A New Age of Web Censorship?

Opinions are understandably mixed as to whether it was right for Twitter, Facebook et al. to remove Donald Trump’s various accounts from their servers. Amazon blocking access to the prominent alternative Parler, which was welcoming Trump and his followers with open arms was also questionable. There is a genuine debate to be had about whether this all amounts to censorship, or is simply businesses wanting to restrict illegal or unsavoury content.

Since the days of Geocities I remember it being common for web hosts to have clauses in their Terms of Service that prohibit certain content. In fact, here is a snippet from the Geocities TOS in 2000:

You agree to not use the Service to: a. upload, post, email, transmit or otherwise make available any Content that is unlawful, harmful, threatening, abusive, harassing, tortious, defamatory, vulgar, obscene, libelous[sic], invasive of another’s privacy, hateful, or racially, ethnically or otherwise objectionable;

Geocities, 2000

Put simply, Donald Trump would have been banned from Geocities too. Of course AWS is a far cry from Geocities, and in 2021 the online world is far more entangled with the offline that it was in the year 2000. However, I still think important to understand that web hosts not wanting to host certain content is nothing new.

This is where the concept of Net Neutrality is important. While I think it’s fine for AWS to not want to host certain content, it would be a sad day for the Internet if ISPs could choose not to carry traffic for sites they find objectionable.

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