Let’s call this person “wise” using air quotes to give you a description of where they come from in life. This “wise” person confronted to me at a public event to announce that WordPress was evil and must be destroyed.
“After all,” he informed me soundly. “While WordPress says it supports freedom of speech, it clearly endorses, supports, and commits acts of censorship. How can you be associated with something so evil?”
Let me be clear, there is no “talking” to people like this. The opinion comes well-formed from whatever source and references this person chooses to follow, and nothing I say can change their mind, so I bent in that moment to one of the great minds that follow hate, fear, and conspiracy, something we have a little too much of in the world today.
To those with open hearts and ears, let me give you my answer.
Know the Difference Between WordPress.org and WordPress.com Sites
You cannot blame a web host for what their users publish.
That’s the truth and the law. There are laws and rules in place that require a web host to respond to legal actions, but these apply to all web hosts.
WordPress.org, the free, self-hosted version of WordPress, is not a web host. WordPress.com, owned by Automattic, is a web host.
Let’s define this better.
WordPress, as a publishing platform, is a publishing platform. It is a bunch of code that allows people to publish their words, images, video, etc., and have their say on the web. WordPress, the free, self-hosted version from WordPress.org, is not, nor has it ever been, responsible for what people do with the WordPress publishing platform. Their Policies and Practices state:
WordPress developers, representatives, members, founders, hosts, and volunteers (known as WordPress members) have no control over and cannot take responsibility for content published on any blog powered by WordPress. WordPress accepts no responsibility towards content or usage of WordPress software and shall be held harmless from any and all litigation, liability, and responsibilities.
WordPress members cannot disable WordPress powered websites at any time. The term “Powered by WordPress” is a marketing slogan set by default in the basic installation of WordPress and is subject to editing or removal by the user and is not a statement of responsibility.
If you find a site with “evil,” be it propaganda, in support of terrorism and violence, hate speech, defamation, libel, porn, or simply a site that has ripped off your content in a copyright violation, it is the responsibility and liability of the site owners and administrators, not WordPress. File a DMCA claim, get lawyers, or the FBI, or the equivalent in your country, and get after them. WordPress as a company, a non-profit by the way, has nothing to do with the actions of those who use the free publishing platform.
If you have an issue with a self-hosted version of WordPress, contact the site owners, administrators, or web host. Most web hosts have complaint forms for copyright violations and other abuse.
Now, let’s differentiate the self-hosted version of WordPress, installed on a web host manually or with one of the one-click install methods most hosts offer, from WordPress.com, a hosted version of WordPress.
WordPress.com is owned and managed by Automattic, a commercial company that provides many WordPress (and other) related web products and services. WordPress.com offers free websites and additional paid services and features. As a web host based in the United States, it is required to comply with the federal and international laws for copyright, privacy, and compliance with legal and illegal activities on sites it hosts, but no more than an apartment owner can be held responsible for someone committing an illegal act on their property. If the police require the apartment to be closed off as a crime scene or hazard, the apartment owner must comply. A poor analogy, but all websites on the web are hosted, some free and paid, which means they are all virtual apartments, rented spaces. The web host is your landlord and they have rules, and there are laws governing them and you that must be obeyed.
The policies of WordPress.com as a web host are published and clear. Read their Digital Millennium Copyright Act Notice and Policy, Freedom of Speech policy, and WordPress.com Terms of Service. If you have an issue with WordPress.com (not WordPress.org self-hosted sites), go to their dispute resolution and reporting page.
WordPress.com’s Terms of Service clearly state the extent of their liability:
If you create a blog or website on WordPress.com, you are responsible for maintaining the security of your account and blog, and you are fully responsible for all activities that occur under the account and any other actions taken in connection with the blog…
Responsibility of Contributors. If you operate a blog, comment on a blog, post material to WordPress.com, post links on WordPress.com, or otherwise make (or allow any third party to make) material available (any such material, “Content”), you are entirely responsible for the content of, and any harm resulting from, that Content or your conduct…
Automattic has not reviewed, and cannot review, all of the material, including computer software, posted to our Services, and cannot therefore be responsible for that material’s content, use or effects. By operating our Services, Automattic does not represent or imply that it endorses the material there posted, or that it believes such material to be accurate, useful, or non-harmful.
