Shopify is a hugely successful Canadian ecommerce startup known for its hyper-modern office perks, and it's a big deal here. With offices all over the country and in San Francisco, the online sales platform is a jewel in the rusted crown of the nation that spawned BlackBerry but few other similarly grand successes.
Shopify also hosts the online store for media site Breitbart, the US far-right bullhorn formerly led by Steve Bannon. Bannon, Trump's campaign head and now his chief strategist, took an indefinite leave of absence from the site when he started working on the campaign. Since inauguration, Bannon's played a crucial role in drafting the executive orders currently pouring out of the White House, including the legally dubious immigration ban.
Now, Shopify's association with Breitbart has spawned a boycott movement on Twitter identified by the hashtag #DeleteShopify. The hashtag follows in the footsteps of the successful #DeleteUber campaign that concluded in Uber CEO Travis Kalanick resigning from his position on Trump's economic advisory council.
Shopify CEO Tobi Lütke signed an open letter demanding the Canadian government offer an emergency visa to people affected by Trump's immigration ban in January.
Bannon's site Breitbart routinely publishes articles that express deeply reactionary, sexist, and racist beliefs, and its merchandise reflects this. T-shirts display a "Border Wall Construction Co." logo and scream at immigrants to "get in line." One shirt sports a fake border patrol badge seemingly intended to intimidate undocumented residents of the US. It's a "tough-looking tee that just might make an illegal alien turn around and head home," the store states.
Foggy Notion, a clothing store in San Francisco, tweeted on Monday that the store has stopped using Shopify for online sales due to its association with Breitbart using the #DeleteShopify hashtag. Store owner Alissa Anderson declined to be interviewed for this article.
Calls for Shopify to discontinue its business with Breitbart began in January with a petition that garnered more than 20,000 signatures.
The #DeleteShopify campaign, however, gained steam over the weekend after Nicholas Reville, founder of digital rights advocacy group Fight for the Future, posted a Medium article with #DeleteShopify in the headline, and alleged that the platform is now Breitbart's "single largest source of revenue" after numerous companies cut advertising ties with the site after public pressure. Shopify could not confirm the veracity of this statement.
US-based boycott advocacy group Sleeping Giants also picked up the hashtag, promoting it and retweeting people pledging to ditch Shopify, including Foggy Notion.
"Very literally, Shopify is profiting off these items which are pushing xenophobic and racist ideals," the people behind Sleeping Giants, who are choosing to remain anonymous, wrote me in an email. "This hurts whole swaths of people and creates divisiveness in our country. No one should be profiting from that."
"The hope is that they recognize how harmful this rhetoric is and disallow Breitbart to use their platform to sell it," they continued.
Shopify's terms of service state that the company reserves the right to refuse service to any merchant that it deems to be "offensive, threatening, libelous, defamatory, pornographic, obscene, or otherwise objectionable." The phrasing—particularly, the wording "otherwise objectionable"—seems designed to give the company a degree of latitude.
Still, the company has remained steadfast, telling BuzzFeed in an article about employee turmoil over doing business with Breitbart that removing the site from its platform would undermine the company's commitment to freedom of speech.
Shopify sent Motherboard the same statement that appeared in the BuzzFeed article, stating: "If we begin to censor products and merchants from our platform, we compromise this core value and threaten its sanctity as a driving force that shapes both our own company and that of society at large."
Breitbart (or anybody else) using the Shopify platform does not constitute an endorsement by Shopify, the statement said.
Shopify spokesperson Erika Strong confirmed over the phone that Shopify has removed merchants in the past but could not recall which companies or why. She declined to provide clarification for what Shopify would classify as content that is "generally objectionable."
As for Shopify CEO Lütke's support of a letter condemning the policies that Breitbart promotes, Strong contended that it's consistent with the company's definition of diversity.
"We focus on diversity of thought, so that's how we see those two things aligning," she said over the phone. "We support diversity in general, and diversity of thought is part of that."
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