SAN FRANCISCO – The decision of crowdfunding platform Patreon to delete the page of right-wing provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos for an alleged past association with the group Proud Boys has been hailed by some for derailing the former Breitbart columnist’s planned “magnificent 2019 comeback.”
However, the similarities between Patreon’s banning of Yiannopoulos and the deplatforming of right-wing firebrand Alex Jones are notable and thus cause for concern, given that Jones’ removal from popular social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook paved the way for the social media “purge” of independent, watchdog media in early October.
As a result, Patreon’s decision to follow suit could herald another coming deplatforming for anti-establishment voices, which warrants attention as Patreon is one of the few companies keeping many indie journalists economically afloat.
The decision to ban Yiannopoulos was made by Patreon on Wednesday in response to a request from a Twitter user that Yiannopoulos’ new Patreon page, which had been set up just a day prior, be taken down. Patreon responded that Yiannopoulos had been deplatformed from the site because of his “association with or supporting [of] hate groups.” Patreon also noted that none of the content Yiannopoulos had posted to the site had violated any of its rules.
Hi there, thanks for the tweet. Milo Yiannopoulos was removed from Patreon as we don't allow association with or supporting hate groups on Patreon. For more info, please see our Community Guidelines. https://t.co/L7737I1ENi
— Patreon (@Patreon) December 5, 2018
In a subsequent letter sent to Yiannopoulos from Patreon, the company elaborated that his “past association with the Proud Boys, though recently disavowed, is a breach of our guidelines.” As Patreon itself noted, there is not a strong connection between Yiannopoulos and the Proud Boys, even though he frequently shared stages with them and attended their events. Yiannopoulos was never a member of the controversial group, founded by Vice News co-founder Gavin McInnes; never incited violence as part of the group; and, as Patreon noted, recently disavowed the group. The Proud Boys’ magazine had its page removed by Patreon earlier this year in May.
Though Yiannopoulos has found himself banned from other platforms before, this time is different. While Twitter banned him from the platform for tweets he made in 2016, Patreon chose to deplatform Yiannopoulos not for his statements or content but for a past association with a group that he recently disavowed. Regardless of how one feels about Yiannopoulos’ past statements and politics, there is no denying that this is a dangerous precedent, particularly at a time when online censorship is growing at a dramatic rate.
Patreon’s neutrality a thing of the past?
In addition, Yiannopoulos is not the first controversial right-wing figure to be deplatformed by Patreon. Last July, Patreon deleted the page of Lauren Southern, a right-wing journalist who previously worked for The Rebel Media, citing her association with “Defend Europe” ships that were chartered by anti-immigration activists to prevent refugee boats departing Africa from reaching Europe. Defend Europe vessels have interfered with at-sea rescue operations for refugee boats that have capsized in the past, leading Patreon to conclude that Southern was raising funds in relation to Defend Europe that were “likely to cause loss of life.”
Southern claimed that she was unable to appeal the decision even though she was not partaking in the Defend Europe mission and her Patreon funding had not been used to support the group’s efforts. However, Southern had expressed her sympathies for the Defend Europe movement and had planned to go on Defend Europe’s vessel to document their activities.
Soon after Southern was booted from the platform, the left-wing site associated with Antifa, It’s Going Down, was also deplatformed for doxxing and for instructing readers on how to sabotage a railway line. This led Patreon to be accused of collaborating with the “alt-right,” even though Southern and her allies had accused the company of catering to Antifa just days before.
A very slippery slope
While many may welcome the deplatforming of far-right provocateurs, it is important to point out that the deplatforming of certain individuals from social media and crowdfunding platforms is a slippery slope that, in the past, has translated into the censorship of dissident voices and independent media.
For instance and as mentioned above, in August Twitter and Facebook both permanently banned right-wing firebrand Alex Jones and his website InfoWars from their platform, claiming that Jones and his site had violated community standards. Soon after, Facebook unpublished the page of left-leaning news service teleSUR English for the second time this year without explanation.
Then, in October, Facebook “purged” more than 800 pages, accusing them of “inauthentic behavior” even though the pages produced “legitimate” content. According to Facebook, the “inauthentic behavior” involved using “sensational political content – regardless of its political slant – to build an audience and drive traffic to their websites.” In other words, the pages were removed for publishing and promoting controversial political content.
Facebook’s “purge” was done in coordination with Twitter which deleted the accounts of many of the independent news outlets targeted by Facebook only hours prior. The purge was the result of Facebook’s announcement this past May that it would be teaming up with the notoriously hawkish think tank, the Atlantic Council.
According to Facebook, the Atlantic Council – which is funded by the governments of the U.S., U.K. and the United Arab Emirates, as well as U.S. weapons giant Lockheed Martin, among other corporate sponsors – would serve as Facebook’s “eyes and ears” in its efforts to clamp down on “disinformation” and “fake news.” The Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensics Research Lab (DFRLab) has a poor track record of accuracy in flagging fake news and fake accounts, often identifying the accounts of actual people as Russian bots for merely disagreeing with establishment narratives.
Soon after the purge of independent media from Facebook and Twitter, a Washington insider stated that the incident was “just the beginning” of a wider effort to clamp down on alternative media sites on social media.
While social-media censorship has greatly affected the reach of independent media, the specter of Patreon censorship is of equal if not greater concern, given that the platform has become a key source of funding for independent outlets and writers ever since Google Adsense began demonetizing “controversial” content on websites using that service. For instance, Google Adsense previously threatened MintPress either to remove pictures of U.S. troops torturing Iraqi prisoners in the infamous Abu Ghraib prison or lose access to this ad-based revenue service. Google Adsense eventually disabled ad revenue on that article and has since done the same to several other articles published online by MintPress.
If Patreon continues to weaken its criteria that can lead to the deplatforming of individuals, it could easily develop into another vehicle for choking out independent voices by removing a vital source of income on which many outlets and writers depend.
This should not be taken as a defense of Yiannopoulos or his content, but instead a warning that Patreon – having deplatformed someone for a past, and disavowed, association with a controversial group – could soon find itself under pressure from much more powerful lobby groups, including those that have successfully pushed Facebook and Twitter to silence alternative voices in the aftermath of the 2016 election.
Top Photo | Milo Yiannopoulos speaks during a news conference in New York, Feb. 21, 2017. Seth Wenig | AP
Whitney Webb is a staff writer for MintPress News and a contributor to Ben Swann’s Truth in Media. Her work has appeared on Global Research, the Ron Paul Institute and 21st Century Wire, among others. She has also made radio and TV appearances on RT and Sputnik. She currently lives with her family in southern Chile.