March 17, 2014

Senator Rockefeller, don’t take our “.sucks”!



Over the past year, ICANN (the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers), the organization that controls the use of domain names on the web, has been in the process of making decisions about a vast number of newly proposed possible endings for internet addresses. Here on MobyLives we’ve covered Amazon’s attempt to squirrel away .book and .amazon for itself, as well as the debates over potentially contentious domain names like .shiksa.

But if it’s up to Senator Jay Rockefeller from West Virginia, then nobody’s going to get to use .sucks. Senator Rockefeller has launched a campaign against the .sucks domain name, which has been proposed to but not yet approved by ICANN. Rockefeller argued in a recent letter to ICANN that it is “little more than a predatory shakedown scheme,” which will force companies and organizations to pay large sums to keep a .sucks site shaming them off the web.

So far, almost no one agrees with him, but many journalists are visibly enjoying using “sucks” in their coverage of the case. Tim Cushing at TechDirt lambasts the idea from several angles, including, persuasively, the argument that:

every new gTLD can be viewed as a “shakedown scheme.” Businesses rush to secure (or to block off) new TLDs in order to prevent domain squatters, competitors and critics from snatching them up. Singling out “.sucks” as nothing more than a predatory scheme ignores the reality — a new gTLD will always be a combination gold rush/shakedown.

Brian Fung at the Washington Post pointed out that the price of the .sucks domain name (which is now at $2,500 and is due to rise to $25,000 if approved) is so high that the only people who’ll be able to afford it are terrible people anyway:

[It] imposes a steep barrier against harassers. If .sucks becomes a thing, you won’t merely have to hate The Switch to buy You’ll have to hate The Switch and have two-dozen grand lying around… Domain-based defamation wars will therefore almost exclusively be waged among the wealthy. If you really want to get upset about something, rage against that. Equal-opportunity trolling for all!

Though it’s not as if there’s all that much moral high ground to fight over here: David Murphy over at PC Mag is skeptical of the claims made by the companies that are trying to register .sucks. One of them, Vox Populi Registry, states in their dotSUCKS FAQ, that the .sucks domain name could be used “as a feedback forum for companies who are willing to address issues about their service, products and/or overall corporate ethos” or by “individuals, communities and special interest groups to use as a forum for opinions and debate with the goal of fostering change.”

But, as Murphy put it:

Because that’s exactly what one might associate with respectful discourse and reasonable discussions: Creating a website to tell a brand or person that it “sucks.”

Only Fox News appears to be on board with Rockefeller’s campaign, though their support is so muddled that it’s hard to know what to make of it. The Fox News article about the issue (unsigned—so who writes these things, Roger Ailes, on the foreheads of cowed underlings?) begins with the lame but relatively straightforward statement “There’s no way around it: .sucks sucks,” but then offers the idea that one might be able someday to visit “enjoy.coke” or “” or even (the incarnation of moral turpitude herself) “Lindsay.Lohan” as inherently shocking. Are you shocked? I am not shocked. What are we supposed to be shocked about again?

Then they list some of the new domain names that have already been approved, but only the ones in foreign languages.

They represent Chinese for “game” (游戏), Arabic for “network” (شبكة), and Cyrillic for “online” and “site” (онлайн and сайт).

So that we know that this is bad, this fiddling around with the God-given, 100% American .coms and .nets of a more innocent age.

Of course, no one wants to be slimed on the internet. But ultimately, this comes down to a free speech issue, and past lawsuits against “gripe sites” that often include “sucks” somewhere else in their name, such as, have foundered on the First Amendment.

With good reason: nothing sucks more than someone telling you what you can’t say.


Sal Robinson is a former Melville House editor. She's also the co-founder of the Bridge Series, a reading series focused on translation.