Patreon, the crowd-funding website that was once the refuge for demonetised content creators, has finally thrown its hat into big tech’s repressive racket. As a membership service, the site prides itself on allowing users to directly donate to independent artists and projects to “maintain full creative control” over their content while “making it easy for creators to get paid”.
The catch, however, is the site must play the role of Caesar, dominating the market with an iron fist where none question their arrogant reign. This isn’t the spin of a humble news-man guided by the principles of freedom of speech, but rather the admission of Patreon’s own so-called “trust and safety team” who revealed this week content creators should, ironically, fear their unsafe rule through unaccountable curation, unreliable enforcers and the unethical agenda of “subjectively enforced” censorship by dominating forces.
Earlier this month, anti-feminist political commentator Carl Benjamin, otherwise known by his pseudonym Sargon of Akkad, was terminated from the Patreon platform after a retroactive review of an associated channel (not advertised on the site) found the man once used the n-word during a tirade against members of the alt-right known for engaging in harassment. The incident reportedly happened 10 months ago, yet administrators only acted upon once the alt-right reported the naughty words. This spawned #PatreonPurge, a consumer movement where content creators and users began disassociating themselves with the platform due to such untransparent censorious behaviour.
Among those affected by this drastic user-decline was Matt Christiansen, a centrist political commentator and known associate of Sargon, who recently secured a telephone conversation with Jacqueline Hart, a pro-censorship representative of Patreon’s trust and safety team, on the condition their secret conversation wasn’t to be recorded and published. Christiansen, playing the sneaky troll, decided her words should instead be judged by the public and released a video linked with a complete leaked transcript of the phone call.
Throughout the video, Hart makes her case explicitly clear:
1. “Patreon is not a 100% free speech platform.”
2. “Patreon is not a free market.”
3. “Rules enforcement on Patreon is subjective.”
Christiansen began the conversation by revealing 39% of his funding, built over two years as a dedicated contributor for the platform, was torn in half almost overnight due to the consumer revolt. This wasn’t to complain about patrons leaving, Christiansen clarified, but rather to ask whether Patreon admins understood the rationale for why they’re leaving.
Instead of acknowledgement of wrong-doing or assurances of reform, the site began doubling-down on their decision. Hart immediately diverts by citing “audience overlap” as the reason for Christiansen’s decline, implying a cult of personality towards Sargon’s support lead to the backlash, rather than abandonment of principles of transparency and free speech overall.
Christiansen pushed back on this point by questioning whether the site acknowledged apolitical users were also threatening to leave the platform over these concerns. This can be seen in a recent video by Wranglestar, a hardware development YouTuber with over a million subscribers, who instructed users to abandon the Patreon platform all together despite having no interactions with Sargon and or involvement with political content.
Hart’s response reveals the true intentions of the platform by countering that Patreon isn’t “100% dedicated to free speech” because it wouldn’t be “true to their mission” of funding the internet’s “creative class”. When Christiansen asked how dedicated the platform was to the principle of free speech, by whatever definition the site uses, Hart failed to answer the question.
“In order to accomplish that mission,” Hart states, “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.”
Hart immediate begins to cite “payment pressure” as the rationale behind the avoidance of free speech principles, making ambiguous claims that external payment forces “have rules for what they will process”, implying Patreon conducts itself around the coercive whims of other companies. This betrays statements by Patreon CEO Jack Conte who declared the “lack of advertiser influence” made his platform “different”, eliminating the pressure groups of the marketing scene to allow full creative liberties.
Instead of coming through on this utopian promise, however, Patreon seems to be submitting to the pressures groups of the payment scene. Such disassociation is perfectly demonstrated with Gab, the social media website known for its heavy presence of alt-right users, who were blacklisted by PayPal, Medium, Stripe, and Joyent. When Christiansen questioned whether Sargon’s termination was based on these external payment pressures, Hart said the decision was “entirely” made by the site. “Well then,” Christiansen responded, “I don’t understand passing the buck off to somebody else.”
It’s not difficult to see Hart’s untruths at play. Patreon clearly wants to present itself as the ethical arbitrator of creative content, touting its independent status as to gain credibility among we the people, yet big tech institutions can’t just ignore the influence of a cut-throat market. It’s unlikely of a federal judge to take his paycheque source into account when ruling on a case, but can the same be said of a for-profit entity?
Even if payment processors issued absolutely no calls demanding Sargon’s termination, surely the fear of potentially losing their revenue would factor into their decision. Hart’s teasing of such dynamics showcases the pressure lies internally, resting as an inherent concern plaguing the site’s viability, which corrupts commitment to ethically just rulings. So when Christiansen asks a simple question of “is there a reason you have to bend the knee to these payment processors?” Hart can only remain gobsmacked, silent and demanding we change topics when she’s the one who brought it up.
This isn’t unprecedented given this was the exact same stance Patreon took after axing Robert Spencer‘s account on their platform earlier this year, according to reports “Hi Robert,” the cited email reads. “We emailed you earlier today which explained that, unfortunately, Mastercard required us to remove your account. You replied to us but if you have further questions we’re happy to keep emailing. Kind regards, Patreon — August 15, 2018”.
