Free Speech in an increasingly Un-Free World

Kiwi Farms HydraHosting a website is a pain in the ass. All my life, I believed that if I just obeyed the law nothing bad could happen and I would be free to speak my mind, as would everyone else. That isn’t reality. Despite (or perhaps because) my websites are only medium sized and without much distinction, I have been labored with finding a willing host for its content. All we do is talk about people. There is almost no sexual content, no shocking or horrifying gore, no stolen media, no cybercrimes or crimes of any nature being committed, but it is still treated as if it were criminal because users are allowed to ridicule other people.

Every day, hosting in the United States becomes increasingly unattractive. The mantle of protecting freedom of speech has been swept away by European hosts in the last few years, despite the US’s dominance in the realm as the Internet matured. Its federal government had cleared up a lot of grey area that the web had created sooner than any other country, and its infrastructure remained the most developed for almost a decade giving webmasters few options.

Today the market is much different. Almost every country in the world has access to reliable Internet, and location is a much more sordid question than before. Finding a datacenter isn’t a problem, finding a complacent government is. The three big evils are Pornography, Hate Speech, and Copyrighted Content. The conundrum forms your typical Engineer’s Triangle.

Engineer's Triangle of Web Hosting

The United States is pretty safe on porn and hate speech. Most pornography in the world is comfortably is hosted in God’s land, and countries like Japan will often offshore questionable content to avoid their bizarre censorship laws. Racist sites like Stormfront even offer their own hosting service, conveniently located in Florida. What the US lacks is a privacy and fair use. The NSA spies on the Internet at a backbone level and even tech giants like Google and Amazon quake in fear at a DMCA. For these reasons, webhosts are flocking out of the homeland.

Europe is now the gold standard for hosting anything questionable as long as you stay in the right country. Vincet Canfield’s free email service was seized in Germany after a user sent bogus bomb threats, but he has chosen to stay in Europe and relocate to Romania. Almost all of the European countries — including Sweden and Switzerland which are historically good for whistleblowers — have hate speech laws on record because of the antisemitism in World War 2. Despite this, they remain a very attractive place to host websites. The Netherlands has never had a hate speech case make it to court, and many of them, especially eastern European countries, tend to ignore the United States copyright law.

Asia is the last horse in the race but increasingly popular for illegal media and hate speech aimed at the right people. It’s really difficult for Asian governments to notice or care about a single person or website, but they are also the least predictable of any place to host. They’re the latest to really get on board the Internet age. Old traditions and government policies are clashing harshly with new age digital methods. They are easily the best in terms of tucking away a stash of illegal media (bootlegs are kind-of their thing), but beware of their censorship. Each country — from Japan, to Hong Kong, to Singapore — has their own unique flavor of legislation that you should read up on before settling on them as a host.


Even if you find a government complacent with your content, it’s another story if you will find a company that will. Governments are all fairly predictable in what they do, but as companies are private enterprises, they are allowed to make decisions with or without reason. They are not held to the same standards. The Kiwi Farms was hosted on Linode in the United States for three years without a problem. An angry person wrote them an email complaining, without evidence, that the website was used for child pornography. Without any due process, and with an abject refusal to tell me what I could do to correct the issue, Linode demanded I remove everything in a week. I complied and very quickly moved everything over to Gandi, a French host, at the suggestion of a user. Within 48 hours they deleted all of my servers without warning and without the opportunity to recover content due to receiving the same email. As a result, a significant amount of data was lost irrevocably because I had failed to anticipate this drop and back up accordingly.

Linode Trust and Safety

While nothing I hosted was illegal, my community was still being treated like criminals. There exist legal avenues for handling complaints, no host wants to be the one to deal with these problems. I’ve since relocated our content back to the United States and started shopping for smaller hosts. These companies value business enough to deal with abuse letters, but it’s an expensive and uphill battle. People are so terrified by litigation that little else matters.

Whatever we end up doing and wherever we may go, it’s important to not let ourselves be stifled. Hosts, datacenters, companies, and entire countries are less important than that fundamental right to tell shitty people they’re shit.