Shopify Inc. (SHOP) terminated U.S. President Donald Trump’s official web stores from using its platform on Thursday following his incitement of a mob that stormed the Capitol building in Washington, after years of inconsistently banning clients that were accused of promoting hatred.
The Ottawa e-commerce platform confirmed on Thursday morning it had removed Mr. Trump’s 2020 re-election campaign’s apparel and merchandise store, and one affiliated with his private businesses that sells everything from USB sticks to cocoa mix branded with his name.
“Shopify does not tolerate actions that incite violence,” a Shopify spokesperson said in an e-mail, adding that Mr. Trump had violated the company’s acceptable use policy, “which prohibits promotion or support of organizations, platforms or people that threaten or condone violence to further a cause.”
Digital platforms have faced growing scrutiny since the 2016 U.S. election for their roles in hosting or promoting the work of people who espouse hate speech and, in some cases, promote violence. Shopify’s move came the day after Facebook Inc. and Twitter Inc. briefly locked Mr. Trump’s accounts Wednesday for violating their use policies with posts and videos that expressed sympathies for rioters and claimed the 2020 election was rigged.
Facebook followed up Thursday by announcing it would block his accounts on the platform and the photo-sharing service Instagram for at least two weeks, until president-elect Joe Biden transitions into power.
Shopify chief executive Tobi Lutke once defended hosting a store for far-right news website Breitbart, which has been accused of promoting hate speech, in a 2017 blog post after more than 10,000 tweets and messages asking him to take the store down. He argued that “products are a form of speech, and free speech must be fiercely protected.”
In 2018, the same year Shopify did ban some far-right-wing groups, including the Proud Boys, Mr. Lutke updated the post, saying the company “allows space for all types of products, even the ones that we disagree with, but not for the kind of products intended to harm.”
Since then, Shopify has grown to become Canada’s most valuable publicly-traded company, and continues to host web stores for clients such as Breitbart as well unofficial Trump merchandise stores. “The problem is now so much bigger because they didn’t address it when it was smaller,” said Johnathan Nightingale, a founder and partner of Toronto’s Raw Signal Group, which does management training for fast-growing startups. “There were 100 times in the past five years when it would have been leadership to do this. … They didn’t take those opportunities.”
As members of the U.S. Congress attempted to certify the election of Mr. Biden Wednesday, thousands of Mr. Trump’s supporters met at the Capitol in support of the outgoing President’s false accusations that the election had been rigged. Some of them stormed the building in a violent insurrection that left four dead and hundreds of politicians and staff fearful for their lives.
Mr. Trump continued to suggest the election was rigged in posts and videos over the course of the afternoon that also expressed sympathy for the rioters.
Various Shopify stores are still online selling Trump-branded merchandise that are not officially affiliated with the outgoing President, and Mr. Nightingale says it is easy to find merchandise sold through the platform emblazoned with hate speech. Shopify’s acceptable use policy, they argue, is not working.
The Wall Street Journal first reported Thursday that Shopify had removed Mr. Trump’s stores.
The company’s share price nearly tripled in 2020 as small retailers flocked to the platform amid global lockdowns. Its market capitalization was $168-billion Thursday.
In recent years, the company has taken outwardly progressive positions. In June, in the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers, Mr. Lutke said the company would donate $1-million to causes that support Black Canadians and Americans.
David Soberman, the Canadian National Chair in Strategic Marketing at the University of Toronto, said the digital platforms’ decisions to block Mr. Trump were positive ones. The choice to wait until Wednesday’s riot to do so, he added, showed that such decisions need to be nuanced, and Mr. Trump’s rhetoric had crossed a clear line in the two months after the election.
“The vast majority of Americans found what happened Wednesday to be absolutely terrible,” Prof. Soberman said.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg wrote in a post on Thursday that it would block the outgoing President from using the platform and its photo-sharing app, Instagram, until Mr. Biden takes the presidency.
“His decision to use his platform to condone rather than condemn the actions of his supporters at the Capitol building has rightly disturbed people in the U.S. and around the world,” Mr. Zuckerberg wrote. “We believe the risks of allowing the President to continue to use our service during this period are simply too great.”
Until now, Facebook occasionally removed Mr. Trump’s posts for violating its rules, but more frequently hesitated to take action. “The current context is now fundamentally different, involving use of our platform to incite violent insurrection against a democratically elected government,” Mr. Zuckerberg wrote.
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