Political commentator Dave Rubin and psychologist Jordan Peterson have become the latest in a line of Internet celebrities to declare their independence from the crowdfunding site Patreon, after Patreon revealed a bizarre new "hate speech" policy that punishes artists who raise money on the site if they engage in "hate speech," even on other platforms.
Rubin and Peterson announced their decision on an episode of The Rubin Report, Rubin's YouTube video-cast earlier this week. The pair says they will leave the site officially on January 15 and may launch their own version of the online donation site for users kicked off or leaving Patreon over its policies.
The controversy with Patron started several weeks ago, when the site, which allows users to create their own accounts and accept free will donations for their work, booted Carl Benjamin (better known as the wildly popular Internet personality Sargon of Akkad).
In an interview with The New York Times, Patreon attempted to explain its de-platforming of Benjamin, arguing that its "hate speech" policies allowed it to kick off any user caught making "serious attacks, or even negative generalizations, of people based on their race [and] sexual orientation." Representatives from Patreon claim they received complaints about Benjamin using the "n-word" and making racially charged and anti-gay remarks.
But here's the rub: Benjamin isn't accused of making those remarks on Patreon — he's accused of making those remarks on YouTube (though he contends he never made the controversial statements in the first place, regardless). But Patreon claims that any use of hate speech on any platform by one of its users is grounds for de-platforming if that user makes money off Patreon for their work on that separate platform.
Jaqueline Hart, Patreon's head of "trust and safety," defended Benjamin's de-platforming by claiming that Patreon has a responsibility not to tolerate hate speech on its platform, without acknowledging that Benjamin's alleged "hate speech" happened on an entirely different site.
“His response to us when we told him about the reform process was to nitpick and say, ‘I was being anti-Nazi,’” Hart told the NYT. “You cannot say those words on our platform. It doesn’t matter who you’re directing them at.”
She later doubled down on her comments in a blog post (via Hot Air):
We understand some people don’t believe in the concept of hate speech and don’t agree with Patreon removing creators on the grounds of violating our Community Guidelines for using hate speech. We have a different view. Patreon does not and will not condone hate speech in any of its forms. We stand by our policies against hate speech. We believe it’s essential for Patreon to have strong policies against hate speech to build a safe community for our creators and their patrons.
In other words, Patreon is monitoring its users across all of their platforms and punishing them by cutting off their access to a safe and secure donation website to fund their efforts.
That's fine, say Patreon's most influential users, but it doesn't mean that users have to sit and wait to be punished by Patreon the first time they make a (subjective) misstep.
“It’s not something I’m thrilled about by any stretch of the imagination, so you and I have been talking for a couple of weeks now ever since this scandal around Carl Benjamin, or Sargon of Akkad, broke, we decided a while back that we were going to do, well, a variety of things,” Peterson noted on The Rubin Report. “We’re going to announce our departure from Patreon, which is what we’re doing in this video. I’m going to leave Patreon January 15th.”
“I also am going to leave Patreon on January 15th, which by the way, we should be clear, this is not something that we wanted to do. We were both perfectly happy on Patreon. Patreon, at least for me, it’s been the backbone of my show. I mean that’s somewhere between 60 and 70 percent of our funding is through Patreon, so this not something we wanted to do," Rubin added.
But, Peterson chimed in, "I have thought about it a lot, and believe that given Patreon’s proclivity to censor and the reasons that they’re doing it, especially as I’ve looked more and more deeply into the reasons ... I’ve become increasingly convinced that it’s unethical to continue my association with the company.”
Peterson and Rubin aren't the only high-profile Patreon clients to leave the site. Sam Harris, one of the site's most popular users — and by no means a right-leaning figure — also departed the site in mid-December, voicing some of the same concerns as Peterson and Rubin.
Donors are departing the platform as well. Several prominent Patreon users — including Peterson — reported a precipitous drop in their donations since Sargon of Akkad was dropped from the platform.
I have lost about 2000 Patreons @Patreon since the debacle with Sargon of Akkad. I know @RubinReport is having the same trouble. Are other Patreon creators suffering similar losses as people bail out of the platform?— Jordan B Peterson (@jordanbpeterson) December 20, 2018
But regardless of the outcome of Sargon of Akkad's de-platforming, there's still the mystery of why Patreon, which benefits financially from high-donation online celebrities like Benjamin, Peterson, Rubin, and Harris using its platform, so suddenly decided to enforce a vague and bizarre "hate speech" policy with such a far reach.
A number of users suspect that a left-wing organization, born from the Center for American Progress and nurtured by the Southern Poverty Law Center, among other rabid progressive outfits, is behind a pressure campaign to force sites like Patreon to de-platform those who are systematically — and publicly — destabilizing the leftist orthodoxy. The group is called "Change the Terms" and Peterson mentions it in his interview with Rubin.
Change the Terms claims that its goal is to make the Internet a safe place, because while a "free and open Internet" has "social value," it also encourages "hateful activity" that "chills the online speech of the targeted groups, curbs democratic participation, and threatens people’s safety and freedom in real life."
"To ensure that companies are doing their part to help combat hateful conduct on their platforms, organizations in this campaign will track the progress of major tech companies – especially social media platforms," the site says, and will encourage targeted companies to adopt a series of model policies for their platforms.
Change the Terms' suggestion for a model "terms of service and acceptable use policy" sounds mighty familiar:
Terms of service or acceptable use policies should, at a minimum, make it clear that using the service to engage in hateful activities on the service or to facilitate hateful activities off the service shall be grounds for terminating the service for a user.
For instance, while an online payment processor may not be the vehicle through which a group directly engages in hateful activities, the online payment processor should not knowingly allow the group to use its services to fund hateful activities. Not denying services under this example would mean that the online payment processor is financially profiting from hateful activities.
They also seem to be targeting individual credit card companies in a miniature but more widespread and grassroots version of the Obama administration's Operation Chokepoint, which was designed to reward banks and other financial institutions for refusing to do business with "unsavory" characters, like gun retailers, adult film producers, and sex workers.
The system seems all too familiar with both Rubin and Peterson, apparently.