By Karl Bode
A small Idaho ISP by the name of Your T1 WIFI has decided to punish Twitter and Facebook for perceived “censorship”…by censoring them. In an email to subscribers posted to Twitter, the company claims it will be blocking customer access to both websites by default moving forward. To access the websites, users apparently will need to contact the company to be added to a whitelist:
A North Idaho internet provider sent this email out to costumers, absolutely INSANE pic.twitter.com/ecwRFqnzwS
— Coping MAGA (@CopingMAGA) January 11, 2021
While the company doesn’t specify what “censorship” its customers are complaining about, the complaints were likely driven by Twitter’s decision to ban Trump after he violated the company’s terms of services by inciting a fatal insurrection. Or perhaps they’re complaining about the steady purging of QAnon conspiracy theorists for espousing bogus claims of election fraud. Either way, the ISP claims to ingeniously be combating what they claim is censorship…by embracing the exact same thing:
“Our company does not believe a website or social networking site has the authority to censor what you see and post and hide information from you, stop you from seeing what your friends and family are posting,” the email states. “This is why with the amount of concerns, we have made this decision to block these two websites from being accessed from our network.”
There are ample problems here. The first being that “Conservative censorship” isn’t actually a thing. What hyperventilating partisans deem as “censorship” in our broken modern discourse is usually just Facebook and Twitter belatedly enforcing their own terms of service (which is different than censorship). While the platforms certainly do sometimes boot people for stupid reasons, more often than not such bans are simply the natural consequence of behaving like an asshole on the internet. Don’t want to be blocked, banned or limited? Don’t be an asshole on the internet.
The other problem, of course, is that there’s an endless parade of research showing that internet filters are stupidly expensive and don’t work. They’re usually easily bypassed with only a modicum of technical knowledge, and they pretty routinely result in collateral damage (aka the accidental blocking of legal, legit websites). In this case, blocking access to Facebook by proxy blocks access to all the systems Facebook ties into, including automated login systems. The end result is likely to be more of an avoidable headache than a real solution to a real problem.
I reached out to contact Your T1 WIFI, but their 1-888 number resolved to a woman’s voicemail box that didn’t even mention the name of the company. However, company owner Brett Fink spoke to a local CBS affiliate and contradicted his own company’s email by claiming they weren’t blocking anybody:
“In a phone call with KREM, the owner of the company, Brett Fink, again said the websites would only be blocked for customers who asked.
“We’ve had customers asked to be blocked by it. That is what the email was about, so no we are not blocking anybody, only the ones that have asked for it,” Fink said.”
Again, that’s not what the company’s own email to its subscribers states:
“Please let us know and we can add you to the allowed list to be able to not be blocked from going to these sites and the ones that do want to be blocked will have to do nothing they (Twitter and Facebook) will just not show up.”
So that certainly sounds like a DNS-level IP blacklist, which users have to call in to be whitelisted from.
Of course in the wake of the Trump net neutrality repeal this doesn’t run afoul of federal rules…because there are no federal rules. But it’s still a problematic, dumb idea and a slippery slope for an ISP to inject itself into the information stream in such a hamfisted fashion. With industry BFF Ajit Pai on the way out, and the Biden administration purportedly keen to restore net neutrality, it’s extremely unlikely any major ISPs would follow down this particular rabbit hole and draw regulatory scrutiny. Still, it should add some interesting…flavor to the debate when it inevitably heats up later this year.
Either way, engaging in blocking to protest “censorship” that isn’t actually happening isn’t a great look.