To be clear, the Web site for Computer Tyme Web Hosting is far from gorgeous. With a design seemingly ripped from the mid-nineties and a lengthy tome of text on the front page, the site certainly stands out among the more modern designs we’re used to Web hosts having today.
However, many Webmasters call Computer Tyme home. Why? Because Computer Tyme focuses on what is known as “free speech Web hosting”.
So whether you are expressing a controversial public opinion, inviting some nasty political discourse or saying something that you think may get you booted from a traditional host, there are is a slew of free speech web hosts ready to help.
But are they really worthwhile? The answer is not very clear.
The Big Idea
The idea behind free speech hosting is actually very clear, these are hosts that say they will stand by your right to say what you want, no matter what.
The idea is this, if you run a site that is political divisive or outright controversial, people complain and the complaints are not always limited to your inbox and comments section; Web hosts will also feel some of the heat.
Even if the content isn’t illegal, some Web hosts prefer to cut ties with clients that generate a lot of vitriol simply because it is a distraction and can cost more resources than the client justifies. This, according to theory, creates a form of censorship that requires a host willing to stand by customers even when things are tough.
Limitations of Free Speech Hosting
The biggest problem with free speech hosting is that can’t do anything illegal with it. Though some, such as NearlyFreeSpeech.net, have payment systems that can keep you anonymous even from the host, the truth is that they can’t protect you if you do anything illegal.
If you try to use a free speech host to threaten others, infringe copyright or post any other kind of illegal content, the host will inevitably step in if the government doesn’t first. Free speech hosts are still bound by the laws of the country they operate from.
This is one of the reasons Havenco, a controversial Web host that was located in the “country” of Sealand, was so popular. Sealand, which is a platform in the middle of the ocean off the British coast, declared its sovereignty and offered no restrictions on copyright and other data, only limiting child pornography, spamming and hacking. However, that company closed in 2008 due to financial hardships.
Though there are other countries that may be such data havens, they typically have less-than-adequate Web access, making them poor choices for hosting a Web site.
In short, if you’re going to host content that is illegal, a free speech host is not for you and, if you read their terms closely, you will likely find that they closely mirror the terms of every other Web host.
Is Censorship a Problem?
However, the bigger issue with free speech hosting is that the problem of hosts booting controversial sites doesn’t seem to be a major issue. To see that, you just have to take a look at some of the more controversial sites on the Web and where they are hosted.
For example, The Drudge Report is hosted on Cogent, Liberal Forum is hosted at Hostgator, TShirt Hell is hosted at Rackspace (on the company’s own IP address) and, easily the worst site on the list, Storm Front is hosted on ThePlanet.
Of all the heavily political or otherwise controversial sites I looked up, only one, Wikileaks, was hosted on a dedicated free speech host (a company in Sweden).
There’s a very good reason why these controversial sites aren’t getting booted. Free speech and censorship is a touchy issue on the Web and a host that boots sites due to otherwise legal content is bound to earn a bad reputation, even if the content itself was despised.
Hosts, wary of this, have made it a policy to stand by their customers even if they disagree with what they say. Whether you see this as a good thing or a bad thing depends on your perspective, but it does mean that the need for free speech hosting is not what it once was.
Though there may have been a time when free speech web hosting was more crucial, clearly today it is not as serious an issue. Not only are more hosts tolerating more controversial material, but most even allow adult content so long as it is legal and doesn’t violate the terms in any other way.
Because you can’t hide behind a free speech host to do anything illegal, the potential uses for such a service are very rare and limited to extreme cases. Considering that most free speech hosts offer less service at higher rates than traditional ones, there is not much of a reason to consider them, especially since most Web hosts will stand by you so long as you follow their TOS.
If a host does drop you when your content was legal, it is equally time to drop that host. Any host that will disconnect you when you’re obeying their TOS and not doing anything illegal deserves to be ditched. It’s really that simple.
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