The Verge

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Were you aware that the “.af” domain extension is administered by Afghanistan’s government? That’s a truth that the “queer.af” Mastodon instance is now reckoning with as the Taliban, which has controlled the country since 2021, has shut down the domain, according to 404 Media. And it may not be alone, given reports that other .af domains have abruptly gone dark, too.

Erin Shepherd, the administrator of the instance and key ActivityPub developer, told the outlet they were already planning “to shut things down” instead of renewing in April, but that the early termination was a surprise. An email from the Afghanistan Ministry of Communications and IT that Shepherd posted said that the queer.af domain had been suspended and that websites or emails connected with it “will cease working shortly.” The instance had been in place since July 2018, 404 writes, as a place “for those who are queer or queer-adjacent who would like a more pleasant social media experience.”

A screenshot from a post with text.
Screenshot: Wes Davis / The Verge
Shepherd’s post showing the notification from the Afghanistan Ministry of Communications and IT.

Shepherd said in another post that all .af domains acquired through the Gandi domain registrar had been shutdown, mentioning inet.af as one. We’ve reached out to Gandi to verify and to ask for more information, but at the moment, a message on Gandi.net says that the registrar is no longer registering, renewing, transferring, or restoring .af domain names. Internet Archive captures show the site had already stopped taking new registrations for the domain extension by October 2020 and disabled renewals of it by November of last year.

When country code top-level domains (TLD), or ccTLDs, are used outside of those countries, it can have substantial downstream effects like this or, as 404 notes, can even be a massive source of income for smaller nations like Tuvalu, which made enough money off of its “.tv” ccTLD to fund its entry into the United Nations in 2000.

But there are less cheerful potential ramifications of choosing to use ccTLDs, whether as a gag or some other reason. For example, Ukraine asked the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) to disable the Russia-administered “.ru” extension after Russia invaded Ukraine in 2022. ICANN denied the request, but domain providers like Namecheap ended services for customers using the extension, while Reddit blocked links appended with it.

The safer alternative is to use generic TLDs like “.com” or “.net,” or any of the many others that have no specific association with a country or organization, and of course, most websites on the internet use extensions like those, according to Statista.

Wes Davis

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