If you haven’t heard, Texas recently passed a law making it illegal for anyone to assist a woman in getting an abortion after six weeks of pregnancy, with no exceptions for rape or incest — and to take advantage of it, the anti-abortion group Texas Right to Life encouraged citizens to report those people to a dedicated “whistleblower” website, promising to “ensure that these lawbreakers are held accountable.”
That dedicated webpage appears to have vanished as of Sunday.
Texas Right to Life had to find a new home for the website on Friday after hosting provider GoDaddy gave the group 24 hours to find a replacement. According to The New York Times and The Verge, “we have advised prolifewhistleblower.com that they have 24 hours to relocate to another provider for breaching our terms of service.”
Epik, the company that also helped rescue controversial sites Gab, social media platform Parler, and online hate forum 8chan when other web service providers wouldn’t, is now identified as the registrant and name server provider for prolifewhistleblower.com.
However, the site may have gone too far for any web host, even Epik, to handle.
GoDaddy first notified The Verge that the whistleblower site had broken “several sections” of its Terms of Service, including Section 5.2, which states:
“You will not collect or harvest (or permit anyone else to collect or harvest) any User Content (as defined below) or any non-public or personally identifiable information about another User or any other person or entity without their express prior written consent.”
Even when Epik stepped in, the website had a lot of problems remaining up and running. When we tried to access it at 4 a.m. ET on Saturday, we received HTTP 503 error codes. According to Ars Technica, the Texas anti-abortion group originally sought to utilize Digital Ocean as a hosting provider, but it appears to have run afoul of that provider’s regulations as well, and it is no longer housed there.
The site appears to have relocated to BitMitigate on Saturday, a webhost owned by Epik and that offers its “sovereign hosting” services for platforms under assault. However, by Saturday evening, the site was not loading at all for us, with an error message stating that we had “visited a prohibited URL.” General counsel Daniel Prince told The Verge that Epik warned Texas Right to Life that posting the anonymous tip form was against its terms of service.
The struggle looked to be ended by Sunday: prolifewhistleblower.com now leads to Texas Right to Life’s main website, rather than a form for residents to report on their neighbors. Epik claims responsibility for this, claiming that it “persuaded them to cease collecting anonymous tips and to remove it altogether from the internet.” That’s something we’re checking with Texas Right to Life right now.
Even before the web provider fight, the anti-abortion group’s website had been under attack for days, with irate protestors filling it with phony tips — including at least one false allegation that Texas governor Greg Abbott had broken the law, according to the New York Times. According to Motherboard, one TikTok activist even built a software that can automatically send bogus reviews into the website’s tipbox. He informed the New York Times that his automated programs had gotten over 15,000 clicks.
However, Shoshana Wodinsky of Gizmodo proposed another option for activists to protest on Wednesday: by complaining to GoDaddy about what Texas Right to Life was doing. That looks to be what happened.
It’s not the first time web hosting companies, including GoDaddy, have played this role: in October 2018, Gab.com had to find a new home, and in May of same year, GoDaddy pulled down white supremacist Richard Spencer’s Altright.com. In August 2017, GoDaddy gave Neo-Nazi news site the Daily Stormer the same 24-hour deadline to find a new home, but it ended up relocating to the dark web instead. Gab, on the other hand, was permitted to return, as was Texas Right to Life for a while.