Shopify CEO Attempts to Defend Continued Hosting of Breitbart's Online Store
Shopify CEO Tobias Lütke penned an open letter in response to the ongoing barrage of communication being received by himself and other Shopify employees about their continued decision to host the online store of Breitbart, the right-wing publication which regularly publishes racist and sexist headlines and content. Lütke’s argument generally rests on a “free speech” defense, claiming that any attempt to apply a moral lens to what stores operate on Shopify would threaten to “censor” a right to free expression.
Lütke contends that “commerce is a powerful, underestimated form of expression,” and draws a direct parallel between individual purchases made by consumers and votes, and suggests that it’s not Shopify’s place to interrupt that free expression, even if personally and as an organization, they disagree with the positions of those on the platform (Shopify has instructed Google Ads not to display ads on Breitbart.com, as Lütke notes, which means it does not want its brand associated with theirs in that regard).
As some of the critics of Lütke’s letter on Twitter have suggested, this is both a gross overestimation of the role of a commerce platform, and a significant underestimation of the responsibility of a private business to its clients and customers. First, Shopify cannot actually “censor” anything since it’s not a state agency or organization, and is not legally bound to provide a platform to anyone, even if they technically “operate within the law,” as Lütke puts it.