- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Facebook said Wednesday that it is deleting all attempts to share an offensive article mocking the victim in Saturday’s violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, unless those doing the sharing are explicitly criticizing the article or the white nationalist Daily Stormer website that published it.

First Amendment experts said such pointed viewpoint discrimination is legal but also raises questions about how far online companies plan to go in policing the opinions of users.

Facebook’s treatment is just part of the world of hurt faced by the Daily Stormer, which gave fawning coverage to the neo-Nazis, white supremacists and “alt-right” adherents who staged Saturday’s rally in Charlottesville, sparking clashes with counterprotesters.

The fringe publication has been kicked off its online platforms by Google and GoDaddy. The website was briefly resurrected on a Russian domain provider Wednesday, but that was down by the afternoon. Daily Stormer was still operating only on the dark web late Wednesday.

Its messages also are facing censorship by Twitter.

Meanwhile, Dean Obeidallah, a Muslim comic and radio show host, filed a defamation lawsuit against the site and its founder, Andrew Anglin, over a June article that accused Mr. Obeidallah of being an Islamic State terrorist and the “mastermind” of the concert bombing in Manchester, England, in May.

Mr. Obeidallah said he faced death threats, emotional distress and damage to his reputation from the article.

Muslim Advocates, a legal organization helping Mr. Obeidallah with the case, said the Daily Stormer and Mr. Anglin routinely insult and intimidate racial and religious minorities, including with fabricated stories.

“In today’s world, where outlandish comments can activate people to do dangerous things, this couldn’t be dismissed,” Mr. Obeidallah said.

Mr. Anglin did not return a request for comment Wednesday.

The lawsuit’s timing just days after Charlottesville wasn’t a coincidence, Muslim Advocates said.

White nationalists gathered in the city to show their growing numbers and were met by counterprotesters. The engagement turned violent, and at one point a car mowed into a group of counterprotesters, killing one woman and injuring 19 others. A man seen marching with the white supremacists has been charged with murder.

The Daily Stormer had cheered the racists and wrote a derogatory story about Heather Heyer, the 32-year-old woman who was killed.

Facebook is removing all posts that attempted to share the Stormer article “unless they expressly condemn the article” or the website, said Ruchika Budhraja, a company official.

Twitter, meanwhile, suspended @rudhum, which shared articles from the Daily Stormer.

A Twitter spokesperson would not comment on the specific account suspended Wednesday, but said in an email: “The Twitter Rules prohibit violent threats, harassment, hateful conduct, and multiple account abuse, and we will take action on accounts violating those policies.”

Although there aren’t any constitutional violations if private domain companies like GoDaddy withdraw service, websites could seek legal remedies if contract terms are violated, legal experts said.

Josh Blackman, a professor at South Texas College of Law, said the First Amendment doesn’t protect Daily Stormer from being ousted by internet companies, though he said there is a danger the companies could be too aggressive in determining the scope of what’s “too offensive.”

“I do worry that at some point, conservative outlets that are worlds apart from the white supremacists in Charlottesville could be roped into the general umbrella of ‘hate’ solely because of their support of President Trump,” said Mr. Blackman.

GoDaddy, which ousted Daily Stormer from its online platform, said it supports a free and open internet but won’t tolerate “promoting, encouraging, or otherwise engaging in violence against any person.”

“In our determination, especially given the tragic events in Charlottesville, Dailystormer.com crossed the line and encouraged and promoted violence,” Ben Butler, digital crimes director for GoDaddy, said in a statement.

And on Wednesday, Cloudflare, a tech company that protects sites from being knocked off-line, terminated its contract with the Daily Stormer.

“The tipping point for us making this decision was that the team behind Daily Stormer made the claim that we were secretly supporters of their ideology,” the company said on its website.

Andrew Blake contributed to this report.

• Alex Swoyer can be reached at aswoyer@washingtontimes.com.

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