The Last Word: When Dollars Matter More Than Decency
As America’s technology and financial giants struggle, or refuse, to curb hate on their platforms, far-right extremists leverage them to build war chests that promote bigotry and violence.
Negligence comes with a price.
In 2018, the Southern Poverty Law Center recorded the largest number of hate groups in its history, including a 50 percent increase in white nationalist groups.
Money raised via online payment processors, credit card transactions and crowdfunding sites sustained this disturbing trend. Yet corporations that facilitated this fundraising show little interest in a solution. When companies such as PayPal, GoFundMe and Patreon terminate accounts, extremists turn to brands whose services allow them to bankroll hate.
This summer, Mastercard shareholders voted down SumOfUs, a resolution that proposed creating an internal committee to monitor payments made to far-right extremist groups.
The financial giant continues to process payments to hate groups including American Renaissance, a white nationalist publication dedicated to spreading the false narrative of an epidemic of black-on-white crime; Counter-Currents, the preeminent white nationalist publishing house in the United States; and the Proud Boys, an anti-Muslim and misogynistic organization of “western chauvinists” best known for street violence.
Mastercard’s logo appears next to Visa, Discover and American Express on the website of The Right Stuff, a prolific white nationalist organization. The SPLC
documented 34 active chapters of The Right Stuff in 2018. Its leaders were among scheduled speakers at the deadly “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017.
Technology executives are not limiting their ambitions. They have shown a systemic failure to prevent violence-minded white supremacists and the broader hate movement from leveraging their services for profit and recruitment. Facebook has announced Libra, a project to create a new cryptocurrency-based financial system. Early corporate backers and overseers include Visa, Spotify, eBay and PayPal. There is no indication that the project has been tested for civil rights concerns.
As Silicon Valley barrels forward, subordinating civil rights to profit-driven innovation, there are signs that the paradigm is shifting.
In a July 10 blog post, Ryan Hagemann, an IBM policy executive, advocated for reconsideration of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, legislation that grants liability protection to internet companies for actions on their platforms. Hagemann argues for the adoption of a “reasonable care” standard that would require companies to take preventive measures against unlawful conduct to enjoy liability protection.
Reasonable care in preventing hate groups from financing their campaigns is precisely what’s missing from technology and financial institutions. As long as far-right extremists can fill their coffers without objection from some of America’s most prized corporate brands, society and its vulnerable populations will suffer from increasingly violent consequences.
lllustration by Sébastien Thibault