Tech firms go on offensive against hate groups

A smartphone user shows the Facebook application on his phone in the central Bosnian town of Zenica, in this file photo illustration taken on May 2, 2013.
A smartphone user shows the Facebook application on his phone in the central Bosnian town of Zenica, in this file photo illustration taken on May 2, 2013. PHOTO: REUTERS

LOS ANGELES • Silicon Valley significantly escalated its war on white supremacy this week, choking off the ability of hate groups to raise money online, removing them from Internet search engines and preventing some sites from registering at all.

Companies such as Google, GoDaddy and PayPal are now reversing their hands-off approach about content supported by their services and making it much more difficult for "alt-right" groups to reach mass audiences.

Other companies have done the same. Ride-hailing firm Uber told drivers they do not have to pick up racists. Colour of Change, a racial- justice advocacy group, said on Wednesday that Apple had also moved to block hate sites from using Apple Pay. Facebook shut down eight group pages that it said violated hate-speech policies.

"It's one thing to say we do not allow hate groups, it's another thing to actually go and hunt down the groups, make those decisions and kick those people off," said professor of information systems Gerald Kane at the Boston College Carroll School of Management. "It's something most of these companies have avoided intentionally and fervently over the past 10 years."

Right-wing technologists have responded by building parallel digital services for their own movement. Gab.ai, a social network for promoting free speech, was founded in August last year by Silicon Valley engineers alienated by the region's liberalism. Other conservatives have founded Infogalactic, a Wikipedia for the alt-right, as well as crowdfunding tools Hatreon and WeSearchr. The latter was used to raise money for Mr James Damore, a white engineer who was fired after criticising Google's diversity policy.

"If there needs to be two versions of the Internet, so be it," Gab.ai tweeted on Wednesday morning. Its spokesman, Mr Utsav Sanduja, later warned of a "revolt" in Silicon Valley against the way tech firms are trying to control the national debate. "There will be another type of Internet which is run by people politically incorrect, populist and conservative," he said.

PayPal said late on Tuesday that it would bar nearly three dozen users from accepting donations on its online payment platform following revelations that the company played a key role in raising money for the Charlottesville rally. The Southern Poverty Law Centre, a left-leaning non-profit anti-hate group, said until now, PayPal had ignored its complaints.

"For the longest time, PayPal has essentially been the banking system for white nationalism," Mr Keegan Hankes, an analyst for the centre, told The Washington Post. "It's a shame it took Charlottesville for them to take it seriously."

WASHINGTON POST, BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 18, 2017, with the headline 'Tech firms go on offensive against hate groups'. Print Edition | Subscribe