UK Home Secretary Amber Rudd Links WordPress.com to the Spread of Terrorism

UK government officials are targeting online service providers after terrorist Khalid Masood killed four people and injured more than two dozen in an attack in Westminster last week. In an article published on the Telegraph Sunday morning, British Home Secretary Amber Rudd called on Google, Twitter, and Facebook to take action on extremist content. She also identified Telegram, Justpaste.it, and WordPress.com as smaller platforms through which terrorist activity is spreading.

“There should be no place for terrorists to hide,” Rudd told Andrew Marr in an interview over the weekend. “We need to make sure organizations like WhatsApp, and there are plenty of others like that, don’t provide a secret place for terrorists to communicate with each other.”

Last week’s attack in London also seems to have reignited the UK government’s war on encryption, as Rudd said that the security agencies’ inability to crack encrypted messages during an investigation is “completely unacceptable.” Masood allegedly used WhatsApp to communicate shortly before the attack.

The Home Secretary has summoned representatives from a list of online service providers, including Google, Twitter, Facebook, and smaller companies, to a meeting this week to discuss combatting terrorist abuse of these platforms. Automattic would not confirm whether the company has been summoned but it seems likely given that WordPress.com was one of the platforms Rudd highlighted over the weekend.

The Telegraph article strongly linked WordPress.com to terrorism, citing several claims from the Counter Extremism Project that the Washington Post published earlier this month:

But most such sites are publicly available and used to spread content. According to US think tank the Counter Extremism Project, WordPress.com sites have played host to beheading videos, firing squads, and a video of a man being shot in the head, emblazoned with the words ‘This In the Enemy Of Allah.’

Historically, WordPress.com has been a strong supporter of free speech but posting terrorist propaganda is a violation of its terms of service. The site has a dedicated page outlining the platform’s stance on terrorist activity:

While our service is designed to enable users to freely express their ideas and opinions, however controversial, safety is important to us. As such, we don’t allow websites of known terrorist groups or genuine calls for violence against individuals or groups on WordPress.com.

WordPress.com users can report sites they find to be suspicious but the page also emphasizes the platform’s commitment to free speech:

Please note that the team behind WordPress.com strongly believes in freedom of speech. WordPress.com has a vast audience spread across many cultures, countries and backgrounds with varying values and our service is designed to let internet users freely express any ideas and opinions without us censoring or endorsing them.

We take all reports seriously, but we won’t remove sites just because they are offensive.

WordPress.com also denies use to individuals, groups, or entities on the Specially Designated Nationals list, maintained by the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control.

It’s not yet clear what Home Secretary Rudd is calling for in summoning global tech company representatives to a meeting, but her comments on the Andrew Marr show indicate the government may request closer monitoring.

“What I’m saying is the best people – who understand the technology, who understand the necessary hashtags to stop this stuff even being put up, not just taking it down, but stopping it being put up in the first place – are going to be them,” Rudd said. She also said she is in conversations with the U.S. government to help get all of these companies around the table to agree to stop this kind of content from being published in the first place.

Automattic would not provide a comment at this time regarding its position on the UK government attempting to curb online extremism by targeting online services. However, the company has a long history of actively pushing back against requests that violate users’ freedom of speech. In 2010, Automattic demonstrated its support for freedom of speech by raising awareness about the First Amendment. Automattic’s General Counsel Paul Sieminski wrote about the company’s commitment to strike back against censorship in 2013 after taking to the courts to stand with users against DMCA abuse. In 2014, when tech companies all over the world joined forces to protest NSA surveillance, Automattic was among them.

If Rudd’s call for tech companies to take “a more proactive role” in tackling terrorist abuse ultimately means introducing monitoring that violates users’ privacy and gives government more access, she will be hard-pressed to get cooperation. American companies like Automattic and Apple have already demonstrated they are willing to go to court to protect users’ freedoms and privacy.