In an interview with TorrentFreak, Matt explained the WordPress.com policy:
In a response, Matt Mullenweg from WordPress told TorrentFreak that he supports Pirate Bay’s Baywords, but he assured us that WordPress.com would never take down a blog for posting deviating thoughts or ideas.
“WordPress.com supports free speech and doesn’t shut people down for “uncomfortable thoughts and ideas”, in fact we’re blocked in several countries because of that. However as a US-based companies we must comply with US laws, which means if the primary purpose of a blog is distributing illegal material it’s not a good fit for WordPress.com,” Matt said.
Before you get upset at the terms and conditions or wish to cite something-you-heard-or-someone-said story, these are the same terms and conditions for all web host providers. Basically, while they will respond to legal actions in compliance with the laws for website illegalities, you publish it, it’s yours. They will not stop you from publishing anything you want, as long as it complies with the same laws that everyone else has to live with in the United States, the jurisdiction governing Automattic and WordPress.com. WordPress.com hosts over 100 million websites. They don’t have time for petty, but they do make time to support and defend their members. Keep reading.
A few years ago Automattic started a Transparency Report that includes reports of takedown requests, national security, and other reports, and a unique and rare Hall of Shame where they have shared nasty activities tried by countries and companies to takedown sites, a wonderful and educational walk through “it-would-be-funny-if-it-wasn’t-so-serious” scenarios.
From the earliest days of WordPress there have been many attempts to censor and violate privacy rights as well as freedom of speech for WordPress.org and WordPress.com sites. The entire WordPress community including Automattic and WordPress.com have fought from the beginning to protect Net Neutrality, and many members (not necessarily employees) worked hard in their respective countries to establish and defend the rights of Internet access and freedoms. WordPress.com and Automattic have long fought in favor to protect copyright fair use, even taking the battle to court to defend the rights of their hosted members. WordPress.com and Automattic supported Apple’s stance on digital security recently to protect access to Apple phones.
For years, the country of Turkey has hit WordPress.com with repeated government takedown demands, as Automattic staff explained:
Generally we receive Turkish court orders in two scenarios. In the first, the Telecommunication and Communication Presidency can ban content in the interest of protecting “national security and public order,” preventing crime, and protecting general health… which are open to their interpretation. In the other, when someone’s rights are violated (privacy rights or defamation, for example), Turkish law allows the complaining party to request content removal by obtaining a court order.
Turkish laws allow banning and closing any site that criticizes the President of Turkey or the government, and includes a 1-4 year jail sentence for someone insulting the president on the web or otherwise. In light of recent events in Turkey, we all should be nervous and worried about the rights and freedoms of their citizens.
The Olympics are in Brazil at the moment, a country having many of their own internal problems, they are not a stranger to taking on WordPress.com to prevent bloggers from having their say in their country.
In many of these legal actions, WordPress.com stood firm and continued to support the side of the blogger and free speech. I want a company like that on my side.
Who Do I Want on My Side?
When it comes to freedom of speech, anti-censorship, privacy protection, and other communication and publishing rights, I’m glad I have WordPress.org, WordPress.com, and Automattic on my side. I don’t work for them, but if like me you publish on WordPress.com, they work for us.
While you may or may not agree with me, and it isn’t my job to change your mind, here are some articles and interviews from the co-founder of WordPress, Matt Mullenweg, a young man with a strong vision of democracy and freedom of speech, a person whose dedicated his life to create a platform for people to have their say for free.
Matt has said repeatedly:
I think publishing in general is the cornerstone of a free society. The ability for free speech and for ideas to be disseminated and for authority to be challenged and to speak truth to power… it’s part of every free society that we’ve seen so far in history.
In another recent interview in Irish Times, Matt described taking on two challenges to protect the rights of WordPress.com users.
