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GoDaddy and Google have refused service to a notorious neo-Nazi site

But the site will still be able to operate unless its server host takes a stand.

Aja Romano writes about pop culture, media, and ethics. Before joining Vox in 2016, they were a staff reporter at the Daily Dot. A 2019 fellow of the National Critics Institute, they’re considered an authority on fandom, the internet, and the culture wars.

Within 48 hours of the Charlottesville Unite the Right rally, notorious neo-Nazi website the Daily Stormer lost its server host and two separate domain registrars.

On Sunday, GoDaddy made the decision to terminate domain registration services for the website. On Monday, it was joined in that decision by Google and the France-based server company that hosted the site.

The Daily Stormer had initially attempted to rebound from GoDaddy’s termination of services by transferring its patronage to Google’s domain services. But that move was preemptively blocked: a Google spokesperson told Vox that “We are cancelling Daily Stormer’s registration with Google Domains for violating our terms of service.”

Additionally, the website’s France-based server hosting company, Scaleway, confirmed to Vox that after Twitter users alerted it to the fact that it was hosting the site, it locked access to the Daily Stormer’s servers and account.

But despite these setbacks, and despite claims that the site was taken over by the hacker collective Anonymous, the Daily Stormer is still online and posting new content — illustrating that actually removing the site from the internet might prove considerably difficult.

GoDaddy and Google say a Daily Stormer post violated their Terms of Service, and have cut ties with the website

The Daily Stormer has become a popular nexus for the growing alt-right movement since it was founded by Andrew Anglin in 2013. On Sunday, August 13, the site made a post mocking 32-year-old Heather Heyer, who was participating in a counter-protest against the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, when she was killed, allegedly by a reported Nazi sympathizer. The post described the attack as a “road rage incident” and insulted Heyer with slurs and jabs at her appearance.

GoDaddy has been under fire for months for serving as the Daily Stormer’s domain registrar, with the company attempting to distance itself from the website’s content. But when a Twitter user pointed out the Daily Stormer post, calling out GoDaddy in a tweet that went viral Sunday night, GoDaddy responded within a few hours, tweeting that it would no longer be hosting the website’s domain due to a violation of its terms of service.

GoDaddy’s Universal Terms of Service agreement is vague, but its General Rules of Conduct guidelines prohibit usage that’s “illegal, or promotes or encourages illegal activity” and that “promotes, encourages or engages in terrorism, violence against people, animals, or property,” among other things, and states that GoDaddy can terminate the agreement at any time. The Daily Stormer has historically made posts encouraging its audience to harass female targets, sexually assault women, and harass women until they cry, and in the wake of the Charlottesville attack, the site was full of racist memes celebrating the violence and injury of black victims.

Shortly after GoDaddy’s tweet publicizing its decision to boot the domain within 24 hours, a post appeared on the Daily Stormer website purporting to be from hacker collective Anonymous, claiming to have taken over the site.

The post, which is generally being considered an attempt by the website to cover for the GoDaddy breach, claims that Anonymous will give the site 24 hours before shutting it down completely. The Anonymous Twitter account YourAnonNews was dubious about the “hack” being more than a stunt by the website.

At first, GoDaddy’s decision to kick the website off its domain servers seemed like it would be little more than a temporary glitch in the Daily Stormer’s online life: according to the website’s ICANN records, the Daily Stormer had already transferred its domain registration to Google as of Monday morning.

But Google, fresh from efforts to distance itself from the rhetoric behind a highly controversial memo posted internally by a now-fired engineer, wasted no time in quashing that development: “We are cancelling Daily Stormer’s registration with Google Domains for violating our terms of service,” a Google spokesperson told Vox via email.

Following Google’s move, it’s likely the Daily Stormer will continue to look for — or has already found — another domain registration provider among the legions of such services, until it finds one willing to look past the behavior GoDaddy and Google have prohibited. But the Daily Stormer’s domain registration is only one aspect of its online presence. Far more consequential to its continued existence is its server host — and that’s where things get really complicated.

The Daily Stormer’s now-former server host was only just alerted to the fact that the site was on its servers.

The Daily Stormer’s publicly named server host is Cloudflare, which has also come under fire for hosting the site. Despite receiving complaints about hosting the neo-Nazi website since the Unite the Right rally, the company has so far made no public move to terminate its business relationship with the site.

But Cloudflare isn’t exactly the Daily Stormer’s hosting provider. Rather, it provides nameservers for websites, functioning more as a proxy host providing security — and anonymity — for other server hosts whose identities it protects. This is obviously an ideal setup for a controversial site like the Daily Stormer, and in fact, in a May blog post directly responding to criticism that Cloudflare works with the Daily Stormer, CEO Matthew Prince reasserted the company’s commitment to protecting its anonymous network of hosts.

“One of the functions of the network that we provide is to add security to the content providers that use us,” Prince wrote. “Part of doing that inherently involves hiding the location of the actual hosting provider.”

In a statement to Vox, a Cloudflare spokesperson echoed this sentiment, noting that Cloudflare “is not the host of any website” and that “Cloudflare terminating any user would not remove their content from the Internet, it would simply make a site slower and more vulnerable to attack.” The company also moved to distance itself from the content of the Daily Stormer and similar sites:

Cloudflare is aware of the concerns that have been raised over some sites that have used our network. We find the content on some of these sites repugnant. While our policy is to not comment on any user specifically, we are cooperating with law enforcement in any investigation.

Because Cloudflare is a controversial mask for controversial sites, there are several “watch” sites on the web that endeavor to track the real hosts of Cloudflare websites. After Twitter user Drew Barton ran an IP search on the Daily Stormer website server through the Cloudflare watch server Crimeflare, he traced the Daily Stormer IP address back to the server host Scaleway, a French server and website hosting company.

A Scaleway administrator confirmed to Vox that the company, which hosts thousands of websites, had investigated the issue. Upon confirming that the Daily Stormer was hosted on a Scaleway sever, the company proceeded to lock the website’s hosting server, per its Terms of Service. The company also closed the Daily Stormer’s account. The company confirmed that it took down the Daily Stormer’s hosting server early Monday morning.

However, it’s likely that Cloudflare stored a local copy of the website’s content, allowing it to remain online while it found a new server host. By midday Monday, Anglin had posted on the Daily Stormer that he had “retaken control” of the site from Anonymous — indicating that he already found new hosting and was thus able to post new content to the site.

As of yet, it’s unclear what lasting effect, if any, the collective decisions of these internet companies will have on the Daily Stormer’s online existence. As evidenced by Monday’s events, the website can potentially keep transferring its domain registrar and hosting service in search of a more welcoming online home.

It’s worth noting that Anglin, the Daily Stormer’s founder and perhaps the most well-known neo-Nazi prior to the punching of Richard Spencer, has been a prominent force in the development of the heavily ironic style of trolling that the alt-right has used to draw in new members. Anglin and the Daily Stormer have served as resources for those wishing to learn how to couch sincere racism and white supremacy within mocking ironic humor, in order to convince people that the views espoused aren’t really serious. This is a technique to which members of the alt-right continued to adhere in the wake of the Charlottesville rally and attack. So even if the Daily Stormer is effectively shut down, its impact among the alt-right movement is ongoing.

Update: This piece has been revised to reflect new information provided to Vox by the Daily Stormer’s previous host server.