Jacqueline Hart, The Censor Holding The Purse Strings

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.

30 thoughts on “Jacqueline Hart, The Censor Holding The Purse Strings

  1. Dan

    I’d expect you recognize Sargon of Akkad from world history (or, perhaps, from a song by They Might Be Giants)–he was an ancient Mesopotamian ruler. Seems a curious pseudonym for someone today, though…

    1. SHG Post author

      My knowledge of Mesopotamian history was found lacking. When I mentioned this to my son, I called him “Saddam of Aragon,” and was summarily corrected.

  2. B. McLeod

    This thought police thing on the Internet has created opportunities for the tin-plated, would-be deities who might otherwise have to admit to being totally useless.

    1. Fubar

      Ezra Pound, Hugh Selwyn Mauberly (Part One) (1920):

      III.

      All men, in law, are equals.
      Free of Peisistratus,¹
      We choose a knave or an eunuch
      To rule over us.

      A bright Apollo,

      tin andra, tin eroa, tina theon,²
      What god, man, or hero
      Shall I place a tin wreath upon?³

      FN 1: Tyrant of Athens three times between 561 and 528 BC.

      FN 2: Ancient Greek: “What man, what hero, what god”

      FN 3: Pound pun.

  3. Matthew Scott Wideman

    Any business you get into where the contract terms are vague and enforceable at the whim of the drafting party… Is not a good business to be in. I would sue I state court and see if they can prove their case that it violated the terms of service. CA is pretty liberal, and I don’t think it will be so easy for them.

  4. Ross

    Would Patreon banish a “woke” creator who attacked Sargon of Akkad with hateful terms, or does the standard only apply to the white patriarchy.

  5. REvers

    It never fails to amaze me that people don’t understand that if you shut down somebody’s speech, you lose access to what they’re thinking. If it weren’t for speech, how would I have ever figured out that Milo is not to be pissed on if I ever see him on fire?

    1. LocoYokel

      Wouldn’t piss on Milo anyway for any reason. He might enjoy it and my wife would be VERY unhappy if I brought home a boyfriend.

  6. Marcus

    “No one sees a “creators” content unless they pay to do so”

    Er… have you used Patreon, or did you look at all into how it works before writing this post? Because it does not appear you are familiar with the platform. That statement is completely untrue.

    In brief: though Patreon does allow creators to put some of their content behind a paywall, and some creators make use of this feature, the vast majority of content Patreon funds is publicly available for free. It’s a way for content creators who release most/all their content for free to allow their biggest fans to fund them, sometimes in exchange for a few perks like exclusive extra content but in many cases not even that.

    1. SHG Post author

      No, I’ve neither used nor looked at Patreon content before. That was my understanding, but I stand corrected. Would it be fair to assume, nonetheless, that no one is forced to see any “creator’s” content against their will?

      1. Marcus

        Well not exactly -but that ties into your other statement about Patreon being in no way a “community”. I’m not sure how you define community, but Patreon has members and a feed of new and suggested material, and official curators who promote certain content in newsletters, and users who interact with each other and with creators in comments and posts, and who recommend other creators to each other, etc. I would say it has many elements and usage patterns of a “community”.

        So yes, Patreon users are generally exposed to some of the variety of content on the platform, not just that which they seek out, and as such the overall user/creator base has developed a “character” as it were, and people judge what sort of “community” the platform has – just as people have perceptions/opinions about “the type of people who are on twitter” or “what reddit comments are like” or “the youtube rabbit hole”. These are perceptions of a community.

        Now whether being exposed to this content on Patreon is truly harmful, or how much so, is of course up for debate, and I tend to balk a little at language suggesting people just can’t handle ever seeing bad stuff too. But I don’t see what’s wrong with the operators of a platform making their own choices about how to curate content and users to encourage the sort of “community” they wish to host, and ensure perceptions of that community attract the sort of new users and creators that they hope to attract.

        Just like someone who runs an invite-only Facebook group does. Just like any operator of a moderated topical online forum does. Just like you do with what I notice are moderated comments on this blog.

        1. SHG Post author

          You were doing well up until the last paragraph, each example being a discrete unit within a platform rather than the platform itself. I don’t represent WordPress and no one (I think) would think otherwise. There are tons of subreddits with wildly different communities. Youtubers have fans, and the fans may well watch similar people, but they remain a separate from the larger Youtube. Is Patreon one community, and bunches of smaller communities that don’t necessarily touch each other?

