No, Denying a Platform to Nazis Doesn’t Violate Their Free Speech

By Daniel Barna

As the moral outrage stemming from the violent protests in Charlottesville rages on, companies are being forced to pick a side. Are they with the Nazis, or against them (not a hard choice, except if you’re the President)? While most companies can denounce white supremacy by releasing a simple statement, tech companies that give open platforms to users face a much trickier dilemma.

On Wednesday, Spotify left no room for speculation on where it stands when it removed the music of all artists that identify as white supremacists from its catalog, Billboard reports. The move came after Digital Music News published a story titled “I Just Found 27 White Supremacist Hate bands On Spotify,” based on The Southern Poverty Law Center’s 2014 list of 37 “white power” acts.

“Illegal content or material that favors hatred or incites violence against race, religion, sexuality, or the like is not tolerated by us,” a Spotify spokesperson told Billboard. A band called Tattooed Mother Fuckers and another one called Blood Red Eagle were among those who had their music removed from the platform.

Spotify isn’t the only tech company to speak out against white supremacy and Donald Trump’s categorical failure to denounce it. On Wednesday night, Apple CEO Tim Cook sent out an email to his employees in which he explicitly called out President Trump and white supremacists.

“I disagree with the president and others who believe that there is a moral equivalence between white supremacists and Nazis, and those who oppose them by standing up for human rights,” Cook wrote. “Equating the two runs counter to our ideals as Americans.”

But Cook doesn’t have the ability to stop a white supremacist from buying an iPhone. Uber could potentially vet its drivers and decide whether or not he or she meets the criteria for employment, but it would have a lot harder time determining which of its riders have ties to any hate groups.

But tech companies who can remove content they deem inappropriate should be able to exercise that right without facing the fury of internet watchdogs accusing them of censorship. Just this week, the web hosting company CloudFare canceled the account of the neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer because according to its CEO, Matthew Prince, “the people behind* the Daily Stormer* are assholes and I’d had enough.“ GoDaddy also booted The Daily Stormer from its servers, despite its past unwillingness to police the content it hosts.

On Thursday, OKCupid became the latest tech company to expel a white supremacist from its platform. Chris Cantwell—whose now infamous appearance in VICE’s Charlottesville documentary went viral this week (as did his subsequent video in which he wept for his own safety)—was banned for life by the dating site. “There is no room for hate in a place where you’re looking for love,” the company said in a statement.

Other companies who have shown racists the door this week include Twitter, Google, Facebook, Discord, Reddit, GoFundMe and Squarespace. Look, if the internet’s gatekeepers are allowed to decide what can and can’t appear online, a case can be made that free speech and freedom and of expression are being stifled. But this isn’t any normal speech. This is hate speech which has caused countless deaths throughout history and another one just last weekend. It would be one thing if their views were run-of-the-mill objectionable, but these people and their rhetoric are a clear and present danger to the safety of others. And, really, who is missing some Nazis on Spotify?