Today the Chicago Tribune will be printing an article listing us, Steadfast Networks, as a company that allows hate sites, to be hosted on our network. The article has already been posted online and can be seen here.
First of all, yes, we do host sites which have anti-Semitic or other anti-minority leanings. Our network is the home to tens of thousands of web sites and we support the free speech of each and every one of our customers, whether we agree with their beliefs or not. We will not shutdown our customers just because their views or ideas may be unpopular. While we disagree with many of the positions taken on web sites we host, all we are doing is providing them their platform to say what they please, a right afforded them by the 1st amendment.
As the article states, one thing which makes the US different from other countries is the 1st amendment, the freedom of speech. To me, this is a very good thing. It is just frightening to me that people are not allowed to hold certain beliefs in other countries because they are deemed to be unpopular or damaging. That is what makes the US great; it allows people to say what they believe without worry. This leads to great revolutions, grass roots uprisings, and all sorts of new ideas and inventions; it is what built this nation into the world's beacon of democracy. The other side to this is that there will, of course, be speech that we find offensive or demeaning. With free speech, you need to take the bad with the good; you can't just have the good. Sure, we could restrict certain speech, but then do we truly have free speech? Who is to determine which ideas can be freely expressed and which cannot? What if we were not allowed to speak against our government in times of war or unable to profess a religion just because it was unpopular at the time?
We could argue all day with people as to what is offensive, what is defamatory, etc. as everyone has a different definition as to where that line should be drawn. Instead, we choose to let the laws of the United States of America and the state of Illinois serve as our guide. If a site does cross the line and incites violence or violates any other laws we will certainly cooperate with the courts and/or any law enforcement agencies, but we will not violate the freedoms or privacy of our clients outside of that.
Yes, I do know that as a private company we can deny service to any customer for basically any reason, but to me, that is standing completely against the purpose of the Internet. The Internet serves as a medium where everyone has a voice. Again, this has positives and negatives, just as free speech does. If you do not agree with a certain position then start your own site that completely opposes that site. That is what the Internet is about, opposing viewpoints all being made available. Combat the opinions you disagree with by making your own opinions known. How can people be expected to make their own decisions if they are not able to access all the available information, the more information the better? In addition, how are people to become aware of all the opinions that exist if certain opinions are censored? How can you then reach out to those people or combat those opinions unless you are fully aware of them and their positions?
Overall, this is a complex issue, but personally I resort to my Libertarian core, which is to support the free speech of others, even when that speech goes against my own beliefs. I even support your right to disagree with me on this, though don't expect me to sit by idly if you do.
Note: I do appreciate Mr. Working's effort to contact me for a response and that he represented our stance in an accurate manner, though I do wish he would have included more of the comments I had made to him. He was professional in how he treated this matter and I have the utmost respect for him as a journalist.