Shopify took a stance a while back that couldn’t have been easy for it, but it was the right thing to do. It refused to cut ties with a business which it disagreed with because people have a right to say what they wish. That business was Breitbart, which used Shopify to move merchandise related to the news website.
A lot of people wanted Shopify to cut Breitbart off, and the service didn’t. The CEO of the company defended the decision, but now is trying to erase history after his company cut off multiple gun companies from its services.
The CEO of major online retailing platform Shopify deleted a post detailing the company’s commitment to free speech this week as the company began purging gun-related retailers.
Tobias Lutke, founder and CEO of Shopify, deleted a 2017 post titled “In Support of Free Speech” and republished it with an addendum in a new post, “In Support of Free Speech (Updated).” In the new post, Lutke declared the company’s previous commitment to allowing retailers to use the platform so long as they did not violate any laws because of the brand’s dedication to the principle of free speech “too idealistic and functionally unworkable on the fast moving internet.” Instead, he said Shopify would no longer remain neutral on products legally sold through its platform and instead “will have to make decisions based on judgement.” The company did not elaborate on how it will make those judgements or respond to questions on their decision-making process or which of their more than 600,000 storefronts may be at risk of having their businesses shuttered.
“Solely deferring to the law, in this age of political gridlock, is too idealistic and functionally unworkable on the fast moving internet,” wrote Lutke. “The legislative process is no match for the realities of the internet and has ground to a halt on contentious issues. Some of those issues, such as hateful content, remain legally undefined. Others are legally addressed for a physical world, but pose different and more complicated risks on the internet. So we have found ourselves in a position of having to make our own decisions on some of these issues. And along the way we had to accept that neutrality is not a possibility.”
Lutke said that while Shopify is going back on its commitment to free speech, he still “stand(s) by the philosophy” of the original standard but did not expand on what that meant in practice.
This comes as Shopify killed the accounts of companies like Spike’s Tactical in the wake of cutting off Defense Distributed’s services just days earlier.
Other companies have come forward to talk about how Shopify’s decision is impacting them. Franklin Armory and RMR bullets are also talking about how the Shopify decision is negatively impacting their ability to conduct business.
We spoke with Franklin Armory President Jay Jacobson via email, and he explained that the anti-gun slant of the financial industry has compelled him and his team to do extra homework on their replacement options.
“We are attempting to evaluate not only the culture and policies of any alternative firm, but also any publicly known personal beliefs of the various CEOs,” Jacobson said. “It is a shame that we have to go to these great lengths, but too many liberal companies are plotting their virtue signaling by what may eventually be deemed tortious interference of business.”
Jacobson also noted the inconsistency of Shopify’s Founder and CEO, Tobi Lütke, who moved to ban sales of firearm-related items while continuing to sell other potentially harmful products.
“Mr. Lutke claimed that he wants to prohibit ‘items that can harm,’” Jacobson noted. “Yet, Shopify is very willing to promote the sale of marijuana in Canada, a Schedule I drug in the US. At least our products stem from a Constitutional right and are used by civilians and law enforcement to protect life and liberty.”
It’s a fair point.
As Lutke said, though, it’s about his judgment, not something hard and fast like the law. That means some harmful products will continue to be sold while others won’t.
As noted earlier this week, Lutke and his company have every right to make that determination. However, that doesn’t escape the fact that it’s still wrong. Companies who adhere to the terms of service shouldn’t have to worry about the terms of service suddenly being shifted on them. While this is normal in the era of the internet, it shouldn’t be.
When a company signs on for a service, that should involve a contract that keeps things locked in place for a set period of time. Such a thing would prevent this kind of thing from happening. However, as noted, it’s not the norm for internet-based services, and it’s unlikely that any of these companies could pressure a company like Shopify to change that.
But what this does do is open the door for Shopify’s competitors. While Shopify is the big boy on the block when it comes to internet shopping car services, they’re not the only ones. As Jacobson notes, his company will now be seeking out competitors, but they’ll also be looking at the culture and looking at political stances by CEOs.
This isn’t because they only want to do business with likeminded people, but because they clearly can’t afford to not take that into account.
It might not be a bad idea for other pro-Second Amendment business owners to look at moving any business they do with Shopify to other platforms as well. If the mass exodus is large enough, particularly if it all goes to one pro-Second Amendment firm, that might make Shopify realize how badly it screwed up.