February 27, 2017
By Jim Daly
E-commerce platform provider Shopify Inc. is facing pressure to cut ties with a controversial client, the Breitbart alt-right online news site.
On Thursday, activist groups plan to present a petition with 140,000 signatures at Shopify’s Ottawa, Ontario, headquarters, demanding that the processor cut off Breitbart as a client. The news site uses Shopify’s platform to sell T-shirts, coffee mugs, and other items online. The organizers also say they have an open letter endorsed by nearly 2,000 Shopify online store owners asking that the company sever ties with Breitbart.
The petition and letter organizers are SumOfUs, an international group with a small staff whose Web site says it is “a community of people from around the world committed to curbing the growing power of corporations,” and Sleeping Giants, an online group that tries to stop companies from advertising on what they call racist Web sites.
The petition urges Shopify to “stop endorsing hate.” The letter claims Breitbart “is a platform for white nationalists with ambitions to export hateful rhetoric around the world.” The organizers claim revenues Breitbart gets through online sales will help fund its expansion into Europe.
Once known mainly by political junkies and journalists monitoring the views of far-right conservatives, Breitbart became much more widely known in 2016 as the Republican presidential candidacy of Donald J. Trump gathered steam. Breitbart’s former executive chairman, Stephen K. Bannon, served as chief executive of Trump’s campaign and is now President Trump’s chief strategist. As such, Bannon is considered the driving force behind some of the new administration’s most controversial policies, including a ban on travel to the U.S. by citizens of seven predominantly Muslin nations.
Several attempts by Digital Transactions News to reach spokespersons for Breitbart’s parent company, Los Angeles-based Breitbart News Network LLC, were unsuccessful Monday afternoon.
Shopify also is taking fire elsewhere online, including on @DeleteShopify on Twitter. A Shopify spokesperson could not be reached Monday. But the company’s CEO, Tobias Lütke, earlier this month defended his company’s business with Breitbart, even though he said he doesn’t like what Breitbart stands for. As of Feb. 8, Lütke had already received 10,000 emails, tweets, or messages “saying the same thing: stop hosting Breitbart’s online store. Shopify employees are facing similar pressure,” according to a long blog post he wrote titled, “In Support of Free Speech.”
“On a regular basis, we face pressure from groups who disagree with some of these merchants or products and want us to censor them,” Lütke wrote. “This has been a constant for as long as we’ve been around. To kick off a merchant is to censor ideas and interfere with the free exchange of products at the core of commerce.” He later added, “We don’t like Breitbart, but products are speech and we are pro free speech.”
Consultant Eric Grover of Minden, Nev.-based Intrepid Ventures, who closely monitors political developments affecting the payments industry, tells Digital Transactions News by email “that I wish I could say I was surprised. The hard left is decidedly anti-free speech. I’m not aware of anyone right of center who would ask whoever hosts The Nation, the ACLU, The New York Times, etc. to stop hosting it. It just doesn’t happen.”
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