‘Lex Luthor Of The Internet’: Meet The Man Keeping Far-Right Websites Alive

Epik CEO Rob Monster standing within the yard of his house in Sammamish, Wash.

Offered by Rob Monster

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Offered by Rob Monster

Epik CEO Rob Monster standing within the yard of his house in Sammamish, Wash.

Offered by Rob Monster

When web sites flooded with hate speech or dangerous disinformation grow to be too radioactive for the Web, the websites typically flip to at least one firm for a lifeline.

That firm is run by Rob Monster, a 53-year-old Dutch-American.

“For those who wished to solid a villain who was going to be the Lex Luthor of the Web, Rob Monster is about pretty much as good because it will get,” he joked throughout a current interview at his lakeside house within the former logging group of Sammamish, Wash., outdoors Seattle.

Monster’s website-services firm Epik, which calls itself “the Swiss financial institution of the area business,” saved a reasonably modest profile for years by shopping for and promoting widespread names like Diamond.com and 3D.com.

That modified in 2018 after a capturing at a Pittsburgh synagogue left 11 folks useless. The alleged killer had posted anti-Semitic messages on the right-leaning social community Gab shortly earlier than the bloodbath. Gab’s area registrar, GoDaddy, dumped it and the website went darkish.

Till Monster stepped in.

“I checked out that and stated, ‘ what? I do not suppose there was plenty of due course of by way of how the choice was made to de-platform Gab.com,'” Monster stated.

Gab sprung again to life, due to the assistance of Epik, which added Gab to its shopper base.

Quick ahead to right now. Epik helps the conspiracy principle web site InfoWars, embattled conservative platform Parler, the largely unregulated YouTube different BitChute, the gun discussion board AR15.com and a website for rabid Trump supporters referred to as Patriots.win, beforehand generally known as The Donald.

Spend a couple of minutes on these websites, conspiracy theories concerning the 2020 presidential election, vaccines and mass shootings should not arduous to seek out, to not point out a gentle stream of bigoted content material about Jews, ladies and other people of colour.

Monster says he is pushing again towards “cancel tradition” and Massive Tech.

“If any person needs to undergo a messy swamp of their seek for reality, who’re we to resolve that they should not have the chance to try this?” Monster stated.

Evidently, many individuals disagree. Whereas hate speech permeates all corners of the Web, together with mainstream platforms like Fb and Twitter, Michael Edison Hayden of the Southern Poverty Legislation Middle, which tracks hate teams, says the web sites Epik props up stand out.

“The distinction is there are folks with terroristic ambitions plotting out within the open, producing propaganda that they search to make use of to form of encourage violence,” he stated. “And people are the form of web sites Rob Monster is prepared to choose up.”

Monster On Hyperlink To Neo-Nazi Website: ‘It is regrettable’

Monster describes himself as a Christian libertarian, not a free-speech absolutist. There are vivid traces that he won’t cross, he says.

The hate-spewing website 8Chan sought to work with Epik in 2019, after the online infrastructure firm Cloudflare terminated its service. Whereas 8Chan’s introduced it had discovered refuge at Epik, Monster quickly backed away, citing “the potential of violent radicalization on the platform” within the wake of mass shootings in Dayton, Ohio and El Paso, Tex.

Epik additionally has been linked to the Neo-Nazi web site The Day by day Stormer. Epik, in 2019, bought the cybersecurity firm BitMitigate, which had been offering service to the Day by day Stormer. Monster maintains that when Epik realized this, the corporate ended its relationship with the positioning.

“It is regrettable,” Monster stated of Epik’s connection to The Day by day Stormer. “The best value of buying BitMitigate was not the amount of money that we paid to purchase the know-how, however the entanglement.”

But his self-professed boundaries grow to be squishy upon examination.

For example, on Gab, a web site Epik does assist, Andrew Anglin, the white supremacist founding father of the Day by day Stormer, has greater than 17,000 followers.

When requested about this, Monster demurred.

“I do not know if that is really him, or his proxy,” Monster stated.

Monster then went on to explain white supremacist leaders as “shock jocks” who shouldn’t be taken severely.

“I imagine that to some extent this content material is pointless and inflammatory in nature and to a big extent does not really have to be accessible to folks on the Web,” Monster stated. “However it’s the choice of our shopper organizations.”

But that form of content material can encourage bodily violence, says David Kaye, a web-based speech professional on the College of California, Irvine. Living proof: The storming of the U.S. Capitol was largely documented on websites Monster helps preserve, like Gab and Parler.

“He can say they’re simply ‘shock jocks,’ however what we really see is actual world hurt coming from the platforms,” he stated. “So how a lot is any person who’s permitting that content material to be hosted working in actual good religion?”

Kaye added that, “it typically comes right down to, ‘Does the platform have a content material moderation coverage that’s designed to guard particular person lives and particular person rights?'”

“If it has the coverage and does not implement it, that is an issue,” he stated. “If it does not have the coverage, that is an issue.”

What makes a web site harmful?

Parler was knocked offline by its web-hosting service Amazon Net Providers shortly after the riot. It has but to return again.

Whereas Epik gives area registration to Parler, it additionally has the potential to host Parler. Monster wouldn’t touch upon why Epik just isn’t doing so.

“What I’ll inform you is that that they had a disproportionate variety of abuse experiences that went unprocessed. And consequently, they left themselves broad open to folks utilizing their platform for functions that possibly weren’t the unique intention of the individuals who handle it. Does that essentially imply that we not solely take that website offline, however we burn it to the bottom?” Monster stated. “I do not know, however I believe the positioning might be rehabilitated so it could possibly be extra self-governing.”

When know-how firms play Web cop, he argues, they abuse their energy to manage what we see and do not see on-line. He factors to Fb and Twitter’s banning of former President Donald Trump.

“It is one factor to be despatched to detention. It is one other factor to get a suspension. It is one other factor to be despatched to a penal colony for the remainder of your life,” Monster stated.

But consultants who research on-line speech say when public security and democracy are on the road, unfettered speech just isn’t as virtuous because it sounds. Algorithms of main social media platforms typically amplify disinformation and different dangerous content material, placing it earlier than individuals who might by no means have discovered it in any other case.

Hayden with the Southern Poverty Legislation Middle says with out Epik, a few of the most noxious outposts on the Web might not exist.

“Nobody is saying that Rob Monster himself goes on the market and making terroristic threats, but when he does not wish to be related to this model, he can definitely step up and say, ‘completely, I do not need something to do with this materials,’ ” Hayden stated. “However he isn’t doing that.”

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