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After NZ shooting, Epik has a Monster PR problem

Kevin Murphy, March 21, 2019, 16:10:08 (UTC), Domain Registrars

Domain name registrar Epik.com has come under fire from prominent domain investors and others after CEO Rob Monster suggested that video of the recent mosque shootings in New Zealand, which he hosted on an Epik service and shared on social media, was a hoax.

Domainer-bloggers including Shane Cultra, Konstantinos Zournas, and DNPlaybook.com have questioned Monster’s decision, and one of his own senior staffers, former DomainNameWire contributor Joseph Peterson, took to a domainer forum to in parts criticize and defend his boss.

Cultra was particularly harsh in his criticism this week, calling for domainers to move their domains out of Epik and for his friend, Epik director Braden Pollock, to remove himself from the board.

He wrote: “I would like to think that any respectable domain investor remove their domains from Epik… Rob Monster’s agenda has no place in our industry”.

DNPlaybook wrote that Monster has become “Facilitator of Hate and Promoter of Conspiracies”.

Other domainers have written that they have removed, or will remove, their domains from Epik, though Monster wrote earlier this week that the impact on its business so far has been minimal.

Epik is an ICANN-accredited registrar with about 400,000 gTLD names under management at the last count. It’s almost doubled in size over the last two years.

The company and its CEO have been subject to criticism for months over their decision to provide services to web sites that enable the promotion of far-right ideologies such as white supremacism and Nazism.

But the latest row kicked off on March 15, when Monster used his personal Twitter account to share a link to the self-shot, first-person video of one of the terrorist attacks at a mosque in Christchurch.

Fifty people, all Muslims attending Friday prayers or in the vicinity of the mosques, were killed by the same person during the attacks.

The first attack was live-streamed on Facebook from a head-mounted camera. Apparently viewed live by fewer than 200 people, copies were nevertheless widely circulated on social media and elsewhere.

The copy of the video linked to by Monster was hosted by Epik-owned privacy services provider Anonymize.com, on an “effectively uncensorable” file-sharing service the company is currently developing.

In a subsequent tweet, Monster threw doubt upon whether the footage was real, writing: “Shell casings simply vanish into thin air. Etc. It looks like low budget CGI”.

Anyone with a grain of common sense who has seen the video will tell you that Monster is clearly talking absolute bollocks here. It’s not a fake.

Monster’s Twitter account has since been deleted. According to Peterson, Epik’s director of operations, Monster deleted it himself. Reading between the lines, it appears he was pressured to do so by his staff, including Peterson.

Monster has not yet deleted — and is in fact still actively using — his @epik account on Gab.com, the Twitter clone often used by far-right activists who have been banned from or choose not to use Twitter due to their views.

A March 15 post on Gab by Monster links to a copy of the Christchurch killer’s rambling “manifesto”, again hosted on anonymize.com. This link is still live, but I’ve redacted it in the screen-cap below, which shows Monster effectively using the manifesto to promote the forthcoming Anonymize service.

Monster on Gab

I’ve been unable to confirm whether Epik is still hosting the video of the attack, though there are reports that it was taken down a matter of hours after posting. (UPDATE 1816 UTC: the video is in fact still live on the Anonymize service).

Epik and Monster drew attention last November when Monster publicly offered to become the registrar for Gab.com, after the domain was suspended by GoDaddy.

Monster at the time said the move was to protect freedom of speech online.

Epik again attracted attention last month when it acquired BitMitigate, a denial-of-service protection startup which has been providing services to unapologetic Nazi propaganda site The Daily Stormer since August 2017, when Cloudflare told the site to GTFO.

It’s also taken on the domain business of video hosting site BitChute, which is often used as a refuge for political vloggers (including some on the far right) who have been demonetized or banned by YouTube.

For these reasons, in January Epik attracted the attention of the Southern Poverty Law Center, an anti-racist group based in the US. The SPLC wrote that “Epik is cornering the market on websites where hate speech is thriving”.

