Shopify CEO Tobi Lütke waded into the political waters this week to defend his e-commerce company against a litany of complaints for powering the online store of right-wing media outlet Breitbart News.
In a post written on Medium.com, Lütke argued that continuing to serve Breitbart on its platform, despite the hateful rhetoric of the outlet found in both its posts and products, was a matter of free speech. To deny Breitbart service on the basis of disparate views would warrant discrimination.
"Commerce is a powerful, underestimated form of expression. We use it to cast a vote with every product we buy. It’s a direct expression of democracy. This is why our mission at Shopify is to protect that form of expression and make it better for everyone, not just for those we agree with."
Lutke, an immigrant himself, compared the idea of booting Breitbart to the entry ban ordered by United States President Donald Trump on migrants from seven Middle Eastern and African nations.
It's not an easy call to make, though. Lütke acknowledged that the company's life would probably be easier if they did remove Breitbart as a merchant. To that end, he posted a peek into his inbox showing the waves of emails he's gotten in the past day alone petitioning him to remove the right-wing media outlet from its clientele.
While he says he does not agree with or even like Breitbart, Lütke says the idea of censoring the company would be even more uncomfortable, as it would assert his (and Shopify’s) moral code above all others.
"Where would it begin and end? Who gets to decide what can be sold and what can’t? If we start blocking out voices, we would fall short of our goals as a company to make commerce better for everyone. Instead, we would have a biased and diminished platform."
Breitbart isn’t the only politically-minded merchant the company has served. Shopify powers merchants on both sides of the debate, as Nasty Women Apparel and Buzzfeed Inc. have also used the Ottawa company’s platform to sell clothing.
Lütke also took the opportunity to set the record straight on a few accusations that have been thrown Shopify’s way in recent months. Among them:
1. If a merchant operates within the law, it may use Shopify’s platform.
2. Shopify does not advertise on Breitbart’s website.
3. Shopify does not sell Breitbart’s products, rather, it provides the platform to allow Breitbart to sell its products itself.
4. Shopify does not endorse Breitbart.
Lütke ended the piece with a call for a “rational discourse to make the world – and commerce – a better place.”