Patreon is in hot water again. In 2017, controversy roiled the crowdfunding platform when it banned libertarian journalist Lauren Southern. She had never written or said anything racist or hateful on YouTube or anywhere else, so the banning initially resulted in lots of murmurs from the right. However, in an interview with liberal journalist Dave Rubin, the CEO of Patreon Jack Conte promised that he supported free speech and that Southern had been banned for “manifest observable behavior” (MOB) in violation of community guidelines.
To what was he referring? As a journalist and activist in Italy, Southern had participated in blocking an NGO ship from leaving port to deter it from human trafficking of migrants from North Africa. According to Conte, she had put lives at risk, and her actions therefore violated Patreon’s terms.
Many found this faulty reasoning, but Conte’s full-throated endorsement of free speech on the Rubin Report earned him a pass, and life went back to normal.
Then Carl Benjamin, the popular center-left liberal YouTuber known as Sargon of Akkad, was banned without warning. Why? Because a year earlier, in a debate against the alt-right on another small channel, in the heat of the moment he used the N-word to describe their behavior. The context makes it clear that this was not a racial slur against blacks but an attack on white nationalists, who would be insulted by the comparison.
So, without explanation, Benjamin was banned for something not part of the community guidelines. It was not “manifest observable behavior,” not an expression made on the Patreon platform or even on his own channel, and not intended as a racial slur. He was debating against racists. Ignoring context and its own rules, Patreon brutally deplatformed Benjamin without recourse.
This time, however, it went too far. Members of the so-called Intellectual Dark Web, including Canadian professor Jordan Peterson and author/podcaster Sam Harris, reacted strongly to what they perceived as crossing a red line. Harris made a decision that cost him a significant loss of income: He canceled his Patreon account. In a message to his subscribers, he said, “Although I don’t share the politics of the banned members, I consider it no longer tenable to expose any part of my podcast funding to the whims of the Patreon’s ‘Trust and Safety’ committee.”
…a plan to launch an alternative platform to Patreon…
Many prominent personalities have reported a significant hit to their income as subscribers are fleeing the platform in disgust. The conundrum is that this also hits the content creators hard.
However, in a recent podcast, Peterson announced that he is working on a plan to launch an alternative platform to Patreon to solve the problem of corporate censorship. Originally, he created an account at the competitor SubscribeStar, but it, too, was deplatformed recently by PayPal.
Peterson inserted himself into the culture war when in 2016 he refused to abide by Canadian Bill C-16 that compels speech. The far left tried to take him down but found in him a formidable opponent who grew only stronger with opposition. If he makes good on his promise, it could be the first step in providing a mainstream alternative to the far-left hegemony of Silicon Valley.