The post, and other news reports, strongly hint that Monster’s own political views might be more aligned with those of his customers than he cares to admit.

Monster naturally rebuts these suggestions, calling the SPLC post “highly defamatory and inaccurate”. In one of his most recent posts on Namepros, before his staff asked him to back away from the public square for a while, he wrote:

As for those members of the domain community who have taken the opportunity this week to rebuke me for allowing free speech to continue on the Internet, please know that I am neither seeking publicity or controversy. I am of sound mind. I am not a Nazi, an anti-semite, a homophobe, a misogynist, a bigot, or a racist. I believe love and understanding will overcome hate and divisiveness.

The future of the domain industry is being determined in 2019. Censorship, WHOIS privacy, sinkholing, DDoS, deplatforming, demonetization, unpersoning, are all symptoms of the disease which is a relentless desire by the few to dictate the narratives and choices to be consumed by the many.

Peterson has also denied that his boss harbors secret extremist views, in a series of lengthy, nuanced posts (starting here) on Namepros this week.

He writes that Monster has a “weird conspiratorial streak” and a natural inclination to believe in “false flag” conspiracy theories. He doubts the official story on 9/11 and believes the moon landings were faked, Peterson said. Monster is also a “Bible-believing Christian”, according to his Gab profile.

Peterson also writes that a significant portion of Epik’s employees, including some in important roles, are Muslims. He writes that he was “appalled” by Monster’s decision to post the video, but added:

But to infer that he did this because he hates muslims and condones murder is not just simplistic; it is LUDICROUS. One person murders 30+ muslims. The other person hires them and works with them closely on a daily basis. To equate these 2 is simply wrong. Whatever the reasons Rob felt it necessary to re-publish a link to content others had decided to censor, hatred of muslims was NOT the reason.

He goes on to say:

I object to Epik — the team I work with and the customers we look after — being portrayed falsely as some epicenter of “hate speech” or the alt right. We are not. We are a domain registrar and marketplace with a wide range of services. We are a company whose boss has taken controversial (and in some ways courageous) steps to protect free speech. Unfortunately, that same boss has stepped on that message with some very bad PR moves. When Rob does that, it irritates me to the point of exasperation. And I tell him so.

According to Peterson, Monster and his wife came under attack last year with a leafleting campaign in his local neighborhood, denouncing him as a Nazi.

He suspects this kind of behavior may have caused his boss to “double-down” on exactly the same kinds of activities that invited the controversy in the first place.

Whatever the reason, Epik certainly has got a PR problem on its hands right now.

I doubt this is the last we’ll hear of it.

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Comments (15)

  1. Mark Thorpe says:

    I don’t believe in “There is no such thing as bad publicly”. This is very bad publicity and it is making the domain Industry look bad.

  2. Ang says:

    The world is too political right now. I wanna puke.

  3. RobMonstersCow says:

    Characterizing Joseph Peterson’s posts as “nuanced” is generous to a fault. He’s vomiting out a nonsensical word salad that gives Rob Monster a pass because he isn’t walking around in a KKK hood. Oh dear, Rob, a racist, lord no, he hires Muslims. Yeah, and Trump hires Mexicans. Rob no doubt knows someone he characterizes as his “black friend” as well. Golly gee, he’s just an odd bird whose only fault is his harmless skepticism. Let’s not conflate Rob’s innocent activities with Epik’s ability to turn a profit, right Joseph? A kook like Rob Monster isn’t going to announce himself as a white supremacist; he’ll hide behind his mental masturbations on topics like de-platforming and free speech, praying we come to understand the cosmic righteousness of a white Christian world. Oh, and if praying doesn’t work, he’s good with posting videos of a mass murder at a Mosque in the name of his principles.

    • No, I didn’t give Rob a “pass”. I criticized my boss in public. Harshly.

      When did I say anything about “harmless skepticism”? Conspiracy theories are dangerous. What I actually said was this:

      “Whatever his motives, [Rob] is promoting conspiracy theories that serve the ends of xenophobes and racists.”

