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Weekend Read: It took Charlottesville for Silicon Valley to stand up to hate

Silicon Valley has a reputation as a liberal place, but it was a critical partner in the deadly “Unite the Right” rally that cost a counter-protestor her life.

Hate groups of all stripes used their websites to advertise their participation in the rally. They turned to social media to urge their followers to join them. And they used services like PayPal and Patreon to fund their invasion of Charlottesville, Virginia.

Such partnerships may soon be a thing of the past. By Monday morning, service providers had begun to pull the plug on hate groups and individual extremists alike.

“I woke up this morning in a bad mood and decided to kick them off the internet,” Cloudflare Chief Executive Matthew Prince wrote in an email to employees announcing his suspension of the neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer.

The Daily Stormer became the top hate site in America last year, but it struggled to stay online this week after its long-time host, GoDaddy, delisted its domain on Monday. Over the course of the week, The Daily Stormer transferred its registration to Google and even to the Russian Network Information Center, only to be kicked off each provider.

“Charlottesville has definitely lit a fire under some people,” SPLC Intelligence Project Director Heidi Beirich told USA Today. “I wonder if the violence marks a sea change.”

Beirich is right that tech companies have been stubbornly hands-off in the past. Despite policies that are ostensibly “anti-hate,” they have rarely taken action to remove hateful content or users from their platforms.

But as the nation grapples with the violent coordination of hate groups across the far-right spectrum in Charlottesville, Facebook has shut down at least nine pages connected to the rally; Twitter, YouTube, and LinkedIn have suspended several extremist accounts; Reddit has eliminated one discussion community that supported “Unite the Right,” and even OKCupid has kicked white nationalist Christopher Cantwell off the dating site.

By far, the biggest sweep came from PayPal, which agreed to block at least 34 organizations from using its services after an SPLC report highlighted how extremists used the platform to fund the rally in Charlottesville.

“For the longest time, PayPal has essentially been the banking system for white nationalism,” the SPLC’s Keegan Hankes told The Washington Post. “It’s a shame it took Charlottesville for them to take it seriously.”

It is good news that PayPal, Pateron, and other tech companies are finally taking steps to curb the hate on their platforms. But to truly make a dent in the hate and bigotry online, tech companies must be more cognizant of the role their services play in spreading hate.

“If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention,” Heather Heyer, 32, posted on Facebook before she was killed by an alleged Nazi sympathizer in Charlottesville.

It's wise advice for tech firms in Silicon Valley and beyond.

The Editors.

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SPLC’s Weekend Readings are a weekly summary of the most important news reporting and commentary from around the country on civil rights, economic and racial inequality, and hate and extremism. Sign up to receive Weekend Readings every Saturday morning.