Kitty Testa, a right-wing journalist for The Libertarian Republican, reached out to Christiansen via email to ask whether “bankers being the arbiters of what is acceptable speech” is just. “The problem with what’s going on currently with online deplatforming is certain ‘wrongthinkers’ aren’t just being kicked off websites like Patreon,” he explains, “but competitors are also being stifled. I support a right to refuse service — I do not support meddling in someone else’s business when they are refused service and move elsewhere.”
“If the bankers are now the speech police,” Testa argues, “don’t we all deserve to know who is making these speech-restricting [decisions]? If the idea of the banking industry policing behaviour seems ludicrous to you, think again. Banks are effectively an arm of law enforcement. It is no joke to be blacklisted from financial services. That is how economic sanctions are implemented globally. We mostly think of money in a purely utilitarian way, as a store of value, a medium of exchange and a unit of account. Yet there is a fourth use of money: as a system of control.”
Such a system, whether governmental or privatised, should maintain the highest ethical standards to ensure the rights of the individual aren’t outweighed by the greed of the collective profiteers, which requires the protection of not only one’s speech but the consumer’s right to a fair, independent, objective trial when enforcement is considered. Don’t hold your breath for such due process under such a free market, however, as we don’t want our readers to die too soon.
Christiansen’s conversation soon delved deeper into Patreon’s vague terms of service policies, particularly on the grounds of the frequently indefinable “hate speech” by which Sargon was terminated by kangaroo court, proposing several hypothetical scenarios to understand how the site would enforce their rules. One described the YouTuber using the exact same n-word in the exact same context against the exact same alt-right harassers within the confines of a private Skype conversation.
This is where Hart surprisingly admits the treatment wouldn’t be the same as they’re judged through separate “individual treatment”, such as their body of work and character judgements made by the administrators themselves, not the merits of the offence. When pressed on avoiding “uniform treatment for everybody”, Hart explains it’s “difficult to make something so granular” while maintaining the “human element” of their judgement, which Christiansen and Hart rightfully agreed was a process that’s “inherently subjective”.
When asked how Sargon could exonerate his name through their system, Hart didn’t explain an independent appeals process through which his counter-evidence could be presented to “prove a negative”, she instead suggested that a “full-throated apology” deemed good enough by the administrative overlords would be enough to clear someone of an alleged charge.
Christiansen later asked where to gain a definitive answer as to what a charge could be, Hart suggested contacting the trust and safety team directly for editorial input could prevent such censorship for occurring in the future, claiming the site “isn’t a free market” where only the relationship between creator and audience matter.
She later denied the company issuing the warning systems Conte promised problematic creators would receive after the Lauren Southern scandal by mentioning “Tier 1” infractions are treated differently to “Tier 2” infractions. When questioned on these differences, she could only say “it’s a difference between a little thing and a big thing”, though could answer that kind of answer that means by admitting it’s under subjective judgement. She also denied the site having any statute of limitations, meaning anything the site sees as wrong can be retroactively punished.
Since the transcript was leaked to the public, Patreon staff have begun changing their own TOS rules to further justify their banning. As reported by Newsbusters, after the context of Benjamin’s tirade was explained, Patreon’s staff unveil new policies that retroactively suspend the YouTuber from using their site, claiming Benjamin broke the rules for an offence previous administrators allowed.
The old incident in question was when Benjamin attended a 2017 VidCon panel being conducted by Anita Sarkeesian, controversial intersectional-feminist and a previously frequent subject in his videos. Benjamin and his followers occupied the three front rows of her panel and simply watched her talk on sexism, gaming culture, etc. Sarkeesian immediately started yelling at Benjamin as a “garbage human” and accused the man of harassment. Now, suddenly, peacefully attending the panel of your political rivals is an offence.
As if the ethical standards of big tech couldn’t go any lower. In response to the Patreon controversy, divisive free speech iconoclasts Dr Jordan Peterson and the Rubin Report’s Dave Rubin have announced their decision to create their own crowd-funding platform “not susceptible to arbitrary censorship”. Sargon’s departure even saw a drastic rise in SubscribeStar, another donation site “promoting public debate for free thinkers without fear of being bullied, de-platformed or prosecuted”, though faced similar pressure from the withdrawal of PayPal’s support. Their site will likely face the same fate.
The powerful elite of Silicon Valey knows how to wield unaccountable financial power over the public, and they’re playing with fire if they believe we the people are going to voluntarily subsidise our own censorship without organised resistance. “It is a free market of information and opinion,” Testa concludes, “and listeners are willing to financially support the voices they trust, yet we are trapped in a financial system that is designed to control us. It is an imminent threat to our liberty.”
Thanks for reading! This article was originally published for TrigTent.com, a bipartisan media platform for political and social commentary, truly diverse viewpoints and facts that don’t kowtow to political correctness.
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