      @RobMonstersCow,

      I personally feel it’s my responsibility to criticize my boss in public, even if it puts my employment at risk. Meanwhile, you are insinuating that I am excusing racism for the sake of money:

      “Let’s not conflate Rob’s innocent activities with Epik’s ability to turn a profit, right Joseph?”

      If you wish to insult me, please have the guts to use your own name.

      As far as “vomiting out a nonsensical word salad” goes, people can compare the accuracy and coherence of your post here with what I’ve written and judge for themselves.

  4. R P says:

    It’s typically not smart business to mix politics or racial beliefs with business. That being said, it appears Epik’s business model is partially based on servicing radicalized clients. Perhaps his actions are calculated business decisions.

    As far as Peterson, these bizarre rants have no rhythm or rhyme. Trashing the US govt along with boasting about being a socialist, ex-military officer that moved to Mexico isn’t a badge of honor. It’s bad business.

    • Kevin Murphy says:

      Unfortunately, nowadays it seems that everyone feels the need to identify which groups they belong to before they feel able to express an opinion.

      • @Kevin Murphy,

        People will cast aspersions on anyone who doesn’t agree with them. If I had not explained my own background and politics at the outset, then people would have wasted time accusing me of being a white supremacist, a neo-Nazi, or a “stupid American who voted for Trump”. (Epik staff got a lot of hate mail like that after Gab.com was transferred from GoDaddy.)

        So I preempted the ad hominem about my supposed beliefs or affiliation in order to focus on the issues. Also, I wanted to challenge the idea that Epik is a hotbed of the alt right. Our staff is quite diverse, and gives the lie to that insinuation.

        I don’t “feel the need to identify which groups [I] belong to”. But other people won’t listen properly until they have decided whether the speaker is 1 of “us” or 1 of “them”. Rob and I have opposite views. And so I wanted to communicate chiefly with the people on the “left” who would dismiss Rob simply for being on the “right”. That required me to announce my own politics.

        This is not an unusual thing to do – to explain one’s background prior to explaining one’s reaction to a scandal.

  5. XYZ says:

    We are sorry to see this in our industry… Please visit http://www.Give.Monster and donate to support victims of the horrific Christchurch shootings. Thank you for your support.

    • Very bad taste to piggyback aboard a massacre / scandal in order to publicize .MONSTER domains.

      I have publicly criticized Rob for mentioning Epik in connection with the NZ shooting. So I’m not being hypocritical if I also criticize the .XYZ registry for doing likewise.

      The .XYZ registry doesn’t have the “excuse” of believing in a conspiracy theory and trying to combat censorship. On their part, this was a calculated decision to cash in.

  6. JZ says:

    Another conspiracy loon who probably thinks all shootings like this o e and sandy hook are “false flags”…sad to see.

  7. John says:

    Kevin, in all candor and without malice (believe it or not), I have always found you personally revolting, and this is nothing but a hit piece against Rob and Epik.

    Someone under another famous domain blog even called you an “a**hole” for your behavior there recently as I recall, and it was well deserved. You display your own personal bias and bigotry about certain religious realities, for instance, as you did under that other blog, like a bright red polyester suit with a fluorescent green tie. Like a 12 year old even.

    I have been in close communication with an online friend and business associate in the UK for many months who has a well known site based there, and just recently our conversation went this way:

    Me: “What we’ve been noticing here [in the US] is erosion and curtailment of more than just consumer related rights over in your neck of the woods, but really huge and alarming infringement on things like free speech and the like. It has not escaped notice over here, at least among those who pay any attention at all to such things […]”

    Him: “Unlike US, the UK has never had free speech as a right… You can now be arrested for viewing a web page one time that has information that can be used for terror, or for making remarks online that are hurtful…

    Been a police state since the early 80s”

    And that is the officially imposed cultural mindset, among other things, from which you come. And that has also been my experience in dealing with some other people from the UK as well. Your population is so conditioned to accept such a reality that there is widespread lack of love or respect at all for things like free speech, communication, expression – and recognition of the extreme importance of it.

