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Companies that quietly support the infrastructure of the internet are under new political pressure. Tony Dejak/AP

The services that help form an unofficial backbone for the internet are facing pressure to stop working with certain sites tied to extremism — a sign of the growing tension between the demands to crack down on content linked to violence and the internet's tradition of openness.

The Counter Extremism Project, a non-profit that focuses in part on disrupting extremist recruitment online, says in letters to Cloudflare, WordPress parent Automattic and GoDaddy that the companies should stop providing services to sites associated with terrorist groups like ISIS and al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Axios got an early look at the letters, which were sent this week.

Why it matters: These are three members of a club of companies that can, effectively, decide whether someone gets to host a website.

Cloudflare, for example, protects websites from cyberattacks and GoDaddy provides them with domain name registration. All three also decided to stop providing services to websites associated with white supremacist groups earlier this summer — which helped to trigger the Friday letters.

In a letter to Cloudflare CEO Matthew Prince, Mark Wallace, CEO of the Counter Extremism Project, cited Prince's email in which he said that they had stopped working with the neo-Nazi Daily Stormer because the people behind the site "are a**holes and I'd had enough."

Key quote: "Surely you would agree that the people behind internationally-sanctioned terrorist organizations such as ISIS are also 'a**holes,' and that the content on websites operated on their behalf are at least as 'vile,'" said Wallace, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

Yes, but: These issues have forced tech to re-evaluate its hardline commitment to openness. Some have wondered if that's happening too fast, and in hoc way.

  • "All fair-minded people must stand against the hateful violence and aggression that seems to be growing across our country," wrote the liberal Electronic Frontier Foundation in August. "But we must also recognize that on the Internet, any tactic used now to silence neo-Nazis will soon be used against others, including people whose opinions we agree with."
  • Wallace said in a letter to GoDaddy that the organization hopes that cutting off the Daily Stormer "is a first step that will lead to the adoption of policies that put an end to ad-hoc and reactionary removal of content and services, clearly define what material and partners are acceptable to GoDaddy, and allow for the quick removal of objectionable extremist content in a manner that is reasonable, consistent, transparent, and fair."

Be smart: This will keep coming up for the companies that form the silent infrastructure for the Internet, at least until there's some sort of consensus on how to address issues like this.

Go deeper

Updated 4 hours ago - World

Up to 17 U.S. missionaries kidnapped in Haiti

Haitian soldiers guard the public prosecutor's office in Port-au-Prince this month. Photo: Richard Pierrin/AFP via Getty Images

Children were among up to 17 American Christian missionaries and their relatives kidnapped by a gang in Haiti on Saturday, the New York Times first reported.

The latest: Haitian police inspector Frantz Champagne identified the 400 Mawozo gang as the group responsible, in a statement to AP.

Hollywood union reaches deal with studios to avert strike

Photo: AaronP/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images

A Hollywood workers' union reached a tentative deal with studios, networks and streamers that will guarantee better working conditions, meal breaks and increased wages for low-paid workers, the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) announced Saturday night.

Why it matters: The deal, which still needs to be ratified by IATSE members, will avert a nationwide strike by film and television workers that was set to start Monday. It would have been the first strike in the union's 128-year history.

Bill Clinton released from hospital following treatment for non-COVID infection

Photo: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Former President Bill Clinton was discharged from the University of California, Irvine Medical Center on Sunday, nearly a week after he was admitted for a non-COVID-related infection, according to his spokesperson Angel Ureña.

What they're saying: "His fever and white blood cell count are normalized and he will return home to New York to finish his course of antibiotics," wrote Dr. Alpesh Amin, who has been overseeing the team of doctors treating Clinton. "On behalf of everyone at UC Irvine Medical Center, we were honored to have treated him and will continue to monitor his progress."

Worth noting: Clinton had a urinary tract infection that spread to his bloodstream, per CNN.

  • The California-based medical team had been administering IV antibiotics and fluids, and was in constant communication with Clinton's New York team, including his cardiologist, according to the former president's physicians.
  • President Biden spoke by phone with Clinton on Friday to see how he was doing, and the catch-up included a discussion of recent politics.