Essay:Free speech webhosting
Free speech webhosting is webhosting that has much laxer restrictions on allowable website content than mainstream webhosts. A true free speech webhost will only impose such restrictions as are required by applicable law (including, perhaps, a libertarian code of natural law outlawing, for instance, aggressive conduct considered legal by government-imposed statute, but regarded as aggression by libertarians. Thus, for example, a free speech webhost need not allow the use of its site to transfer data needed to conduct drone aircraft strikes against innocent civilians in order to still qualify as a free speech webhost). Free speech webhosting has important implications for libertarians, who may find that their advocacy of legalizing certain behaviors is construed as advocating engaging in those currently-illegal behaviors; e.g. advocating drug legalization is often viewed as tantamount to encouraging drug use. Thus, a person wishing to make such libertarian arguments online will need to post those arguments to a website hosted by some entity that is tolerant of such speech.
Common restrictions imposed by mainstream webhosts
Most webhosts impose restrictions on a variety of different content, often vaguely and broadly specified in the terms of service. Examples of commonly-prohibited content include that which pertains to controlled substances, illegal drugs and drug contraband; weapons; pirated materials; instructions on making, assembling or obtaining illegal goods or weapons to attack others; information used to violate the copyright of, violate the trademark of or to destroy others' intellectual property or information; information used to illegally harm any people or animals; pornography, nudity, sexual products, programs or services; escort services or other content deemed adult related; profanity; hate speech (e.g. advocacy of genocide); content disclosing personal or private information about or images of children or any third party without the consent of said party; defamatory, harassing, abusive or threatening language; and content considered harmful to the webhost's business, operations, reputation, goodwill, subscribers, or subscriber relations.
Typically, the terms of service give the webhost the right to decide what is to be considered as falling within these categories. What normally happens is that if a user has controversial content on his website, a concerned member of the public will eventually complain to the webhost and ask it to be taken down. Most webhosts will then cursorily peruse the content, designate it as falling within one of the prohibited categories if it can be even remotely construed as inappropriate, and send the site owner a notice asking him to take it down within a certain timeframe (e.g. a day or two). If he fails to do so, usually the webhost will deactivate his entire account. The philosophy of these webhosts seems to be that it is the more cost-effective and hassle-free route for them to require their customers to refrain from posting controversial content that could lead to lawsuits (frivolous or otherwise); hacker and denial-of-service attacks; bad press; and reluctance of relatively mainstream users to be hosted by that site.
The marketplace of free speech webhosts is not very large, and many of these webhosts are small operations with only a few staff members. There appears to be a high turnover rate, with many of them going defunct within a few years after launching; notable examples would include 1st-Amendment.Net, Free Speech Web Hosting, Grex, and SecureServerTech. Some free speech webhosts provide dedicated servers (and are, therefore, much more expensive than webhosts that use shared hosting); examples include iWeb, Beachcomber, The Planet, and Versaweb.com. Other examples of free speech webhosts are Project DoD, which has a hacker/indie-rock band culture and is organized democratically as a member-supported cooperative; and zensurfrei.com, whose website states, "We accept Euro banknotes or US Dollar banknotes. No coins".
Many free speech webhosts require a high level of technical proficiency on the part of their users, perhaps the most noteworthy example being NearlyFreeSpeech.NET, which eschews cPanel in favor of a more minimalist hosting panel with fewer features. Some free speech webhosts are also fly-by-night operations that provide poor or unreliable customer service. In addition, there are varying degrees of restriction on what is allowable content even within this market. Computer Tyme, for example, was negatively reviewed for imposing certain restrictions on text-only (no images) pornography. Hosting Zoom likewise has restrictions against adult content in its acceptable use policy, as does inMotion Hosting.