          Are they curating content on Patreon to create an unoffended community, or are they responding to complaints and fear the mob or fear payment processors will cut them off for fear of the mob? Some people like mob rule. It may not be unlawful or a constitutional violation, but it will make for a very limited, unpleasant and mediocre world. Then again, some people would prefer that as well.

          1. Marcus

            I’m not sure your distinction between platforms and portions of platforms is as relevant as you think here – or at least not as simple. Virtually everything on the internet involves a “stack” of platforms – the physical server farms provide hardware to the companies that provide web hosting to the companies and individuals that build platforms that are used by the users who create further spaces within those platforms (and I’m leaving out a whole lot of steps in many cases).

            Now, I think it’s entirely true to say that this sort of content-based moderation gets more concerning the deeper down the “stack” you go. Some elements deep in the stack are extremely infrastructure-like, almost entirely disconnected from the type of content they enable – the server farms, the web hosting companies, the content delivery networks and security services like CloudFlare, and of course payment processors like PayPal or VISA. Some elements at the top of the stack are intimately connected to the content and community that uses them – a topical forum, your blog.

            But there is an entire huge spectrum in between. All the larger platforms we mentioned – WordPress.com, YouTube, Reddit – do indeed have their own content policies. WordPress does not allow pornography, “realistic calls to violence” (with a broader definition than US law’s very narrow 1A exception in this regard), and some other things. YouTube and Reddit both have hate speech and harassment policies, among many other content policies. All three platforms, to varying degrees and in varying ways, quite clearly have a desire to do some level of curation of their communities. Patreon is smaller than any of them, and has from its start expressed a more concrete desire to encourage a specific kind of community.

            And so rather than this simple dichotomy of “neutral platforms” and more clearly defined “communities”, you actually have a vast spectrum from one to the other, with few examples that are *purely* one or the other. And I don’t disagree that there are dangers inherent in things like “mob rule” – but it would also be wrong to think that’s the only reason a site like Patreon or Reddit tries to moderate certain kinds of content; when it comes to things like gendered/racialized harassment, these sites do not want the communities targeted by those things to be alienated from the platform, which is a real thing many of them have observed happening when they let those behaviours go unchecked.

            There’s nothing wrong with these kinds of situations raising some concern and alarm bells. But I think you would do well to look a lot more deeply into some of the nuance and complexity, and realize there are tough choices that platform operators have to make here, instead of immediately assuming it’s all “weasel words” and “empty rhetoric”.

            1. SHG Post author

              Ah, the Humpty Dumpty version of rhetoric, like “gendered/racialized harassment,” which would otherwise be a definitional impossibility that you nonetheless seem to feel exists. It’s not that complex, except when you have to do gymnastics to manufacture an excuse for mob rule.

              Will “alienated communities” flee youtube, reddit, twitter, patreon, if they don’t silence those who offend them, or will they rile to mob to try to harm them? I don’t see fleeing. I see mobs.

            2. Marcus

              Oh now I get it. You had me thinking you were actually interested in being thoughtful about this issues, and were open to reconsidering some of your easily disproved factual misconceptions and general lack of familiarity with the platforms you are judging, not to mention the technological reality of the internet – but you’re just some dickhead terrified of social progress. Well done, you got me!

            3. David

              I never doubted Marcus was an SJW, but the ending was just too classic. It almost made suffering all those words worth it.

            4. Miles

              There’s nothing nuanced about removing entire accounts because of problematic politics and language. Admit it, you’re an apologist for censorship and trying to create faux nuance to rationalize your intolerance of politically correct thought and words. That’s the point you’ve missed.

  7. KP

    “and if we allow certain types of speech that some people would call free speech, ”

    Double-think at its best! Either its free speech or it ain’t.. you can’t be partly pregnant either.

    Anyway, it’s sorted it out for me, anyone associated with Patreon isn’t worth reading.

    1. SHG Post author

      When you’re the person who gets to decide what’s free speech and what’s not in your own little fiefdom, weasel words are much more understandable.

