We recently wrote about how an offensive website was taken offline by complaints.
In particular, we talked about the tactics that were used to take them down and whether they were a good thing for the internet or not. The two tactics described were:
- Complaining to the ISP that the site breached their terms of service. We said this risks reducing opinion on the internet to the level of whatever a company’s PR department finds acceptable.
- Using copyright complaints over the site’s use of a photo without permission. Taking down an entire site over what is arguably a reasonable use of an image is an affront to freedom of speech and shows how dangerous these US-style shoot-first-ask-questions-later copyright laws are.
The article attracted a fair bit of comment both for and against the use of these tactics. We also received some new information and thought it was worth posting a followup.
Updating the facts
There is still some doubt as to exactly why the site was taken down. Bluehost, the hosting company, has refused to answer our questions on the matter. They did say that they received “literally thousands of complaints” about the site.
We do know that the photographer whose photo was used on the site did make an official DMCA complaint to Bluehost about the site infringing his copyright, and that the site was taken offline within a couple of hours.
The photographer has also said that at least part of the motivation in sending the DMCA complaint so quickly was the fact that he found the content of the website to be disturbing.
We still don’t know who created the site. At the time of writing the site is still unavailable.
A third tactic – Distributed Denial of Service attack
It turns out that a third tactic was also proposed – the use of a Distributed Denial of Service (DDOS) attack to attack the hosting company. This is where a number of people all run a tool that is designed to send as many requests as fast as possible at the target, thus overwhelming the systems and taking the site offline. Participating in a DDOS attack is illegal under New Zealand law (section 250 of the Crimes Act).
We know that some people on Reddit, Twitter and other sites were encouraging people to launch a DDOS attack against Bluehost, and that one commenter on our original article claimed that the attack was the real reason Bluehost took the site offline. We don’t know whether any DDOS attack was launched or its scale if it was.
But if the attack was launched and did force the site offline, is this an acceptable tactic? DDOS attacks are a form of mob-rule, based on someone whipping up a crowd against a target and then persuading them to take action against it. Do we really want 4chan or similar groups deciding which websites we’re allowed to see on the internet?
DDOS attacks also tend to have a lot of collateral damage too – their indiscriminate nature will often mean that other websites on the same server (or hosted by the same internet service provider) will also be taken offline for the duration of the attack. We do sympathise with any ISP hit by a DDOS and accept that this could force them to remove the target until the attack stops.
At Tech Liberty we strongly oppose the use of DDOS attacks to take down websites, both on freedom of speech grounds and also because of the damage they do to innocent parties.