NearlyFreeSpeech.NET is a rather quirky free speech webhost that has existed since February 2002. NewgonWiki and Americans for a Society Free from Age Restrictions are hosted there. NFSN uses a complicated pricing system and a pay-as-you-go payment system that allows users to prepay as much money as they wish to fund the account; the system then debits that balance daily. If the account reaches a zero balance, then the website is deactivated until the balance is replenished. The site charges for bandwidth by the gigabyte (with the marginal price diminishing as bandwidth increases) and for storage by the megabyte-day, in contrast to the more usual practice of charging a flat rate for unlimited hosting or for a certain maximum bandwidth and storage. The host also charges pennies per day for certain services (e.g. dynamic websites, DNS, MySQL) rather than the more usual (sometimes refundable on a prorated basis) per-year charges for additional services. The webhost thus can be quite cost-effective for small websites with little traffic, especially if they only have static content.
However, for larger, dynamic websites with a high volume of traffic, it can be much more expensive than a flat-rate webhost. Also, the host is geared toward users who either already have, or are willing to invest in acquiring, technical proficiency making extensive use of the FreeBSD command line. For security and performance reasons, a number of features (such as SMTP, ImageMagick, object caching, and PHP without safe mode) are unavailable. Also, folders are set with defaults (e.g. restrictive chgrp and chmod settings) that must be changed in order to enable certain content management systems to work. Installation and configuration procedures thus tend to be more complex than on mainstream webhosts. NFSN also does not support the "hack" of giving each website its own subdirectory and allowing those websites to easily share common content stored elsewhere in the directory tree.
Although there is one NFSN IT staff member,
jdw, who monitors the member forum daily and ensures that almost every technical question whose answer could help other users gets answered, the member wiki, member forums, and full set of Frequently Asked Questions are copyrighted and made available only to members (in contrast to, say, the BlueHost help pages), and thus cannot be googled by outside search engines. This can make the process of searching for solutions to problems more cumbersome, requiring separate searches on pages internal to NFSN and on pages accessible to search engines. NFSN also refuses to offer static IP addresses because it consumes scarce IP address space, which NFSN regards as an "Internet environmental" issue.
DreamHost has hosted Libertarian Wiki and its successor, Libertapedia, as well as some hate sites, most notably the American Nazi Party. DreamHost does prohibit websites "dedicated to the discussion of hacking activities or the distribution of hacking tools". This webhost has a theoretically unlimited hosting plan, although the owners note that if one's site consumes too many resources, "you may be asked to sign up for your own DreamHost Private Server." This webhost also has a rather comprehensive, publicly-accessible, open-edit and copylefted wiki, upon which the webhost heavily relies for documentation. DreamHost has been listed by Lifehacker as one of the best five webhosts. It has also been recommended by Encyclopedia Dramatica. A "Draw Mohammad Day" site hosted by DreamHost was targeted by a distributed denial of service attack on 20 May 2010.
Despite its advantages, DreamHost does have some technical limitations, such as not offering any sort of object caching on its shared hosting (although it is available to those who spring for the VPS option). DreamHost also tends to kill processes that it deems to be consuming too many resources; this can include even such moderately resource-intensive maintenance scripts as MediaWiki's importImages.php, importDump.php, and rebuildall.php. The
php.ini file is unavailable for editing, and a maximum execution time of 30 seconds is set. The webhost also intermittently goes through periods in which sites load very sluggishly or not at all, with lots of internal server errors. In short, like NFSN, DreamHost is good for controversial websites as long as they are small or static, but larger dynamic sites may run into problems unless they pay extra to get a VPS.
The VPS costs about $15/month for 300MB of memory. This will generally result in pages failing to load and the VPS being periodically rebooted when it exceeds its memory limits. Increases in memory size are rather expensive. A DreamHost VPS with 300MB of memory arguably has even worse performance than DreamHost shared hosting, although it becomes tolerable if increased a notch or two (to 337MB or 374MB). Although XCache is available for opcode caching for VPS users, object caching is not available.
In 2011, Freedom Hosting was attacked by the hacktivist group Anonymous. the FBI acknowledged that it secretly took control of Freedom Hosting, days before the servers of the largest provider of ultra-anonymous hosting were found to be serving custom malware designed to identify visitors.
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