Despite GoDaddy’s recent assertion that it wouldn’t host The Daily Stormer on its platform, the company does offer the neo-Nazi website another service.
ProPublica reported this month that the tech firm Cloudflare works with The Daily Stormer, including providing information that has allowed targeted harassment campaigns against its critics.
In that story, the senior manager of GoDaddy’s digital crimes unit insisted the company would not work with The Daily Stormer.
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“There is certainly content that, while we respect freedom of speech, we don’t want to be associated with it,” Arlen Hess told ProPublica.
However, it turns out that GoDaddy serves as the domain name registrar for The Daily Stormer, through its subsidiary Domains by Proxy, as it has throughout the site’s four-year history. The Daily Stormer’s domain registration information can be found using a lookup tool, such as the one operated by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers.
While GoDaddy secures over 70 million domain names, the company has long been aware of the public rancor regarding its relationship with The Daily Stormer, having regularly received complaints about the site.
A representative from the Anti-Defamation League told Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting that he spent the latter months of 2016 in active conversations with Domains by Proxy about the service it provides to the site.
Named after the German Nazi-era tabloid Der Stürmer, The Daily Stormer is a prominent player in the online white supremacist ecosystem. Publisher Andrew Anglin regularly posts attacks against racial, ethnic and religious minorities.
The Southern Poverty Law Center found that passages in a manifesto written by white supremacist mass-murderer Dylann Roof were replicated, almost verbatim, in a comment on The Daily Stormer left by user AryanBlood1488.
When computers talk to each other over the internet, individual websites are identified by a string of numbers called an IP address. Because an IP address such as 18.104.22.168 is considerably more difficult for a human to remember than a domain name such as www.revealnews.org, websites create domain names to link to their IP addresses.
They register those names to create a public record, accessible to any computer on the internet. Scottsdale, Arizona-based GoDaddy is the world’s largest registrar, with domain registration making up a significant portion of its $1.85 billion annual business.
In the ProPublica story, GoDaddy’s policies were contrasted against Cloudfare’s.
In an interview with Reveal, Ben Butler, director of GoDaddy’s digital crimes unit, drew a distinction between the kind of service his company provides many clients – hosting content – and the kind it provides The Daily Stormer.
GoDaddy doesn’t host The Daily Stormer’s content on its servers. Because it provides only the domain name, the company says it has a higher standard for terminating service.
“We need to evaluate what level of effect we can actually have on the abuse that’s actually going on,” Butler said. “As a domain name registrar, if we take the domain name down, that domain name stops working. But the content is still out there, live on a server connected to the internet that can be reached via an IP address or forwarded from another domain name. The actual content is not something we can touch by turning on or off the domain name service.”
Keegan Hankes, an intelligence analyst for the Southern Poverty Law Center, said that while technology companies by and large explicitly ban harassment, they often don’t seem to enforce such rules.
“It’s not that they don’t have the resources to deal with the problem, but they’re reluctant to wade into it,” he said. “I think many of them got caught off guard with how bad it’s gotten.”
GoDaddy will terminate its relationship with sites it discovers are distributing child pornography or directly facilitating denial-of-service attacks, both illegal activities.
The company’s Universal Terms of Service Agreement also prohibits customers from using the registration service for any site that “promotes, encourages or engages in terrorism, violence against people, animals, or property.”
But harassment without explicit calls for physical violence is a gray area the company leaves to courts and law enforcement officials to identify before it takes decisive action.
“While, as individuals, everybody has their own moral compass, GoDaddy isn’t about trying to be the morality for the internet,” Butler said.
Domains by Proxy’s Domain Name Proxy Agreement allows the company to terminate service for “morally objectionable activities,” which include harassment, abuse and threats. It also specifically mentions threats to minors and those based on race and ethnicity.
Losing a domain registration is far from a death sentence for a website. Technically savvy site operators can register their operation with a new domain name service and get their site running within a matter of minutes.
A pending court case could give GoDaddy more clarity about the legality of The Daily Stormer’s conduct.
While the site was founded by Anglin in 2013, it has been the subject of increased public attention in recent months, as its white nationalist community has become a vocal online presence in support of President Donald Trump.
Earlier this year, the Southern Poverty Law Center filed a lawsuit against Anglin on behalf of Tanya Gersh, a real estate agent in Whitefish, Montana, who was targeted by The Daily Stormer as part of a coordinated campaign.
The site published dozens of articles attacking Gersh over her role in selling a property belonging to the mother of Richard Spencer, founder of the white nationalist National Policy Institute. Spencer, who funds much of his political activities with money generated from this family’s real estate holdings, including cotton farms, accused Gersh of attempting to extort money from his mother. Gersh has asserted her motivation for assisting with the sale was to dissipate growing local anger over Spencer’s burgeoning role in the white nationalist movement.
Anglin used The Daily Stormer to encourage his followers to harass Gersh and her family as part of what an article called a “troll storm.”
“Just make your opinions known,” Anglin wrote. “Tell them you are sickened by their Jew agenda. … This is very important. Calling these people up and/or sending them a quick message is very easy. It is very important that we make them feel the kind of pressure they are making us feel. … And hey – if you’re in the area, maybe you should stop by and tell her in person what you think of her actions.”
Anglin directed his followers to attack Gersh’s husband and 12-year-old son. The boy’s Twitter feed soon was filled with comments such as, “psst kid, theres (sic) a free Xbox One inside this oven,” a reference to the millions of Jews killed in the Holocaust.
Anglin also threatened to stage a white supremacist march in Whitefish that would have ended at Gersh’s home.
According to the lawsuit, Gersh “has experienced serious and severe emotional and physical distress as a result” of the harassment.
The campaign against Gersh was hardly an isolated incident. Days after the 2016 presidential election, Anglin urged readers in a blog post to harass anyone they see in public who they believe to be Muslim.
“I am of course against any violence against these people,” he wrote. “However, I do think you should yell at them in people (sic), tell them to go home. … I encourage you to do that with any foreigners you see, especially those wearing Islamic clothing. … We want these people to feel unwanted. We want them to feel that everything around them is against them. And we want them to be afraid.”
In an email response to Reveal peppered with anti-Jewish slurs, Anglin said: “The way institutions ostensibly devoted to journalistic integrity are wholly obsessed with shutting down independent journalists engaging in Constitutionally protected speech by any means necessary is incredibly similar to the way children’s aid organizations are constantly caught in child sex trafficking scandals.”
Typically, when customers register domains, they are required to publicly list personal information that includes their name, address, email and phone number. GoDaddy subsidiary Domains by Proxy, however, lets companies list their corporate information instead.
This concealment can be crucial in cases such as an independent news site doing critical reporting on a repressive government. It’s also a service widely used by online hate groups.
Anglin’s identity as the publisher of The Daily Stormer is public knowledge – his name and personal email address are listed on the group’s website.
But Jonathan Vick, associate director for investigative technology and cyberhate response at the Anti-Defamation League, asked Domains by Proxy last year to make Anglin’s contact information public.
These types of complaints, Butler said, have been common over the course of GoDaddy’s relationship with The Daily Stormer. However, while GoDaddy does pass on complaints to a website’s host, he said, The Daily Stormer never has met GoDaddy’s standard for terminating service.
Hankes, of the Southern Poverty Law Center, said tech companies need to play a more hands-on role in policing what’s acceptable for their users.
“If you’re going to say that you don’t want hate on your platform and you don’t stand for these things, it’s a ‘put your money where your mouth is’ situation,” he said.
Aaron Sankin can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @ASankin.