The anti-encryption rhetoric surrounding this issue seems manufactured to allow UK government officials to capitalize on a public tragedy in order to push a political agenda. Rudd is unlikely to find many companies in the tech industry that are eager to hand over users’ freedoms and private communications, but hopefully the summit will serve to educate government officials on why it’s dangerous to legislate backdoors into consumer products.

16 Comments


  1. Free Speech is just that. It’s difficult to censor speech and not step on someone’s rights. Hate speech is still protected speech. Call for violence against another is not protected though IMHO. But like everything else here, that is just my opinion.

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  2. “What I’m saying is the best people – who understand the technology, who understand the necessary hashtags to stop this stuff even being put up”

    Did this woman have a mid-sentence stroke?

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    1. No, she is sadly what passes for a government minister over here in the UK.

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  3. The UK is already the country with the most CCTV cameras. It’s truly a nanny/big brother state, straight out of George Orwell’s prescient book. Perhaps if the UK didn’t allow open hate preaching in its mosques, it wouldn’t have to attempt to shut down free speech online and violate privacy at every turn.

    I still can’t get over that when transiting the UK, the authorities have the right to pry into your most intimate thoughts and writing and personal secrets by taking a full copy of all files on your device or laptop. Otherwise innocent privacy advocates have done up to a year in jail for refusal to give up their encryption keys.

    While I’m often critical of WordPress.com, Automattic and Matt Mullengweg, on protection of free speech, they are world leaders. To date have walked the walk and not just done the talk (like Google and Microsoft). Keep up the good work Automattic!

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  4. So what’s new? Politicians spouting off about things they know nothing about, making bold claims and blaming someone else. Sound familiar? That said, I am firmly of the belief that national security is of paramount importance and if Automattic is culpable in anyway, they need to cooperate and address it. And remember, this is not just a UK issue, but a global one so the fact that most are US companies should be of little consequence. There is a huge chasm between supporting or protecting free speech and being the willing enablers of hate.

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  5. Thankfully the USA, where all of these big tech companies are based, has a long track record of supporting free speech.

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  6. I found it quite funny how she singled out WP.com which is certainly easier to monitor and censor than a self hosted installation

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    1. I think it is because it is much easier to have a web site on WordPress.com than selft-hosting, and it is free.

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  7. McCarthyism is alive and well in 2017.

    Conveniently forgetting how these same technologies lead to freedom and progress.

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  8. Online Providers to UK:
    No problem.
    Give us a list of all known terrorists and we will block them.
    *facepalm*

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    1. That’s a great link Heather. Ironically I agree that businesses like

      AirBnB whose partners post commercial listings should be liable for tax

      and the regulations of their sector (whether hotellerie or transport).

      The distinction between a news platform and a profitable service

      business is pretty clear. Judge James Donato in California did a great

      job of finding the line.

      Except that James Donato, a US District Court Judge for

      California’s Northern District, didn’t see it that way. In November

      2016, he dealt a major setback to Airbnb when he rejected the

      company’s request to block the ordinance. Donato didn’t buy

      Airbnb’s Section 230 argument. As he put it, San Francisco’s

      ordinance doesn’t treat Airbnb as the publisher of illegal rental

      listings, nor does it force Airbnb to police its website and remove such

      listings. It simply holds Airbnb accountable for its own conduct:

      providing “booking services” in connection with unregistered

      units.

      Defending free speech should not mean shielding illegal commerce.

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      1. For the record, on Thursday Amber Rudd had a summit with the big four, with a8c not being at the table. The coverage of the meeting almost seems to suggest a) the encryption comments were so embarassing to her that they were best left unspoken, and b) she’s trying to create a problem so she can present herself as the solution. It’s not working.
        http://www.wired.co.uk/article/whatsapp-westminster-terror-attack-amber-rudd-twitter-facebook-microsoft-google

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  9. This seems to be the new “rock music and video games cause school shootings.”

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