    2. Patrick Maupin

      “Anyone associated with…”

      Knee-jerk reaction at its finest. Google “credit cards and hate groups” and then get back to us and explain how you no longer patronize any business that accepts VISA.

      esr accepts (so far) Patreon donations, and he’s nobody’s SJW. Hell, he’s an anarchist who invented the term “kafkatrap.”

      It will be interesting to see esr’s take on this, but at a minimum, the mere fact that Patreon is busy kicking the worst of the wrongthink off its platform is prima facie evidence that, at least up to now, enough wrongthink exists on the Patreon platform that it’s counterproductive to assume that all creators using it adhere to some sort of PC agenda.

      1. SHG Post author

        KP has a tendency to go a bit extreme on the orthogonal, but is that silly aside really the question here? That Sargon was on Patreon at all suggests that they weren’t pro-actively PC policing their platform, but that a complaint was all it took to delete his account, and thus shut him off from his revenue stream, suggests that no one can rely on the platform being available should someone complain about them. As people realize that the platform will acquiesce to complaints, they will complain.

        1. Patrick Maupin

          “is that silly aside really the question here?”

          Maybe it’s part of why we can’t get to the root of the ques… LOOK, SQUIRREL!

          “no one can rely on the platform being available should someone complain about them. ”

          And that’s true of every platform. For example, Amazon’s policies are similarly mushy: “Never engage in any misleading, inappropriate or offensive behavior.” Of course, Amazon doesn’t promote itself as THE place to go for SJW-ware, but still, the Amazon marketplace is provably not safe for vendors of “I love Hitler” T-Shirts, nor is it safe for normal vendors doing normal things, when their competition figures out they can game Amazon’s system by giving fake 5-star reviews to innocent sellers to get Amazon to de-platform them.

          At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter whether you are de-platformed because you’re using a small platform that has to kow-tow to the credit card companies and/or is attempting to fill a particular social niche, or because you’re using a platform that is so big that the credit card companies won’t bother it, but that is also so big they de-platform you first and only get around to dealing with real appeals ten months later. In either case, you’re screwed.

          The answer to the real question? Beats me, human systems don’t seem built to scale this well. And anybody who thinks “government” is the answer should take a close look at how cannabis growers can’t get banking services (because government) but have to pay IRS fine for not using banks (because government)…

          1. SHG Post author

            Well sure, like dead is dead, whether it’s from a cop’s bullet or a mass murderer’s. Or a tragic accident. But the arbitrariness and lack of responsiveness of an Amazon or a Youtube as opposed to a smaller platform susceptible to being threatened by the mob seems similarly the same and similarly different. Does it matter in the end? Maybe not, but we still try to avoid the killings we can because the fewer dead, the better.

            1. Patrick Maupin

              Which is why I found KP’s sour-grapes knee-jerk reaction of “everything there is probably shit, anyway” unsatisfying, especially if it gets amplified through a mob.

              Are we going down a path where there will be a Patreon and an anti-Patreon? Maybe this increasing divide can’t be helped, but if there is not yet a viable anti-Patreon, just remember that Patreon won’t miss your 5% nearly as much as the creator misses your 95%.

  8. K.D. Snyder

    At the end of the day, no matter how you look at it, Patreon screwed up and they know it. They (meaning Jack Conte) went to great lengths to reassure patrons that they are just a platform providing a service to everyone and then they behaved like a publisher and arbitrarily started banning people for being the ‘wrong kind’ of everyone. They stated they would use a warning system and fair judgment, yet Sargon had to find out from his subscribers that his account had been terminated. No notice, no explanation. When given the opportunity to provide context for his comments Patreon disregarded it in favor of imposing their own context on the situation. So it really doesn’t matter what you say if Patreon is the one who decides what you mean by it. They have also stressed that they are only concerned about the content on their ‘platform’ – I wonder if they’ve searched for racial slurs on Patreon lately, it’s an eye-opening experience – yet the incident in question occurred off-platform. Almost a year ago. So, basically, your entire online presence can and will be used against you with no statute of limitations, whether it’s a five minute-old tweet or an angry email from a decade back, it all matters to Patreon and they will ban or excuse based on their subjective whims…Sounds awesome, I can’t wait to sign up with these people and plan a financial future on their platform. I’m sure everything will work out great!

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