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 2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

  1. Politics: Trump calls Fauci a "disaster" on campaign call.
  2. Health: Coronavirus hospitalizations are on the rise — 8 states set single-day coronavirus case records last week.
  3. States: California to independently review FDA-approved coronavirus vaccinesWisconsin judge reimposes capacity limit on indoor venues.
  4. Media: Trump attacks CNN as "dumb b---ards" for continuing to cover pandemic.
  5. World: Ireland moving back into lockdown as cases surge — Argentina becomes 5th country to report 5 million infections
Updated 2 hours ago - World

In photos: Coronavirus restrictions grow across Europe

A closed-down pub in Dublin on Oct. 19. Under Ireland's new six-week-longh measures, taking effect at midnight on Oct. 21, most must stores close, home visits will be banned and a three-mile travel limit will be imposed for exercise.

The Republic of Ireland's Taoiseach Micheál Martin announced Monday evening the country would this week return to its highest level of lockdown restrictions.

The big picture: Restrictions are returning across Europe as the continent faces a second coronavirus wave. Several countries have imposed regional lockdowns, but Ireland is the first to return to a full nationwide lockdown. Take a look at what's happening, in photos.

Dion Rabouin, author of Markets
4 hours ago - Economy & Business

The 2020 holiday season may just kill Main Street

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Online retail and e-commerce have been chipping away at brick-and-mortar businesses over the years but the combination of the coronavirus pandemic and the 2020 holiday season may prove to be a knockout blow.

State of play: Anxious consumers say financial concerns and health worries will push them to spend less money this year and to do more of their limited spending online.