In case you haven’t heard, Texas now has a law that makes it illegal for anyone to help women get an abortion after six weeks of pregnancy with no exceptions for rape or incest — and to take advantage of that, the anti-abortion group Texas Right to Life encouraged citizens to report those people at a dedicated “whistleblower” website, promising to “ensure that these lawbreakers are held accountable for their actions.”
As of Sunday, that dedicated website now appears to be no more.
On Friday, Texas Right to Life had to find a new home on the web for the site, because hosting provider GoDaddy gave the group 24 hours to find an alternative. “We have informed prolifewhistleblower.com they have 24 hours to move to another provider for violating our terms of service,” a spokesperson told The New York Times and The Verge.
By late Friday, it appeared it found that home: Epik, the provider that also helped save controversial sites Gab, social media platform Parler, and internet hate forum 8chan when other web service providers wouldn’t take them, is now listed as the registrar and name server provider for prolifewhistleblower.com as well.
But the site may have gone too far for any web provider to touch, even Epik.
Initially, GoDaddy told The Verge that the whistleblower site violated “multiple provisions” of its Terms of Service including Section 5.2, which reads:
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.
After Epik stepped in, the website still had plenty of trouble staying online. As of 4AM ET Saturday, we saw HTTP 503 error codes when trying to access it. According to Ars Technica, the Texas anti-abortion group tried to use Digital Ocean as a hosting provider first, but may have fallen afoul of that provider’s rules as well, and it’s not hosted there anymore.
On Saturday, the site appeared to have migrated to BitMitigate, a webhost owned by Epik itself, and one that specifically advertises its “sovereign hosting” services for platforms under attack. Yet by Saturday evening, the site was not loading for us at all, throwing an “accessed a banned URL” error. Epik says it informed Texas Right to Life that hosting the anonymous tip form was against its terms of service, general counsel Daniel Prince told The Verge.
By Sunday, the battle appeared to be over: prolifewhistleblower.com now redirects to Texas Right to Life’s primary website, instead of a form that allows citizens to inform on their neighbors. Epik takes credit for this, saying it “persuaded them to stop collecting anonymous tips and to take it off the internet entirely.” We’re checking that with Texas Right to Life now.
The anti-abortion group’s website had been under siege for days even before the web provider scuffle, with angry protesters flooding it with fake tips — including at least one fake claim that Texas governor Greg Abbott himself had violated the law, according to the NYT. One activist on TikTok even created a script that can automatically feed fake reports into the website’s tipbox, as Motherboard reported Thursday. He told the NYT that the automated tools he’d created had received over 15,000 clicks.
But on Wednesday, Gizmodo’s Shoshana Wodinsky suggested another way for activists to protest: blowing the whistle on Texas Right to Life itself, by complaining to GoDaddy about what it was doing. That’s what appears to have happened.
It’s not the first time web hosting providers or even GoDaddy specifically have played this role: Gab.com had to find a new home in October 2018, and GoDaddy took down white nationalist Richard Spencer’s Altright.com that May. Neo-nazi news site the Daily Stormer was similarly given 24 hours by GoDaddy to find a new home in August 2017, and wound up moving to the dark web instead. Gab was able to return, though, and Texas Right to Life at least briefly did as well.
Update, 4:36PM ET: Added additional context from GoDaddy.
Update September 4th, 4AM ET: Added that Epik appears to be Texas Right to Life’s new home for its site.
Update September 5th, 12:18AM ET: Added that the site now appears to be down, following a report that even Epik wasn’t willing to host the whistleblower form.
Update September 5th, 10:29PM ET: Added that the website no longer exists, redirecting to the anti-abortion group’s main site instead, and additional Epik context.