Decision puts registrar in uncomfortable position but it made the right move.
GoDaddy has told the owner of white supremacist site The Daily Stormer that it needs to find a new registrar for its domain name after the site posted a tasteless article about the victim of the car incident in Charlottesville over the weekend.
Registrars such as GoDaddy rarely get involved in how domain names registered with them are used and prefer to take a hands-off approach, especially when the content is hosted elsewhere. In this case, GoDaddy cited the potential for the domain name to be used to incite violence. In a statement released to CNN, GoDaddy spokesman Dan Race said:
Given their latest article comes on the immediate heels of a violent act, we believe this type of article could incite additional violence, which violates our terms of service.
GoDaddy is giving the domain owner 24 hours to find a new registrar. The whois record for the domain shows that it is pending transfer.
I monitored quite a bit of anger on twitter toward GoDaddy when attention was first called to the article. Of course, there was lots of confusion over the role of domain registrars, so I think it’s worth analyzing this a bit.
Registrar vs. Host
While most readers of this blog understand the difference between a registrar and a host, it’s important to explain how domain names work and why registrars play a unique role.
Domain names are merely pointers. You register domains at domain name registrars like GoDaddy, and then you tell the registrar where to point the domain.
Sometimes a domain is registered and hosted with the same company. You might register a domain name at GoDaddy and pay for their hosting service.
Other times, as appears to be the case with The Daily Stormer, the domain is registered one place and points to another hosting provider.
Registrars try to avoid content control
Domain name registrars like GoDaddy do not want to be content police, especially for domain names that point to other web hosts. There are some legitimate reasons for taking a hands-off approach.
First, the domain names themselves are rarely bad. The Daily Stormer’s domain name does not say anything bad. It’s the content on the site to which it points that is an issue.
Second, policing the content of these websites (especially those hosted elsewhere) would be a monumental task.
Third, what is offensive or illegal to one person is often not to another person, especially when you consider the international nature of the internet. What might be considered an illegitimate online pharmacy in one jurisdiction might be legal in another.
There are some universal mores that registrars and hosts tend to take action on, such as child pornography and sex trafficking. (Or, in this case, inciting violence or harm to people.) But again, that’s usually handled by the host instead of the registrar.
While these are extreme examples, consider something more in the middle ground. E-commerce service Shopify was hounded for hosting Breitbart’s online store. As much as I dislike Breitbart and what it stands for, I can understand why the company did not want to boot this customer. Or what about Wikileaks?
It’s worth noting that GoDaddy has been taking heat for The Daily Stormer for a while. Apparently this latest article pushed it over the edge.
GoDaddy made the right (and smart) move
GoDaddy’s response to The Daily Stormer issue was the right move. While the company does open itself up to more calls for content policing on domains registered at GoDaddy, it accomplished many things by telling the domain owner to transfer the domain.
On the immediate front, it allows the company to remove itself from this controversy and avoid more bad will.
Looking forward, it should also deter people who are thinking about creating content like this from using GoDaddy. GoDaddy doesn’t need or want their business.
Now the big question: which registrar is going to end up with this hot potato next? [Update: Google is the unlucky recipient.]