Cloudflare, free speech and the rule of law

Defining exactly where a particular vendor sits in the infrastructure stack is important because this determines which legal rules apply around liability for content. If they are a publisher, they have much more responsibility for the content on their platform than if they are just a distributor.

Moving from network to content enabler

Cloudflare is an internet security service that sits in front of your website, distributing the content faster via their global network and protecting it from threats such as denial of service attacks.

The US government is offering no alternative

The technical design of the internet is decentralised. A large number of networks run by many separate entities all come together to provide a neutral service that allows everyone to communicate without rules. This has allowed amazing innovation but has also created huge societal problems as we deal with the fact that no single state or organisation has oversight.

  • Facebook/Google: Adding their own layer on top of the legal minimum. We are only aware of what they are doing through leaks of operating documentation and there is no route to appeal or even review of what the current rules are.

Moving away from the rule of law?

Things changed following the recent mass shooting incidents in the US when Cloudflare decided to terminate the service of one of its customers, 8Chan:

Eroding free speech

Speech is different from action. This is why they are legislated differently. Talking about killing is not the same as the action of killing. Things start to blur as you get closer to the action e.g. conspiracy, but there is still a distinction.

Which rule of law?

It just so happens that all the major tech companies have been founded in a Western democracy with liberal values that I agree with (having been brought up in a similar society), so I have no problem with most of the rules they create. It might have been a different story if the major internet platforms had ended up deriving their values from more authoritarian or less-liberal societies. What would this have looked like if Facebook had been a Chinese organisation instead? We only need to look at the censorship within China to get an idea.

Co-founder — the best tools for developers. Researching sustainable computing at Uptime Institute.

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