First Voat’s hosting provider, Host Europe, shut down its servers on the grounds that the site tolerated “illegal right-wing extremist content.”
Days later, PayPal — the vendor that Voat was using to process more than $8,000 in donations — froze the site’s account, ruling that it violated PayPal’s policy against “certain sexually oriented materials or services.”
Not five hours later, those “sexually oriented materials” came to light on Voat’s front page: Many of the girls pictured nude in the site’s “jailbait” forum, one user observed, are clearly underage.
Voat is, by all accounts, a well-intentioned project. Founded in April 2014 by two students at the University of Zurich, the site was attempting to rewrite the media-aggregator/social forum script even before a series of changes at Reddit made it the de facto, “free speech” Reddit alternative.
As Reddit exiles have flooded in, however, the tone and content on Voat has muddied. Call it 8chan’s Law: You simply can’t run an online community that preaches absolute, unequivocal free speech without eventually encountering (a) terrorism, (b) child pornography, (c) gross copyright violations or (d) all three.
To be clear, Voat does (technically) have some rules; since it’s based in Switzerland, its small print prohibits many of the same things that Swiss laws do. Among other things, Voat users aren’t supposed to post personal information, child pornography, incitements to violence or other people’s intellectual property.
“While Voat is a free-speech platform,” co-founder Atif Colo told The Post, “we are not hosting or supporting illegal activities.”
But even if Voat does not actively support these activities, it’s pretty clear that the site isn’t doing much to prevent or curtail them, either. In addition to jailbait, for instance, Voat users have also created forums for doxxing (in explicit violation of the whole don’t-post-personal-information thing) and for sharing last year’s leaked celebrity nudes (which are copyright-protected and could open Voat to lawsuits).
Colo seems pretty cognizant of these issues; in a statement to users, posted after Host Europe canceled his contract, he warned that “we will have to carefully evaluate our long-term options of providing a platform of free speech if we are to stay online.”
It’s perhaps the closest Voat’s gotten to admitting what increasingly looks like an empirical reality: Mainstream online communities just can’t exist without moderating to some degree.
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