Could Web Hosting Companies Be Liable For Online Toxicity?

Everywhere in the world, gaming, streaming, social, and search platforms are trying to find ways of moderating the content on their platforms. 

Some platforms are taking admirable steps in attacking this problem head-on. For others, users and regulators are getting increasingly frustrated with some of these providers who alternate between often ineffectual attempts to address the issue – and trying to absolve themselves completely from responsibility for content hosted on their platforms.

Web hosting providers, while different to many of these platforms, face many of the same issues. The good news is that they have the opportunity to deal with online toxicity on a higher level, and have an outsize impact on a safer internet for all. 

If toxic content was to be eliminated on the web hosting level, that effect would cascade down to millions of users worldwide. 

We’ll look at some of the challenges facing web hosting companies, specifically in terms of toxic content that breaches their policies, and see how these challenges can be solved. 

Challenges Facing ISPs

Online abuse and toxicity have been gaining recognition as a global problem in recent years. This can include hate speech, child sexual abusive materials, self harm and a host of other acts. Key questions are: who is responsible for keeping the internet free of online toxicity? And – who will pay the price when toxic content is revealed on the platform?

For many, that responsibility falls to web hosting providers. Web hosting companies have been in the news recently in this regard, and face key challenges when it comes to responsibility for the content they host, not to mention the challenge of the PR crisis that may follow. 

Regulatory and legislative issues

Web hosting companies have a number of upcoming challenges in this arena. Some of them include:

Laws proposed in the U.S. that seek to punish hosting providers over content hosted on their platform, including in some cases holding executives personally liable

Platform to business or “P2B” regulation. This will apply throughout the EU (and will include the UK), from 12 July 2020. The impact of this legislation, and exactly how it will be applied is still being debated. But for web hosting providers, it’s further incentive to ensure that best efforts are being expended to ensure their platforms provide fairness and transparency and are free of online toxicity.

Financial liability

In an enforcement advisory issued by the Canadian government, there is wording that is alarming for web hosting providers. The document itself deals with the issue of spam but reads: “While web hosting providers may not be directly responsible for violations committed by their clients…they are nevertheless uniquely positioned to detect, prevent and stop these non-compliant activities” (emphasis added). When it comes to online toxicity, web hosting providers need to be careful around how they deal with content on their platforms.

Already Facebook and Youtube have been successfully sued for millions of dollars (billions in Facebook’s case) for content hosted on their platforms. Could the same rules be used to go after web hosting companies?

In another case, a company that was the victim of a ransomware attack has sued not only the attackers but also the company responsible for hosting the hackers’ website. This could set a precedent in terms of hosting companies being responsible for the content they host. 

Reputational damage

Already the hosting of websites that include child abuse and sexual content has been in the news and tragically there has been an increase in such content due to various factors, some of which are linked to the Covid-19 crisis – for example, fewer analysts to have websites taken down. 

For obvious reasons, web hosting providers will want to ensure that none of these horrific websites or content are hosted by them.  

In a related story, Cloudflare – which provides content-delivery-network services – has been accused of protecting sites that host images of child abuse – this after other bruising stories detailing Cloudflare’s connection with 8chan and neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer

Web Hosting Companies Understand The Need For Safety

At L1ght, we’ve seen first-hand the difference that partnering with a web hosting provider can make. By integrating L1ght’s technology, web hosting providers can show they are actively preventing harmful and toxic content from being hosted by them. A recent case illustrates this.

In this particular case, a major web hosting provider in the United States partnered with L1ght to ensure that online toxicity was eradicated from websites they host. 

This provider realized that the problem was too pervasive for human moderators to deal with. The sheer number of sites hosted by the provider is so enormous, that their team needed help getting insights on the content hosted – and to ensure their policies are enforced.

By partnering with L1ght, this web hosting company was able to implement a comprehensive solution to address online toxicity on websites it hosts. L1ght’s proactive AI tool, FlashL1ght, took the parameters and URLs set by the provider and used them to crunch massive amounts of data and detect online toxicity in all its forms. 

Web Hosting Companies Have A Natural Partner For Online Safety

The ability of web hosting providers to fight online toxicity is unparalleled. Government legislation is important, but it won’t entirely solve the problem. Web hosting providers are uniquely positioned to play a pivotal role in ensuring a safer internet for all. Not to mention saving time and money on potential PR scandals, and in a positive way showing that they are taking their role in this issue seriously. 

Since human moderators can’t keep up with the massive amounts of sites hosted by the provider, technological solutions must be brought in. 

That’s why L1ght is the natural next step for web hosting companies. L1ght, together with partners such as hosting providers, can implement their non-invasive sophisticated and proactive AI tools to protect the providers’ ecosystem.

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