There was unified outrage this week after a few high profile accounts were removed from the crowdfunding site Patreon.
Carl Benjamin, who goes by the online name “Sargon of Akkad” was one of the people who woke up Friday morning to find out his income had been cut off.
Benjamin had received no warnings about his account and actually found out from his subscribers that his Patreon page had been deleted.
This was not the first time Patreon landed themselves in the centre of a similar controversy.
In June, 2017 they removed conservative pundit Lauren Southern from their platform after she was seen on video helping block refugee boats in Europe. Though others may not have approved of Southern’s actions, censorship causes concern and every time a large channel is deleted there is a diaspora of supporters that affects many other users as well.
Subscribers will cancel their pledges and delete their accounts to protest censorship.
The vast majority of deleted or banned channels are deemed to be “politically incorrect” or “anti-social justice” voices. Ironically, the cancelled subscriptions from those who protest primarily affect other, similar channels. The protest amplifies the silencing of the viewpoint they wish to support.
Support for Sargon
Dave Rubin, who hosts The Rubin Report tweeted screenshots of messages he had received from people who had ended their pledges saying “Patreon is in free fall.”
Small sampling of the messages I’m receiving. (Names removed.) pic.twitter.com/o94ew2S4uj
— Dave Rubin (@RubinReport) December 10, 2018
Rubin also uploaded an audio file of his thoughts on the situation while he was walking his dog. Though it was affecting his own business, Rubin found the dedication of his supporters to be inspiring.
Many others have expressed their support for Carl Benjamin, including influential Patreon account holders such as psychologist Jordan Peterson, and Claire Lehmann who owns the online magazine Quillette. But many are watching Dave Rubin who hosted an hour-long interview with Patreon’s CEO, Jack Conte, when people were angry with him back in 2017.
Sargon of Akkad, banned from Patreon, mounts his defense: https://t.co/fKcVUSX75O
— Jordan B Peterson (@jordanbpeterson) December 9, 2018
The whole Sargon/Patreon debacle is shaping up to be extremely brand damaging to @Patreon. Everyone I know is having conversations about moving off the platform. It could be the beginning of the end if some steps aren’t taken to rectify @jackconte.
— Claire Lehmann (@clairlemon) December 11, 2018
Many YouTube personalities had turned to Patreon when demonetization practically eliminated all advertising revenue for creators with politically incorrect or controversial content. Seeking a secure way to ensure they could fund their own work, trust was placed in Patreon that they wouldn’t be influenced by ideologically based pressure groups.
In his interview, Jack Conte told Rubin that Patreon was different saying “advertisers are not stakeholders in the Patreon ecosystem” thus leaving them free from censorship by corporations. But the advertisers were actually being lobbied by pressure groups when they first started flexing their muscles against social media content.
Moral outrage as a business strategy
A group called Women, Action and the Media (WAM), had organized a campaign to censor Facebook back in 2013, urging participants to contact advertisers to complain about their products appearing on pages with content they found offensive. It only took a week for the campaign to succeed.
That the advertisements were actually attached to the Facebook complainant’s profile, not the page they were viewing, was not taken into consideration. Essentially, the person who was complaining had actually caused to ad to appear by viewing the impugned content.
But irony is lost on ideologues.
Along with agreement to eliminate specific content, WAM demanded that Facebook “effectively train moderators” to recognize what types of content should be deemed offensive. It begs the question when activist groups are seeking employment contracts to resolve the problem they created themselves.
Moral outrage can be a good business strategy.
While Conte declared the lack of advertiser influence made his platform different, he stated that they eliminate content that may cause preferred creators to avoid Patreon. Basically, they were still vulnerable to pressure groups.
The core issue is freedom of speech. In the midst of culture wars that have become extremely polarized, the open discussion of ideas is vital.
Of course Patreon, like other social media and fundraising platforms, are businesses. They have the right to determine their own policies and rules. They are also part of a marketplace where consumers can express their dislike of the product by leaving.
The primary demand from people using the site was consistency and transparency.
It takes time and effort to build up a support base and, though Patreon ultimately has the right to determine what content they allow, the lack of warning system is disconcerting.
In his interview with Rubin, Conte declared that they would never ban speech simply because he disagreed with it. He clarified that “the second you turn that speech into action, that’s the line in our content policy.” Creators were assured that no one had to worry about their accounts being penalized for expressing their thoughts or opinions.
Explaining the regulations against pornography on the site, Conte said that being viewed as a porn site would deter others from using Patreon. “that hurts our mission, right? Because we start turning away the kinds of creators we want to be on the platform.” Though some pornographic art still exists on the site, the rule was fairly clear and easy to follow.
The problem of what Patreon considers “hate speech” is much more ambiguous. It is open to interpretation and ideology. And that is the category of offence given for the recent bannings.
In the past, Conte had emphasized how seriously he took his role as the gateway to people earning a living. Shutting down an account shuts down someone’s entire business and ability to support themselves. And making people unemployable has been a primary goal of many social mobbings.
Patreon has gone too far
As a Patreon creator myself, I spent the weekend proactively addressing the concerns of my patrons who wanted to cancel their accounts. Because these events are often blown out of proportion, I asked people to wait a week until we had more information and I was hoping that we would have an official statement from Jack Conte by Monday afternoon.
That didn’t happen.
The department that makes decisions about accounts at Patreon is called “The Trust and Safety Team.” I began to wonder whose trust and safety they were guarding. The people using the site to pledge money have chosen who they want to fund. Surely they can guard their own interests. If the creators displease them, they can cancel their pledge and continue funding other accounts that they wish to support.
The people setting up creator accounts are the ones who actually need protection. And that is precisely the trust and safety violations that Patreon has committed.
Again, the irony is palpable.
By terminating Carl Benjamin’s account, Patreon created such an atmosphere of distrust that many users, myself included, have set up accounts with a competing platform. This is the third major problem created by Patreon in just over a year. As I said in a video, telling my supporters why I want to leave Patreon, “it’s not enough to say ‘Stop! Or I’ll say stop again.’”
It is entirely possible that Patreon is busy crafting the most brilliant explanation ever devised by a crisis management team. And I encourage them to dazzle us all with their skills.
One thing they won’t be able to fix is the fact that they left all their creators to watch in disbelief while our incomes plummeted by the hour. Through no fault of our own, we paid the price for Patreon’s actions. And when we looked to them for answers: Something. Anything. We were left trying to hold the fort on our own.
And for that, I cannot forgive them.