Websites going ‘down’ on Black Friday or Cyber Monday has been a common phenomenon for as long as there have been websites online catering to the biggest shopping bonanza of the year. Website will continue to falter but in this age of globally distributed DNS infrastructure it has become increasingly rare for sites to be unwittingly brought to their knees from an influx of frenzied shoppers. When a website drop offline in more recent times, it’s more likely to be one of those ‘you should have seen this coming when you picked that webhost’ moments.
While the website #fail tally is yet to be calculated for this year boom or bust weekend, one website owner left fuming at being offline on Friday really should have seen it coming. 2ndVote, a conservative watchdog group for corporate advocacy launched the campaign #AnywhereButTARGET ahead of Black Friday and the holiday shopping season to galvanize support against Target’s ‘gender-inclusive’ restroom and changing-room policies. The site was shut down on Thanksgiving morning by its web hosting company on the claim that it featured “hateful or discriminatory” content.
Lance Wray, Executive Director of 2ndVote stated in a press release:
Our #AnywhereButTARGET campaign has been so effective that at 9:00 a.m. this Thanksgiving morning our Minneapolis-based web host (Leadpages) unfortunately SHUT US DOWN for being ‘hateful’ and discriminatory’ to try to stop this movement!
They should have seen this coming. In an email sent to Wray on November 23, Leadpages’ director of operations Doug Storbeck said that 2ndVote must take down its #AnywhereButTarget landing page by November 24.
Doug Storbeck writing in an email stated:
At Leadpages, we strive to create an inclusive workplace that upholds the dignity of all people. We value, respect, and celebrate everyone’s individualities and honor their unique strengths from all different walks of life. We believe that embracing diversity of thought and perspective encourages collaboration that leads to product innovation, diverse products and a successful business,”
Storbeck said the company’s “core values” of prohibiting content they deem to be “hateful or discriminatory based on race, color, sex, religion, nationality, ethnic or national origin, marital status, disability, sexual orientation or age or is otherwise objectionable, as reasonably determined” are something “we take very seriously.”
A Little Background
In April Target, the second largest discount retailer in the United States, adopted a policy allowing members of one biological sex to use the bathrooms and fitting rooms of the opposite sex at all its stores nationwide. Opposition to the policy hasn’t been totally unfounded as there have been at least a couple of incidents where criminal charges have been filed against men posing as women and filming victims in the state of undress in female changing rooms.
What's in that ToS
Most, if not all web hosting companies have some stipulations and/or limitations on acceptable content in one form or another within their Terms of Service (ToS). At the very least this would prohibits "illegal, abusive or unethical activity". This could includes posting copyrighted materials, adult content (those pornography and gambling sites invite DDoS attacks from competitors sites), child porn, spammers, irc bot’s etc etc. In the interest of staying neutral under the safe harbor rules it would not be that uncommon for hosting companies to include a clause such as…
You are solely responsible for any and all User Content and any transactions or other activities conducted on or through User Websites. By posting or distributing User Content on or through the Services, you represent and warrant that (i) you have all the necessary rights to post or distribute such User Content, and (ii) your posting or distribution of such User Content does not infringe or violate the rights of any third party.
It certainly is plausible and not a far stretch that item (ii) could be construed to include content deemed to be hateful or discriminatory based on race, color, sex, religion, nationality, ethnic or national origin, marital status, disability, and sexual orientation.
But Leadpages Acceptable Use and Conduct ToS goes further.
You agree that that you will not publish or make available any Content that, or use the Site in a manner that:
(e) is libelous or defamatory, or that is otherwise threatening, abusive, violent, harassing, malicious or harmful to any person or entity, or is invasive of another's privacy; (editor's note: emphasis added by me)
(g) is hateful or discriminatory based on race, color, sex, religion, nationality, ethnic or national origin, marital status, disability, sexual orientation or age or is otherwise objectionable, as reasonably determined by Ave. 81;
'Any People' yes.. but the addition of that word ‘entity’ is puzzling (if not troubling) to say the least.
Lance Wray disagrees with the decision of Leadpages and says his organization is not backing down and will work to “redevelop our page to keep this campaign alive.” True to his word the #AnywhereButTARGET website was back up and live on Amazon’s cloud before day's end on Friday.