Shopify CEO Defends Breitbart Partnership After Criticism Mounts
More than 20 protestors gathered outside of Shopify’s Ottawa, Canada, headquarters last week to deliver a petition, signed by almost 200,000 people, asking the online retailer to stop selling Breitbart merchandise.
Shopify hosts Breitbart’s online store. The store features designs such as the “Get in Line” T-shirt, which is aimed at immigrants; “Breitbart Moving Company” T-shirt, which offers to help those who hate America to “get the [expletive] out”; and the “RINO Hunter Jumbo Coffee Cup,” which allows those who hunt “Republicans In Name Only” (aka RINOs) to let the world know.
The protestors showed up to Shopify headquarters with an open letter accusing the tech company of “bankrolling hate speech,” according to The Independent.
“Shopify is literally profiting off the merchandise sold in Breitbart’s store, and thus profiting off Breitbart’s message,” Emma Pullman, lead campaign strategist of SumOfUs, a consumer watchdog organization that presented the letter, told The Independent. “It has a simple choice to make: Be complicit in white supremacy or hate, or not. Right now it’s choosing to be complicit.”
Breitbart’s most notable former employee is current White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, who served as executive chairman of Breitbart and declared it the the “platform for the alt-right,” after he took control of the publication and shifted its agenda from its beginnings to its current platform.
“Breitbart is a platform for white nationalists who are trying to rebrand themselves as the ‘alt-right,’ and has ambitions to export this hateful rhetoric around the world,” Pullman told The Independent. “This rhetoric denigrates women, trans people, people of color, refugees and immigrants.”
In a post on Medium titled “In Support of Free Speech,” Shopify CEO Tobias Lütke, declared his stance and explained why his company hasn’t parted ways with Breitbart—reasons he said are “nuanced and require thought.”
To kick off a merchant is to censor ideas and interfere with the free exchange of products at the core of commerce. When we kick off a merchant, we’re asserting our own moral code as the superior one. But who gets to define that moral code? Where would it begin and end? Who gets to decide what can be sold and what can’t? If we start blocking out voices, we would fall short of our goals as a company to make commerce better for everyone. Instead, we would have a biased and diminished platform.
Lütke also cited the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) stance on the defense of free speech as his primary guideline.
To be even more detailed, Lütke added a postscript, in which he answered hypothetical questions (many of which are likely based on real questions he received). While answering “Why does Shopify host stores like Breitbart?” he responded:
We don’t like Breitbart, but products are speech and we are pro free speech. This means protecting the right of organizations to use our platform even if they are unpopular or if we disagree with their premise, as long as they are within the law. That being said, if Breitbart calls us tomorrow and tells us that they are going to switch to another platform, we would be delighted.
Finally, when asked where Lütke and Shopify would draw the line between free speech and intolerable, Lütke said he and his company would defer to the law.
“All products must be legal in the jurisdiction of the business,” he wrote.