De-Platforming is Digital Censorship. Blacklisting is Digital Shunning.
“I have always strenuously supported the right of every man to his own opinion, however different that opinion might be to mine. He who denies to another this right, makes a slave of himself to his present opinion, because he precludes himself the right of changing it.” – Thomas Paine (1737-1809)
For those not familiar with the case, Gab.com’s ability to operate was abruptly terminated by Godaddy, among other vendors, who deemed Gab to have violated their terms of service. This de-platforming of Gab generated much discussion in the mainstream technology press. It also prompted a lively discussion in the professional domain name community, including at the popular discussion board NamePros.
As the news broke, and as some elements in the mainstream media rendered their judgement, I embarked on my own search for truth. Along the way, I did have an opportunity to meet with the Founder of Gab, Andrew Torba, an entrepreneur who was willing to swim against the tide for what he believes is right, namely empowering netizens to discuss openly about matters of mutual interest with limited risk of censorship.
Although, I did not take the decision lightly to accept this domain registration, I look forward to partnering with a young, and once brash, CEO who is courageously doing something that looks useful. As I reflect on my own journey as a truth-seeking tech entrepreneur, I have no doubt that Andrew will continue to develop not only as tech entrepreneur but also as a responsible steward — one that can balance bravado with diplomacy and who tempers courage with humility.
A Word on Inalienable Rights
De-platforming a haven of free speech is not about left or right. Anyone who remembers studying civics is familiar with the concept of inalienable rights — rights that a worthy government can only protect but would have no moral authority to take away. The idea of Natural Law and Inalienable Rights dates back to Ancient Greece, if not before. Tolerance for competing views — including those protected by Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Press — is not an American concept even though the Founding Fathers of the United States built a prosperous nation around the concept.
We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. – Thomas Jefferson
These days there are many kinds of online content that some people find objectionable. When it comes to publishing content, online or offline, there is an interplay between free will and personal responsibility. Specific to Gab, the decision to not only tolerate but to welcome competing views, does come with a responsibility to take action when free will is exhibited without personal responsibility. This was famously illustrated in the opinion rendered by Supreme Court in Watt vs. United States (1969) where threats of violence was deemed unlawful.
In the case of Gab.com, there is a duty to monitor and lightly curate, keeping content within the bounds of the law. The duty is perhaps best explained by Uncle Ben of Spiderman fame:
“A Republic, if you can keep it.”
– Ben Franklin (1787)
A Word on Decentralization of Ownership
One of the unique features of Gab is their democratic approach to capitalization. For an online media portal with exponential growth, there are variety of potential acquirers and investors that would have a keen interest in providing growth capital, even for a business model that is presently loss-making as is the case with Gab. Rather than go down Sand Hill Road, they have opted to follow in the footsteps of Blockchain by designing a distributed ownership model. And while Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs) lost some of their heady momentum, the premise of shared ownership for shared outcomes remains compelling.
In the domain name world, we often talk about domain ownership. The reality is that we are mostly leasing domains from registries, who in turn is often regulated by a regulator ICANN. Recently I have been a vocal advocate for Forever domain registrations whereby a domain is free of ongoing expense. At the moment, this is possible through Epik though there is still more work to do to make this a risk-free industry norm. The danger of not proactively embracing digital sovereignty, in all its forms, is that the digital world will inevitably find a way to achieve it, with or without domain names.
Let Freedom Ring
To the casual observer, the case of Gab.com seems like it is something new. It is not. It is history repeating itself. While there are consequences to actions, there is also the proverbial risk of throwing out the baby with the bathwater. My hope, for all of our sakes, is that Gab.com treads wisely, using its liberty for the betterment of most, and the enlightenment of all.