One year on from Charlottesville, technology companies are still ensuring that they are working against, not promoting, those individuals or organizations who are aligned with white supremacists or conspiracy theorists, but what about fintechs?
Apple, Facebook, YouTube and Spotify have removed podcasts, pages and channels by Infowars creator Alex Jones, who has in the past stated that the Sandy Hook school shooting was a hoax and 9/11 was orchestrated by the US government.
This comes at a time when technology companies are trying to crack down on fake news ahead of the midterm elections. While Trump’s press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders referred to the media as “the enemy of the people,” Alex Jones took to Twitter, one platform that has not banned him, and accused the sites of election tampering.
After confirming that it would be removing five out of six podcasts from their entire library in their first ever removal of individual pieces of content that has been deemed offensive, an Apple spokesperson released a statement.
It read: “Apple does not tolerate hate speech, and we have clear guidelines that creators and developers must follow to ensure we provide a safe environment for all of our users.
“Podcasts that violate these guidelines are removed from our directory making them no longer searchable or available for download or streaming. We believe in representing a wide range of views, so long as people are respectful to those with differing opinions.”
Facebook has also imposed a 30-day ban on Alex Jones and his page was taken down in the past “for glorifying violence, which violates our graphic violence policy, and using dehumanizing language to describe people who are transgender, Muslims and immigrants, which violates our hate speech policies.”
Earlier this week, Infowars said that it was banned for being “widely credited with having played a key role in electing Donald Trump. By banning Infowars, big tech is engaging in election meddling just three months before crucial midterms.”
The statement then went on to say that the sites have “now all ascribed to themselves the power to remove people & outlets from their platforms based on their political opinions. This power will be abused time and time again to meddle in elections.”
However, despite Apple removing the podcasts, the official Infowars app was still available on the App Store and downloads of this service are up by tenfold and it became the 4th most popular news app in the US App Store.
Apple’s Tim Cook and Eddy Cue decided to let the Infowars app remain because they felt that it did not go against their policy. While there was no discussion between the technology companies and the decisions were made independently, these choices still make a huge impact because tech is the industry that is making the decisions about what, how and where people have access to content.
As reported in The New York Times, First Amendment litigator David French said: “Rather than applying objective standards that resonate with American law and American traditions of respect for free speech and the marketplace of ideas, the companies applied subjective standards that are subject to considerable abuse.”
He continued to explain how perhaps the reason behind why the technology companies was wrong. “These policies sound good on first reading, but they are extraordinarily vague. We live in times when the slightest deviation from the latest and ever-changing social justice style guide is deemed bigoted and, yes, “dehumanizing.”‘
French then said that “The far better option would be to prohibit libel or slander on their platforms. … Unlike ‘hate speech,’ libel and slander have legal meanings. …It’s a high bar. But it’s a bar that respects the marketplace of ideas, avoids the politically charged battle over ever-shifting norms in language and culture and provides protection for aggrieved parties.”
As suggested here, this does not solve the problem of hate speech and the spreading of fake news. After the Charlottesville attack in Virginia last year, Apple announced that it would be disabling their Apple Pay purchasing service on websites that were involved in the promotion of neo-Nazism, ultra-nationalist and other hate groups.
Prior to this, GoDaddy and Google removed white supremacist blog The Daily Stormer’s registration capabilities. WordPress, MailChimp, Twitter, Facebook and Uber all took similar action. But what does this actually mean for fintech?
Because the tech sector is widely based on trends and is subject to change at all times, when industry leaders or legacy organizations are condemned, it can make a major impact on the success of that individual or company, but also those that rely on them, the fintech startups, for example.
PayPal also acted in a similar way to that of Apple and wrote that “PayPal strives to navigate the balance between freedom of expression and open dialogue — and the limiting and closing of sites that accept payments or raise funds to promote hate, violence and intolerance”.
With two major technology conglomerates making this decision and both being providers of payment services, it is to be expected that many other financial services will do the same. However, if companies want to succeed with an attitude that is dismissive of tech giants condemning their organization and therefore, not being supported in terms of funding or knowledge, it could be that these companies will not succeed.
With this, returning to the question of the US midterm elections, what would happen to a fintech that decided to side with a hate group and to what extent would political views of a company impact its success? These are the questions we will have to start asking, in the same way that in the UK, many fintechs were vocal about their views on Brexit with many announcing that they would relocate if EU passport rules changed.
Thrive Capital’s Joshua Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law Jared’s brother, invested $16.7 million into British smartphone bank Monzo, a rapidly growing fintech. I questioned whether a boycott of Monzo would take place in the same way that Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus, Jet and others, have dropped Ivanka Trump’s fashion line last year.
This led to a lack of sales and Ivanka was forced to shut down her company earlier this month, could the same happen to a fintech company or payments service? A fintech boycott seems unfair in this respect as it questions whether where investment came from matters to the customer.
However, if Trump’s proposed immigration ban is ever put in place, the reason why fintech has been successful in the first place would be eradicated, which is the fluid movement of people and ideas. This also resulted in Apple, Facebook and Google taking action and filing orders against the travel ban at the time.It is clear that if a fintech revealed they were in support of white supremacy, many customers would stop using the service it provided. However, despite Peter Thiel’s support of Donald Trump, there was no mass exodus from PayPal.
At the start of this year, it was also revealedthat the work of white nationalists and supremacists was being sponsored through anonymous Bitcoin donations through digital fundraising payment methods such as PayPal, Google Pay and GoFundMe,according to the nonprofit Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC).
The SPLC stated that it will release a list of 200 Bitcoin accounts “tied to white nationalists and racism” in future, but it remains to be seen whether or not these tech companies will ban those promoting hate speech from being paid with bitcoin or not.