…the company found itself hauled before the High Court in Dublin, directed to reveal the identity of a blogger who had posted allegedly defamatory material about Irish-based exploration firm Petroceltic International…Mullenweg brushes it off. While it was a big deal in Dublin, it’s clear the court action didn’t make much of an impact. It’s not hard to understand why: Automattic and WordPress.com has had its fair share of engagement in legal actions over the years, with Mullenweg estimating that there is a new one almost every day…
“We have a very good legal team. Our concern is protecting the rights of authors and publishers. We believe in freedom of speech, we believe everyone should have a voice. We fight where possible to protect that.”
He cites another case where UK-based pressure group Straight Pride had tried to use the Digital Millennium Copyright Act – the US copyright law – to try to take down a report by student journalist Oliver Hotham in 2013. Although WordPress initially complied with the takedown request, the company took the fight further and, last year, it won.
“The student couldn’t fight this, he had no resources. So on his behalf we decided to fight it and actually won,” Mullenweg says. “It goes back to the software being open source. Open source is like a bill of rights or a constitution: you have as many rights to the software as I do, you have ways that you can use it.
“That runs through the company; a lot of times when we’re working on things, we try to think back to the first principles of why to do things a certain way.”
Too many are abusing the laws to harass, penalize, and shut down websites for a variety of reasons, and while they can’t take on every single case, WordPress.com and the Automattic team does what they can to deal with specious complaints, unlike many web hosts. See how much support you get out of your web host if someone decides to take your site down with legal but false accusations.
Today, I live in a country once the honored home of freedom of speech. In the past twenty years, I’ve watched those freedoms erode. Arrests for “contempt of cop” actions against protestors, “civility pledges” demanded by companies and academia on employees and students, divisive and bigoted language permitted yet satire penalized as defamation and libel, people arrested, and in some cases deported, for political rhetoric, yet a political candidate can literally get away with murderous and slanderous speech because he is just being “sarcastic” – it isn’t an equal playing field any more in the defense of freedom of speech. It worries me, as it should you.
People say mean things about me all the time on the web. I’ve been bullied, accused (usually for things I’ve never heard of let alone done), blamed, and harassed. Part of my job, unfortunately, one I don’t take lightly nor lying down. I accept that this is the world we live in, good, bad, and indifferent, and we all come under attack if we are brave enough to stand out and be visible with our words and images. As long as they aren’t breaking the law, there isn’t anything I can do to stop them.
Not saying I’m in support of Hilary Clinton, but think of her as an example next time you are bullied or encounter a bully. If you need a role model for standing up against personal and professional attacks and the ability to stand your ground and keep going, use her. I hope young people feeling attacked by their peers learn from her determination to stand strong in the face of her enemies. That’s real courage, a courage I wish I had more of when the bullies come knocking at my door.
Either way, there are laws to protect us and our websites, and steps to be taken accordingly. Blaming WordPress for censorship, be it WordPress.org or WordPress.com, is a waste of everyone’s time. Blame GoDaddy, blame MediaTemple, Dreamhost, and all the other web hosts for censorship then if they comply with the DMCA or legal and governmental requests for takedowns. Blame the printer of books not the author or publisher for books that go against the grain. Blame religion for allowing its worshipers to twist it around to suit their needs. It’s all about placing blame where it isn’t deserved. This isn’t a WordPress issue. It is a human issue as we try to figure out how to be brave in a fast changing world, and cling to those rights we hold most precious.
This web stuff isn’t perfect. We are early days into this, and it is still the Wild, Wild West as we figure out who is responsible for what, when, and how, and governments have to deal with controlling their citizens, and maintaining their rule, and how we protect our spirits and rights. I’m a member of the The Internet Defense League and loyal supporter of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), and other organizations that support freedom of speech and bloggers around the world to have their say. I hope you join me in suport of their good words to protect all of us from ourselves.
As I ride the web wave, I’m very glad WordPress is on my side.
Here are some articles to help you learn more about WordPress and censorship.
- The Four Freedoms – Matt Mullenweg
- Price of Freedom – Matt Mullenweg
- Matt Mullenweg: How WordPress got the whole world blogging
- WordPress makes a stand for open source morality – The Guardian
- WordPress Stands for Open Source, Morals, Democracy: SFBlog – The Snitch
- The History of WordPress – Learning from Lorelle