    And after all, that is certainly in part why “we” broke away from England round about 1776, is it not?

    However, aside from Rob and Epik already being a great champion of the importance of free speech and due process, this statement by Rob you quoted is extremely well put, and resonates well with those who do care about such things and the state of both national and global society:

    “The future of the domain industry is being determined in 2019. Censorship, WHOIS privacy, sinkholing, DDoS, deplatforming, demonetization, unpersoning, are all symptoms of the disease which is a relentless desire by the few to dictate the narratives and choices to be consumed by the many.”

    And in case anyone didn’t get the memo or has not been paying attention, the great tsunami of war against free speech taking place, especially and particularly here in the US, is not even within 1,000 miles of being about just the “right” or whatever you want to call it, but is also just as much, even if not as well publicized, about the “left.” Search it out, you will see. In fact, quantitatively speaking it is probably even the case that *far more* sources of free speech on the left have been censored, suppressed and “deplatformed” than on the right in recent weeks and months here in the USA.

    Like Joseph, I too once worked in the house of our great Uncle Sam.

    You and people so inclined can use the worn out “conspiracy theory” and “conspiracy theorist” trump card all you want to try to denigrate, discredit and dismiss, but it only says something about you when you do it. We just even wrapped up the biggest officially sanctioned and “establishment approved” conspiracy theory in US history after roughly two and half years of relentless effort, even greater than Watergate which turned out to be a real “conspiracy,” but how many people are acknowledging the former now for what it has been? Julian Assange, now under siege holed up in your own country, exposed one of the biggest real “conspiracies” in US history as well, for which now he is vilified, effectively imprisoned, and people seek his freedom and even his life. He was a darling and recognized as the hero that he was and is until he did that, however.

    So play that game all you want. In the end you will be playing it against yourself.

    • Kevin Murphy says:

      Hit piece?

      You’d be hard-pressed to find me express any personal opinion on Monster in this post. The best you’re going to find is the reference to him talking “absolute bollocks” about the attack footage being faked.

      I’ve watched the footage, and there’s absolutely no doubt in my mind that it’s genuine. Anyone giving the implications of it being faked more than a few seconds thought would conclude the same.

      As it happens, I have no desire whatsoever to see Monster, Epik, or any of its clients silenced. I’m not a free-speech absolutist, but I am very strongly anti-censorship and pro-transparency.

      A truly revolting person, doubtless.

    • No, this wasn’t a hit piece. I would characterize it as more or less even-handed.

      There is a difference between articles that are critical or not uniformly flattering and others that are out to destroy the person or company they portray.

      Rob was, in fact, targeted by more than 1 hit piece. Leaving aside whether those made legitimate criticisms or not, they clearly took the position that Rob ought to be condemned; and they distorted the facts somewhat in order to paint a more negative portrait. I could cite examples. But for now, I’ll leave it at that.

    • DN Playbook says:

      Why do those that promote conspiracy theories and speech that incites hate against a certain race or group, make themselves out to be victims when faced with logical and factual information that paints them in bad light?

      Instead of labelling this as a “hit piece”, which is the lazy thing to do, why don’t you point out anything that is inaccurate? I’m sure Kevin will correct it, as I have done on my blog.

      Even if Kevin includes his own take on the facts, doesn’t he have the freedom of speech to do so? Can’t he express his opinion and not be attacked by people like you, who only like free speech if it is in their favor?

      And what are you and Rob and other conspiracy theorists, trying to do here?

      If you don’t like what the government is doing, why don’t you run for the government, or lobby the government? Create a non-profit or something?

      Are you trying to get people’s emotions broiled with videos and speech that is clearly intended for that purpose? Are you trying to start a revolt against the government?

      Are you looking for recruits?

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