Ottawa’s Shopify bans hate groups from using its platform

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Shopify CEO Tobi Lütke. File photo.

Shopify has updated its policy standards to ban groups that promote hate or violence from using its platform, the latest step away from the Ottawa firm’s previous attempts to remain politically neutral.

Shopify updated the “hateful content” section of its acceptable use policy on Monday. While the previous version prevented merchants from offering goods and services that directly condone or promote violence, the updated version now bans users that support organizations, platforms or people that promote hate or threaten violence to “further a cause.”

A Shopify spokesperson pointed Techopia to an article by Bloomberg, in which the Ottawa firm calls the update a “proactive measure on our part to ensure we keep our platform free of anyone seeking to promote hate or violence.”

Bloomberg reports that the Proud Boys, designated by the Southern Poverty Law Centre in the U.S. as a hate group, have been affected by the change. VICE Media co-founder Gavin McInnes leads the group, which calls itself a collection of “western chauvinists” and denies affiliation with the alt-right movement.

Shopify’s policy update is the latest move away from the commerce firm’s previously stated attempts to remain neutral, a stance that brought the tech company criticism in the past.

When Shopify came under fire in 2017 for hosting right-wing media site Breitbart’s online store, CEO Tobi Lütke penned a post on medium defending the action. He likened commerce to an act of free speech, and wrote that censoring Breitbart would make him uncomfortable, as though he were asserting his moral code over another’s. At that time, the general rule was that if a merchant operated within the law, it could use Shopify’s platform.

Since then, Lütke himself has stepped back from his hard line on free commerce. In an update to that post this past August, he wrote that the policy of only being concerned with the law when deciding who can and cannot sell products on Shopify was unrealistic.

“Solely deferring to the law, in this age of political gridlock, is too idealistic and functionally unworkable on the fast moving internet,” he wrote. Shopify updated its acceptable use policy then to restrict merchants from selling certain firearms and other items “intended to cause harm.”

“We reserve the right to wake up smarter every day. And therefore Shopify will have to make decisions based on judgement when there is not a black and white, or even existing, legal solution,” Lütke wrote in the conclusion to his post.