Shopify CEO, Tobias Lütke, has defended his decision to host the right-wing website Breitbart saying that free speech trumps any personal views they may have. The statement was made in response to them receiving over 10,000 messages requesting that they fire them as a customer.
In an open letter posted on Medium, titled "In Support of Free Speech," Lütke confirmed that they host many hundreds of thousands of businesses and that it would be "easy to kick of merchants" they do not like, or who by doing so would make their "lives significantly easier." The primary justification given for not taking this approach could be summed up with a quote from Barack Obama:
I accept that people are going to call me awful things every day, and I will always defend their right to do so.
In a politically charged environment, with the polarization of political views higher than its ever been, it would have been easy to bow to pressure from the far or liberal left and shut down the website. It takes a lot of guts to stand up to the many thousands of messages describing Breitbart as a "disgusting, racist, anti-woman, xenophobic, fear-mongering, hate-mongering organization."
A screenshot of some of the message's subjects can be seen below:
He is right, it would be easy, but perhaps not sensible, to kick Breitbart off the platform. Shopify's terms and conditions give them every right to "refuse services to anyone for any reason at any time," or even "terminate the Service for any reason, without notice at any time."
Some users on Twitter would have preferred for this to be exercised:
@tobi This is weak as heck & disappointing. Free speech is a right of people vs the state. You’re not bound to this in B2B. This is a choice— MeShell (@mdgee) February 9, 2017
Fortunately, Lütke stated that:
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 believes that products are a form of speech and that they believe that such freedom of expression must be "fiercely protected," even if they disagree with them. His beliefs are in line with the American Civil Liberties Union, referring to a quote from U.S. Supreme Court Justice Benjamin N.:
Freedom of expression is the matrix, the indispensable condition, of nearly every other form of freedom.
Instead of imposing his morality on Breitbart, he believes that as long as the actions of Breitbart are following the law, then he has no problem hosting their website.
Despite being a staunch defender of free speech, Lütke is not keen on Breitbart
While it may appear that Lütke is supporting Breitbart, he made sure to state that they did not support Breitbart at all. Furthermore, they would be extremely happy with they decided to host their website elsewhere:
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.
Lütke was also keen to mention that Shopify does not advertise with Breitbart, not does it sell their products directly, or endorse them in any way.
Despite the anti-Breitbart rhetoric, Lütke was keen to stress that from a political standpoint they have no bias either, with Hillary Clinton, President Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders and Ted Cruz all using their platform in the last election.