While the name “Sargon of Akkad” sounded vaguely familiar, I had no clue who he was or what he did. That was probably for the best. But who cares if he’s not someone I would care to know about? Others did and, even if they didn’t, he still has as much right to express his views as I do. But not on Patreon, apparently.
On Dec. 6, Patreon kicked the anti-feminist polemic Carl Benjamin, who works under the name Sargon of Akkad, off its site for using racist language on YouTube. That same week, it removed the right-wing provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos a day after he opened an account.
Whether there’s a connection between Milo, with whom I’m more familiar, and Sargon is unclear. Perhaps they appeal to the same crowd. Perhaps the inclusion of both in the same paragraph in the New York Times is meant to taint Benjamin with Milo’s provocations, not to mention affinity for children. But Sargon’s “deplatforming” produced a reaction.
The moves prompted a revolt. Mr. Harris, citing worries about censorship, announced that he would leave Patreon. He was joined in protest by about half a dozen other prominent members of the site, including the conservative-leaning psychologist Jordan Peterson and the libertarian podcaster Dave Rubin, who also earn money from Patreon.
But this isn’t merely a matter of soapbox size, but money. Patreon is in the business of skimming 5% off the top. The “creators,” as they call them, are making the other 95%. This wasn’t merely a means to express ideas, but to monetize them. So when the plug got pulled, so too did the money.
Jaqueline [sic] Hart, Patreon’s head of trust and safety, said her team watches for and will investigate complaints about any content posted on Patreon and on other sites like YouTube and Facebook that violates what it defines as hate speech. That includes “serious attacks, or even negative generalizations, of people based on their race [and] sexual orientation,” she has said.
Jacqueline Hart is in an enviable position compared to most people who call for the eradication of hate speech on the internet. Not only does she get to decide what’s allowed, but she gets to deprive those she decides are undeserving of their income. And as Patreon is a business, a private entity, and there is no regulatory protection for discrimination based on viewpoint or nasty language, she is the final word.
Sargon’s situation was particularly curious, as the complaint Hart received wasn’t about something he did on Patreon, but on someone else’s Youtube channel. But since she makes up the rules, she gets to connect the dots any way she wants.
If someone has breached Patreon’s policy, the company contacts the offender with a specific plan, which usually involves asking for the content to be removed and for a public apology.
Patreon’s policy, such as it is, offers little guidance.
Hate speech includes serious attacks, or even negative generalizations, of people based on their race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sex, gender, sexual orientation, age, disability or serious medical conditions.
The non-sequitur, “serious attacks, or even negative generalizations,” seems to float right by.
This list is not exhaustive, but we want to be transparent about how we work in the grey areas between speech and action. There can be a fine line between political comments and hate speech.
If by transparency, they mean “we’re just gonna make it up as we go along,” then this is about as transparent as it gets. And because you have no First Amendment right on Patreon, they can do that. But why would they want to?
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.
Since Patreon is merely a platform, and is no more responsible for “condoning” hate speech than Chevrolet condones theft by building the bank robber’s getaway car, this makes little sense. No one sees a “creator’s” content unless they pay to do so, so there is nothing “unsafe,” assuming you accept the premise that unsafe means seeing words that make your eyes bleed, for the “community,” even though there’s nothing about Patreon that involves a community.
But since Patreon isn’t a social justice charity, but a business that survives on the money generated by its “creators,” closing down profit centers seems counterproductive. There had to be more.
Our mission is to fund the creative class. In order to accomplish that mission we have to build a community of creators that are comfortable sharing a platform, and if we allow certain types of speech that some people would call free speech, then only creators that use patreon that don’t mind their branding associated with that kind of speech would be those who use patreon and we fail at our mission.
The fear, apparently, is that one group of “creators,” the “woke” group, won’t want to share a platform with another group, the “unwokes.” So it’s either Sargon or the happysphere, and Hart, on behalf of her employer, has chosen the latter. While that makes some business sense, the complaints don’t appear to be coming from other, more valuable, creators.
But secondly as a membership platform, payment processing is one of the core value propositions that we have. Payment processing depends on our ability to use the global payment network, and they have rules for what they will process.
Credit cards, Paypal, are the lifeblood of online business. If you can’t move money, you have no business. And between the abuse of regulatory power, such as Andy Cuomo’s “choke point” of the NRA, and demands of the mob that Mastercard not support people with evil ideas, the business of Patreon is at risk from forces beyond its control.
[Dave] Rubin, the libertarian podcaster, tweeted, “The Platform War has begun.”
Is there a platform war? Trying to create an alternate platform, particularly under these circumstances, is about as likely to be successful as Gab relative to Twitter. But even if someone managed to pull it off, it would still be captive to the payment network’s accommodation.
On Patreon, Jacqueline Hart appears to be the censor holding the purse strings, but this is just another business decision. Hart may be spewing the empty rhetoric, but she’s not really in charge.