Nairaland web downtime puts the spotlight on content moderation

Cloudflare, the hosting provider, has disabled the web server of Nairaland, a leading online community in Nigeria.

Nairaland web downtime puts the spotlight on content moderation
Nairaland web server is down!

Cloudflare, a US-based hosting provider, has deactivated the web server of Nairaland, a prominent Nigerian online community.

Initially, Seun Osewa, the founder, believed the server outage was a result of "unscheduled maintenance operations." "We are actively working with them to resolve the issue, but the restoration process may take some time," Osewa said on Dec. 18.

However, a few hours later, Osewa disclosed that the cause of the server shutdown was "a human issue, not a technical one," contrary to his initial assumption. He explained, "Nairaland's server was taken down because I overlooked an abuse report that was originally sent on [Dec. 14, last Thursday]."

"I am guessing that the content I removed was still cached on Cloudflare servers, so they could still see it. I have cleared the caches now, but they are not communicating," he added. Osewa said that the server was restored but Cloudflare took it down again.

As per Cloudflare's technical support team, the review of Nairaland's complaint by the company's ethics team is expected to take at least 48 hours.

Founded in 2005, Nairaland ranks as the seventh most visited website in Nigeria, with over 28 million visits in the previous month. Recently, several users on the platform, which is similar to Reddit in the US, have requested an upgrade. "I have slept on Nairaland all my life and I want to begin to use it more moving forward but can someone follow me to Osewa's house so we can go and beg him to allow just some small UI upgrade?", Victor Fatanmi, co-founder of Fullgap posted on X yesterday. Osewa expressed interest in having a conversation with Fatanmi.

The founder of Nairaland is positive about the platform's return, expressing his intention to dedicate full-time focus to it.

When Nairaland comes back, it will have to step up its content moderation, especially since the outage was due to an overlooked ethical issue. During the last Nigerian election, the platform received backlash for allowing a campaign centred on bigotry to run on its site.

Cloudflare has a defined hosting policy that dictates regulations on its platform. This policy includes the suspension of hosting platforms like Nairaland when they violate the established rules.

In 2019, Cloudflare disabled 8chan, a website notorious for hosting violent extremism and explicitly white supremacist content. "Cloudflare's mission is to help build a better Internet. At some level firing 8chan as a customer is easy. They are uniquely lawless and that lawlessness has contributed to multiple horrific tragedies. Enough is enough," Matthew Prince, co-founder and CEO of Cloudflare said.

According to Jenna Ruddock, a policy counsel at Free Press, "Social media sites that are in the business of encouraging people to post content have more targeted tools available to moderate that content – like flagging or removing a problematic post or banning an individual’s page. But companies that provide internet infrastructure services like web hosting or domain name services typically have far less granular options at their disposal. They are often limited to blunt actions like removing full web pages or blocking entire domains."

It is important to note that cannot verify the content that resulted in Nairaland's deactivation.

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