, or British government. And even if they did not capitalize on that power, try to ponder the ultimate manifestation of the consequences of private companies who merely manage the world’s public directories taking it upon themselves to censor speech, on their own discretion. For once, for God’s sake, THINK.
It has been said that the answer to bad speech is more free speech. This is true. If you send proponents of flawed ideologies underground, there is no opportunity to reason with them, object to them or–ponder this thought for a moment–consider the possibility that maybe it is YOU with the flawed ideology. You may deny a ‘racist’ a platform, but you have not eradicated his ‘racism.’ You’ve only forced him to channel his efforts into an direction that is less open to public scrutiny and feedback, and frankly, you deserve exactly what you get.
The revoking of websites at the web server level is reasonable, just as owners of real estate have the discretion about what kinds of things happen on their property. But stripping people of their domain names is the modern equivalent of pure totalitarianism. It is stupid. It is dumb. It is asinine. It will be found, in time, to be completely counter-productive. Do you support such things? Then you are two things at once: a wanna-be Hitler, and, insofar as you probably think you are opposed to Hitler, and yet virtually identical to him in your mindset, you are properly included among some of the dumbest persons on the planet.
Sorry to stoop so low in my description, but I fear we are rapidly reaching the point where positions are irrevocably hardened, and it will no longer be possible to sort out differences of opinions by dialog or elections, leaving only sheer violence as the mechanism to resolve such things.
And that, my friend, will be on YOU.
Fortunately, in the Twitter generation, the proto-fascists to whom this most applies to will never read this far (I lost them after the first paragraph) or else I would be next on their list.
Trust me, I’m fully prepared for the eventuality.