Digital Ocean said it would shut down my blog if I didn’t remove or edit a blog post.

by hashbrownchew

This is a story about how the VPS provider Digital Ocean required me to either delete a blog post or make it anonymous by removing any reference to the person I was writing about. If I refused to do it, Digital Ocean said they would terminate my account. The person I wrote about (Googler Travis Collins) in the blog post happened to be a friend of a Digital Ocean executive, but Digital Ocean said the only reason the blog post needed to be removed was due to a terms of service violation. Here’s the blog post in its original form. I describe below how this whole incident came to pass and provide screenshots of Digital Ocean’s communications. Digital Ocean promotes itself as a great place to setup a blog, and they provide instructions to make it easy for you, but you might want to learn how Digital Ocean applies its terms of service before investing a lot of time in writing blog posts.

A couple weeks ago I decided to set up a WordPress blog on a VPS provided by Digital Ocean. I didn’t have specific plans to write about anything in particular but since I’m trying to retrain as a developer there would probably be a tech angle to most of what I published. One potential story idea arose when I was hanging out on another site hosted on and sponsored by Digital Ocean, chat meatspace. Chat Meatspace is one of Digital Ocean’s so-called #TopDrops It’s a site where a lot of “alpha geeks” hang out (as Tech Crunch describes them), including several high profile members of the JavaScript community, the Chief Technology Evangelist for Digital Ocean, and at least two Googlers that I knew of, one being a guy named Travis Collins. It’s a very small community and the people are all chummy with each other.

One day, as I was lurking on Meatspace, I saw the Googler Travis Collins turn up and decided to ask his opinion about a story that Gawker had published about how Google treats its contract employees. I gave him the link to the story and he provided some very candid responses, which I took screenshots of and used to write up this blog post. Travis had no idea that I intended to write up a blog post, and, indeed, I had no real plans to write a blog post until Travis gave me his response, which I thought was somewhat newsworthy since he works for the company that was the subject of the other story. After he gave me his responses, he decided to mute me on the site, so it was impossible to communicate with him and let him know that a blog post was going to be published. My act of taking his statements and publishing them is the same as everyone does when they quote something someone says on Twitter. It’s fair game to republish something in the public domain.

Several days later, after TechCrunch published its story about Meatspace, the Meatspace community discovered my blog post via a comment on TechCrunch and were really angry about it. I happened to be lurking on Meatspace as they were discussing it and took screenshots of things they said about it and me. One member of the community half-seriously (I assumed) threatened to harm me, proposing to “Godwins law this fucker.” Screenshot, a reference to the practice of accusing someone of being a Nazi sympathizer in internet discussions. See Wikipedia entry here. Another member of the community, who was present and very suspicious as I asked Travis Collins the questions about the Gawker story, had taken note of my browser “fingerprint” and was now offering to share it with everyone. fingerprint screenshot

Interestingly, when the Meatspace community asked Travis Collins about the blog post, he said he didn’t care. “Meh, whatever,” were his words. Here’s a screenshot of the question being asked and here’s a screenshot of Travis Collins’ response

The next day, however, I received notification from Digital Ocean about an abuse complaint, which purportedly came from Travis Collins. The complaint claimed that I had been harassing Travis Collins online and the blog post was part of that larger pattern of harassment. Here’s the complaint.

The most outrageous part of this abuse complaint is that it claimed that I had been harassing and following Travis Collins around online. This is easily proven false because Travis Collins admitted that he had no idea who I was as I spoke to him on Meatspace. Here’s a screenshot of Travis Collins admitting that he had no idea who I was as I spoke to him on Meatspace.
I pointed this fact out to Digital Ocean but they just ignored it, even when I also showed them that other members of the Meatspace community expressed an interest in harming my reputation (i.e. Godwins law this fucker).

Anyways, when signing up for Digital Ocean, my assumption that if a person has a complaint about content, the VPS provider would ask them to contact the publisher (me) rather than the VPS provider trying to mediate between the person with the complaint and the publisher. I asked Digital Ocean to have Travis Collins contact me and they just ignored it.

When I asked Digital Ocean how my blog post violated the terms of service, they quoted one clause from the ToS but didn’t explain how my content violated it.

In reply, I pointed out to Digital Ocean that Travis Collins didn’t actually care about the blog post and I provided the screenshot of Travis Collins’ response to prove it.

Second, I also pointed out how the complaint contained a lie. How was it possible that I had been harassing and following Travis Collins around online if it was also true, as Travis admitted, that he had no idea who I was?

I therefore suggested to Digital Ocean that Travis Collins wasn’t telling the truth about being embarrassed, or that the person who made the complaint wasn’t actually Travis Collins but one of the other Meatspacers who expressed an interest in harming me. I gave them the screenshots of the Meatspace users talking about defaming me with Godwins law.

Digital Ocean didn’t listen to anything I said. They required me to either remove the blog post entirely or to make it “anonymous.” They said that my story was “targeting” Travis Collins and that I could easily remove any reference to Travis Collins and still make the same point. In fact they said that my unwillingness to make the blogpost anonymous lends credibility to Travis’ complaint, which ignored the fact that it likely wasn’t even Travis who made the complaint. Digital Ocean required me to provide legal documentation to show that I could publish the blog post. They said they would gladly respond to an injunction from a New York court! This was obviously very difficult for me to do since I’m not even in the United States!

Digital Ocean promotes itself as a great place to setup a WordPress or Ghost blog, and they provide very clear instructions how to do it, but you should carefully consider their terms of service and the content you plan on publishing, or you might end up wasting a lot of your time and their time.

By the way, I sent an email to Travis Collins and asked him if he made the complaint and he never replied!

If you’re really interested, here’s the whole series of communications.

First. The complaint

My initial response with their reply quoting the terms of service

I object that they haven’t explained how I violated the terms of service, and also point out that Travis didn’t even care about the post

their response

I initially refuse and point out how the Meatspace community said it was going to harm me

I provide them more info on Godwins law

I pointed out how the person claiming to be Travis lied about me harassing him

they respond by saying it was clearly a ToS violation and provide me two options, to make the post anonymous or remove it

I offer to remove the words “obnoxious” and “bratty” from my post and re-iterate several points they didn’t respond to

I show them why it’s likely that Travis didn’t even make the complaint

They tell me I must comply

After I pointed out again that it likely wasn’t even Travis who made the complaint, they respond by claiming the complaint had merit and they’d take action on my account if I didn’t comply with their demands

I ask them to clarify what action on my account means, and they tell me my droplet would be powered down and my account locked down

They explain that locked down means ‘terminated’