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Cancel culture pressure ramps up on tech platforms Spotify, Airbnb, and GoFundMe
Story on the Washington Examiner website here: Cancel culture pressure ramps up on tech platforms Spotify, Airbnb, and GoFundMe
Large tech platforms such as Spotify, Airbnb, and GoFundMe have ratcheted up bans and censorship of users and organizations due to intense pressure placed on them by cancel culture, conservatives say.
Spotify recently came under fire for secretly removing over 100 episodes of Joe Rogan's podcast, while Airbnb last week banned conservative author and activist Michelle Malkin for speaking at a white nationalist conference. GoFundMe is currently facing backlash over its decision to block contributions to the Freedom Convoy — Canadian truckers who are protesting the country's coronavirus restrictions.
The companies, long viewed as neutral platforms and marketplaces for their respective products and services, are increasingly behaving as left-wing activist organizations due to public criticism made against them by certain social media users and influencers, conservatives say.
“Basically, they don’t want to be canceled themselves. Airbnb and GoFundMe are middlemen, marketplaces that depend on user popularity,” said Sam Abrams, a scholar on cancel culture at the American Enterprise Institute, a right-leaning think tank.
“So they’re really petrified of revenue loss that could come from users being upset at them, which has pushed them to become political and no longer remain neutral,” said Abrams, who is also a political science professor at Sarah Lawrence College, a liberal arts university.
Abrams said “almost nobody” reads the terms of service that the companies cite in their bans on users and that the average customer does not expect their political leanings to affect their ability to use the platform.
Nevertheless, banning users due to their political preferences and opinions is expected to occur more frequently on major tech platforms that are under pressure to respond to liberal cancel culture warriors, Abrams said.
Over the past year, many companies and brands have made changes to their names, logos, or product lines to be more culturally sensitive, and a number of employees have been reprimanded or fired because of old content on social media.
Spotify, for example, has faced criticism for secretly removing more than 113 episodes of popular comedian Joe Rogan's podcast while claiming to defend his right to free speech.
Rogan, who is white, apologized last week for previously using the N-word, which is likely what led Spotify to delete his previous episodes. Spotify gave no official explanation for the episodes being removed.
“There are no words I can say to adequately convey how deeply sorry I am for the way The Joe Rogan Experience controversy continues to impact each of you,” Spotify CEO Daniel Ek wrote in a company memo obtained by the Los Angeles Times.
In an internal company town hall last week, Ek told employees that the company vowed “to consistently enforce our policies on even the loudest and most popular voices on the platform,” suggesting that Rogan’s episodes could be removed if they violated Spotify’s content guidelines.
Nevertheless, Ek also added that he doesn’t believe “that silencing Joe is the answer.”
U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy at the end of January urged tech platforms to censor Rogan and “use the power that we have to limit the spread of misinformation” when asked about Rogan’s presence on Spotify.
Spotify said last week that it would add content advisories to all of Joe Rogan’s podcast episodes that deal with the coronavirus in response to intense criticism of Rogan hosting scientists who some government officials and liberal musicians alleged spread dangerous misinformation about the virus and the vaccine.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in early February that she supported Murthy’s advice with regard to content moderation and misinformation.
“Our hope is that all major tech platforms — and all major news sources, for that matter — be responsible and be vigilant,” Psaki said.
Conservatives say Big Tech platforms and the federal government are increasingly working in tandem to police speech they deem dangerous.
“Sometimes it feels like China, because the government is pressuring the companies against free speech, when you look at comments by Psaki and Vivek Murthy,” said Dan Gainor, a vice president at the Media Research Center, a conservative media watchdog that tracks censorship on Big Tech platforms.
“Even though we’re not putting people in camps like China, the government is pushing to shut down certain protests and restrict certain speech,” Gainor added.
Meanwhile, fundraising platform GoFundMe is facing backlash over its decision to block $9 million worth of donations to truckers who are protesting the Canadian government.
GoFundMe said it decided to crack down on the funding going to the truckers because the protests had turned violent and, as a result, violated the platform's terms of service.
"We now have evidence from law enforcement that the previously peaceful demonstration has become an occupation, with police reports of violence and other unlawful activity," GoFundMe said in a statement.
Another fundraising platform, GiveSendGo, said it would step in instead and accept donations for the truckers.
Home-rental giant Airbnb has also attracted controversy for blacklisting conservative activist Michelle Malkin for attending white nationalist organization American Renaissance's annual conference in Nashville last November.
Malkin said last week that she and her husband were banned by Airbnb because she attended the conference and expressed her political views regarding anti-white curricula and the alleged censorship of nationalist dissidents.
Airbnb claims it bans all users who are members of or are actively affiliated with hate groups.
“Due to your promotion and participation in a known white nationalist and white supremacist conference, we have determined that we will remove your account from Airbnb. This is consistent with action we’ve taken to ban people associated with this conference in past years,” the company said in an email to Malkin that she shared in a screenshot.
Airbnb removed users who were connected to white supremacist organizations and gatherings from its platform in 2017 and 2019 as well.
Abrams, of the American Enterprise Institute, said although cancel culture is prominent and getting worse on major online platforms, there is also a rising backlash against it.
He cited new data from the American National Election Studies revealing that a significant number of people believe cancel culture has gone too far.
He added that explicitly non-cancel culture platforms created by conservatives and others, such as YouTube alternative Rumble, are growing in size and will continue to emerge.
“People need to wake up. When you share your views, post photos, or donate money on a platform, you have to realize most of them are not purely neutral. But all the major platforms have new competitors that are emerging,” Abrams said.