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Censored by Yahoo

by Miles Mathis


It has been an eventful week for me.  First I awoke on November 27 to several messages on my answering machine from friends saying that my site was down and my mailbox was bouncing all emails.  This was strange since, although my site has been down before for short periods, my mail has never been cut off. 

     I contacted Yahoo through customer service and got no reply.  It has now been ten days and Yahoo has ignored a hatful of requests for an explanation.  I have gotten nothing, not one word. [Update: 16 months later, I still have no idea what happened. Yahoo has never contacted me, explained anything to me, refunded any money, or put the site back up].

     I read the Geocities terms of service, and it turns out that Yahoo can terminate any account without warning and without explanation.  It appears that is precisely what they have done.  This was not a free account either.  This was a business account with Geocities for which I was paying a monthly fee.   I had also bought my domain name from Yahoo, for a nominal fee.  Under their terms, this now reverts to them. 

     Of course I quickly reconstructed my site on another host, a fact you are probably aware of if you are reading this.  But that is not the question.  The question is why Yahoo would choose to terminate a paying account without warning and without explanation. 


Anyone who has looked at my site knows that there is nothing illegal going on there.  I have a lot of opinions, but that is about the extent of it.  I don’t use hate speech, I don’t link to porn sites, I don’t dabble in off-shore gambling or drugs or money laundering or Paypal rip-offs.  Unless art nudity, questioning 911, writing about free speech, or disagreeing with women is now illegal or legally “offensive”, I can’t see that my site should fall to any censor.  I had thought that my site was pretty tame, scholarly even, but maybe I am not objective anymore.  Maybe the line in American has backed up so far that I am now over it. 

       Of course there are tens of thousands of Americans who are more controversial than I am—whose opinions would appear to be more dangerous and offensive to the censors than mine.   My problem was that I was perched on an easily loppable branch.  A new wave of censorship is just beginning and the major webhosts are of course among the first targets.  Given that the USGov wants to quash 911 questions (as the DoD has just admitted), Yahoo and Google and MSN would naturally be the places to start.  Attack the defenseless and move on from there.

       But if you think you are safe from this kind of thing, think again.   In searching for a new host this week, I slogged through a large number of TOS’s (terms of service).  Every one I read was legally equivalent to the Yahoo Geocities TOS.  Meaning that the wording allowed any host to dump anyone they wanted to.   There was always a clause tacked on to some sentence tacked on at the end of some paragraph that said, “or which is otherwise offensive.”  Any statement or opinion or image that could be deemed offensive by any reader could be used to terminate the service.  Of course, a litigious client could take the host to court and force a judge or jury to decide the meaning of the word “offensive”.  But who was going to do that?   Yahoo and other hosts assume that few clients will do that.  It is easier to just change hosts, as I did.  With a week’s worth of work, I have the same site up at a non-Gov host, and I also have the badge of honor of being censored by the goons.  If the Gestapo is trying to silence me, I must be doing something right.

       The only problem is that, as I said, there is no place to hide.  My current host is not beyond the reach of the secret police.  Any host in the US is under the umbrella of the Patriot Act and Homeland Security, since that umbrella is well-nigh ubiquitous and infinite.  And other parts of the world exist as virtual extensions of the US, in this regard.   The CIA has already subpoenaed millions of bank records in Europe, so why should I believe that a foreign host is secure?  Especially when Europe cares even less than the US about free speech? 


The contradiction that I have finally come up against in my own life is that free speech is one of those rights you have until you try to use it.   The only way to avoid the secret police is to have no opinion.  If you only do and say those things that cannot possibly offend anyone, then you will be left alone.  But you must also recognize that the number of actions, beliefs, images, sentences, and words that offend no one is constantly diminishing.   What a normal person could do in the 70’s is not what a normal person can get away with now.   Since 911 the constriction has been accelerating, and millions of normal people are feeling choked.  The question is, how little air can you survive on?  How much of this can be overlooked before you do something?  How Orwellian does it have to get before you decide to rebel?  No foreign army is going to come in and defeat your Nazis.  You are going to have to do it yourself.

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