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Cancel Culture, Webhosting and Christ

A strange name for an article about what clients want on their webpages?

Let's start with a declaration about the Suttons' stance on free speech, freedom of thought and wokery.

SuttonNet and the Suttons are irrevocably opposed to unwarranted, overbearing interference of technocrats, governments, bureaucracy, academia, self appointed experts and powermongers in the lives and freedoms of other people.

We are disgusted by cancelling, victimhood parades, manipulation, snowflakery and political correctness. We abhor how others are redefining our language, like a plague of Humpty Dumpties:

'When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, 'it means just what I choose it to mean - neither more nor less.'

Lewis Carroll, 1871: Through the Looking Glass

That's NOT what our content policy aims to achieve.

Our content policy

Our Development & Hosting Agreement includes webpage content requirements for all websites hosted on our server.

Obviously, content that is defamatory, in breach of copyright, pornographic or otherwise illegal is out. As for other content: it's not our intention to censor websites for manipulative political purposes, to control thought, or as a PC crusade; but we do have limits.

This page tries to explain why we adopted our content policy, how it works and how (we think) it differs from cancel culture.

Our viewpoint

People (& thus the businesses we run) have inherent responsibilities and privileges. Freedom is one responsibility. (The language of 'rights' might be the wrong angle from which to consider freedom.) Freewill is another. Freedom of conscience is another freedom.

Are people free to believe and proclaim anything? Yes and no, in our view.

  • Yes, in the sense that humans always have freewill to choose to hold any opinion and to declare it.
  • No, if by 'free' you mean that people can hold and act upon any belief & not accept there might be consequences.
  • No, in the sense of being 'equally entitled to hold any opinion at all however bizarre and contrary to evidence and logic it is'. Truth matters. There are laws against libel and perjury for that reason.

It's clear that not all opinions, beliefs & statements are good or even neutral; witness the outcomes of Nazi or Marxist thought in the 20th century.

We stand for personal responsibility of every human being for our actions and inactions. In our worldview: the Suttons are answerable for how we use our resources, skills and time, to a loving God who has clear, trustworthy guidelines as to right and wrong behaviour by human beings.

Regulating content

It's our freedom of conscience that causes us to place limits on acceptable content on the websites that we host.

Because these sites use our server, our skills and (usually) our software, we believe we are (partly) responsible to God for the availability of content our clients publish. Legally we might not be, but spiritually we see it that way.

So that's why, if we have good reason to believe that your published content will have really bad consequences, we will class it as unacceptable content and take action. Normally that means we contact you, discuss the issue and ask you to edit or remove the troublesome page(s) within the next 48 hours.

If we can't contact you in time, we might temporarily suspend a webpage, or delete or temporarily edit content, pending your own editing. We will ensure that a copy of the original remains accessible to you.

Acceptable or not?

General guidelines

SuttonNet's rule of thumb is that content on our server must be 'fit for a child to view or listen to', judging by the traditional Christian viewpoint which has been held over many years. Of course some websites cover topics that no child should or would read. For these sites, their tone needs to be non salacious and the purpose pure.

By doing business with us as our web development and/or hosting client, you accept our limitations on acceptable content. If you want to publish stuff online that we don't accept: you are free to take your website and its content to another hosting service which has a different code of conduct. Or you can lease your own web server and host it yourself.

SuttonNet is happy with controversial content of many persuasions. We expect that clients will publish content that we don't hold with. That's fine as long as it is clean, well researched, fairly presented and respectful to the people you disagree with.

If you aren't sure that your planned website content is acceptable to SuttonNet, ask us.

In the event of disagreement between client and SuttonNet over acceptability of content: the final decision is ours, because this provision in our hosting Agreement is about our consciences, not yours.

Comments/posts

If your website allows comments/posts: we expect you to check 3rd party posts before you publish them. Safely check any links in them, and apply our content standard to posts as well as to your own content.

Monitoring posts on your website is commonsense. Your site could lose credibility or even attract attention from law enforcement if blog comments are abusive or libellous, or if they link to porn sites, infected websites or terrorist propaganda.

In practice

Content 'interventions' by SuttonNet have been mostly in response to:

  • inadvertent copyright or other legal breaches;
  • out of date information;
  • typo's and grammatical errors.

We don't supervise every page on every website that we host. That would be ridiculous, unless clients paid us a premium for SEO services! In our daily work though, we often get to know our clients' websites fairly well. We apply our content standards with a light hand and with patience, valuing your freedoms.

If you can't write without the F-word, expect some gentle correction.

If your online claims are way out of whack with the evidence you present, we might notice one day and challenge you about it.

If your website content departs from our Christian worldview so much that we feel we act against our own God by hosting it: we will discuss this with you.

Worst case scenario: we decide that this client-host relationship isn't workable, and we ask you to host your site elsewhere. We would then terminate the Hosting Agreement in accordance with its terms.

SuttonNet & cancel culture

Principles

Is there a difference between SuttonNet's content policy and actions of Big Tech to cancel social media accounts, ban videos, hide 'fake news', delete websites, trounce opposition platforms that allow the content they banned, &c?

