Digital Media

Shopify bans extremist-friendly “free-speech” social network used by Pittsburgh synagogue shooting suspect

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Ottawa e-commerce giant Shopify has banned Gab, a controversial and extremist-friendly social media network, after it was found that the suspect in this weekend’s Pittsburgh synagogue mass shooting frequently promoted and posted anti-Semitic content on the platform.

Gab, which bills itself as a “free-speech” alternative to sites like Twitter and Facebook, posted an email it said it received from Shopify in which the platform said it “will no longer host your store … on our platform and your account will be terminated.”

Shopify did not reply to multiple requests for comment. A Shopify employee, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, confirmed that Gab’s account has been disabled, and will be terminated in five days.

Earlier this month, The Logic reported that a number of e-commerce companies—including Shopify—are used by hate groups as designated by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

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Talking Point

Shopify has banned Gab, the extremist-friendly social network used by the suspect in the Pittsburgh synagogue mass shooting, from using its platform. Shopify has traditionally been among the most hesitant tech firms to take action on free speech matters, with CEO Tobi Lütke arguing against “asserting our own moral code.” Other companies, including PayPal and Stripe, banned Gab within hours of the attack.

Robert Bower, who is accused of killing 11 people at a Saturday worship service, wrote in the hours before the shooting to his followers on Gab: “I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics, I’m going in.”

PayPal, Stripe and cloud services company Joyent banned Gab within hours of the attack. Publishing company Medium followed suit. On Sunday night, hosting company GoDaddy cut Gab off, and its site went down. However, its online store, which was hosted by Shopify, remained online until Monday afternoon.

Gab was founded in August 2016, describes itself as championing “free speech, individual liberty and the free flow of information online,” and has become a known haven for neo-Nazis, white supremacists and alt-right groups.

Email sent by Shopify to Gab outlining account termination Gab.ai

In August 2017, a self-identified white supremacist drove a car into a crowd of counter-protesters during the riots in Charlottesville, Va., killing one person. Since then, major tech companies have become increasingly willing to bar extremist groups from their platforms.

Shopify, however, has traditionally been among the most hesitant companies to remove customers from its platform for content purposes.

The company hosts stores for controversial right-wing news publications Breitbart and The Rebel, and is also used by a publishing affiliate of the Proud Boys, the misogynist men’s organization that the New York Police Department is currently investigating for its role in several riots.

In August 2018, Shopify banned merchants from selling semi-automatic firearms with detachable magazines, as well as rocket launchers and grenades.

“To kick off a merchant is to censor ideas and interfere with the free exchange of products at the core of commerce,” wrote Tobi Lütke, Shopify CEO, in February 2017. “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?”

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