We believe there is. We might not have the words yet to explain where the dividing line is, but we'll have a go.

We are in a delicate position, balanced (as Jesus' followers have always been) between slipping into freedom/licentiousness on one hand (an abuse of grace & forgiveness), and hyper-control on the other (legalism - an abuse of law & order).

Motives matter. Principles matter. We all get it wrong sometimes even when we're trying to do right. SuttonNet wants to foster truth seeking and to encourage thoughtful, useful discussion by our content boundaries, not to restrict it.

Facts of life in an information age
  1. People are entitled to access information and commentary and to make wise informed decisions about matters which affect us, our society and our children. We're all responsible to make such decisions, and we need grist to our mill.
  2. As for discerning which 'facts' are really facts and which conclusions are well grounded - we've all been given brains. As adults, it is our responsibility to use them. Pre-mushed food (or information) is for infants. If all our intellectual food comes packaged and filtered, we'll never grow our own capacity to judge wisely.
  3. Every webpage, video, book, newspaper etc reflects somebody's interests, worldviews and opinions (fairly held or not). They might be the views of an editor, website owner, guest writer, advertisers, or some other entity which exerts influence in secret or openly via cash, coercion or favours.
  4. Business owners and their employees have responsibilities. Among them are integrity, honesty and consistency: to treat clients and site users fairly under their rules. Every corporation is comprised of people, so no business is exempt.
Big Tech

Facebook, Youtube, Twitter, etc, and the mainstream media have become information sources. What kinds of information do they present or omit, and why? It's up to those who use and even trust such online services to find out.

Corporations (being made of people, and owned by people) favour certain political and social causes. Like individuals, they can carry this out with grace or without it. They can label the 'other team' as liars, inciting violence, abusive, racist etc.

Big Tech has power to attach labels - 'hate speech', 'fake news', 'misinformation' &c - which will be seen/heard by millions.

Ownership & authority

Let's look at Facebook as an example. It is a 'platform' run on a specific website and Facebook servers. Facebook owns that website - including 'your' Facebook page.

As we see it:

  • Facebook has legitimate authority to limit the content that goes on its own website and its own servers, which Facebook pays for and keeps operational;
  • that caveat should be made plain to its users - both account owners & site visitors. Then they all know that some information or viewpoints might be 'missing' from, or less prominent in, Facebook posts; and
  • Facebook should be open about its editorial preferences (left-leaning, right wing conservative, atheist, postmodern, progressive....) so users can be aware of which topics or contributors might be edited by Facebook. That's fair and honest dealing.
Questions for online services
  1. Does the service make their restrictions on content/posts clear to users?
  2. Does it, to the best of its ability, apply its terms of service consistently across all accounts?
  3. For services that use 3rd party content checkers to vet and bar posts/accounts: what guidelines govern the checkers? Are the guidelines open or secret?
  4. Why does the service ban content or suspend user accounts, when it does?
  5. If an account owner protests a decision, is there a fair, fast appeal process? Or are controversial cases often not reviewed until they are politically less potent?
Track record for Big Tech (our experience)

SuttonNet has witnessed Big Tech block, or make access difficult for, content on certain topics; but only from 'one side' of the debate.

We're aware of decisions to remove content being made contrary to:

  • multiple, published and peer reviewed studies; and
  • comments by experts in the relevant fields, who have no financial incentives that might affect their stated views.

We've experienced mainstream media deleting our own comments on articles, where these questioned the 'facts' given and offered links for others to investigate other data or interpretations.

We've seen evidence that social media (& one online payment service) suspend accounts without discussion or explanation. The suspensions occurred after posts/payments apparently at odds with the corporate owner's political views.

Writers whose content is cancelled are not just restricted from publishing specific content; they might be labelled as bigots, murderers, rapists, dangerous purveyors of fake news, etc. They may be 'cancelled' not just from the service where the offending content appeared, but as widely as accumulated Big Tech can reach.

We don't disagree with any provider's freedom to offer its own services for use only in ways that it sees fit. We do question the apparent secrecy and arbitrariness of restrictions, joint actions across platforms against targetted individuals, and judgments made on shifting ground (what is 'hate speech' this week?) or even in spite of supporting evidence.

Good or bad?

You can tell if a tree is good or bad by the fruit it produces.

Big Tech alleges that its removal of content is done 'for the public good'. Yet the above actions distort people's perception of reality and of public opinion. They hinder fair discussion, debate and research. They create a fear of posting certain content in case of being 'cancelled'.

Big Tech's actions, like those of highly controlling States, have silenced dissent rather than encouraging intelligent and informed debate. The list of verboten comments has grown longer in recent months. Their actions assert superior, 'correct' knowledge by Big Tech that cannot be questioned, covering many fields of human endeavour and enquiry: science, medicine, history...

What will be the outcome of this? In our view, not peace or freedom or creativity or even life.

Do you as a client think that our content policy is parallel to Big Tech's? If so, please tell us why and we'll re-consider the matter. This is a weighty thing, difficult to put into action and very important to us.

Diane Sutton

Last updated 30th March 2021