That Time I Got Deplatformed

There’s been a lot of publicity, including an article in today’s New York Times “Patreon Bars Anti-Feminist Hate Speech, Inciting Revolt” about “deplatforming” or being booted off internet services due to controversial content. Most of the cases have involved alt-right figures such as Alex Jones and Sam Harris.

But even if you’re not a prominent trouble maker you can be deplatformed suddenly, without warning and with no recourse. I didn’t blog about it at the time, but back in September of 2017 a Meetup group I ran, The Los Angeles Bread Bakers got booted off its payment system, a Paypal competitor called WePay (as of October 2017, owned by JPMorgan Chase). Mike of WePay’s Orwelian “Customer Delight” department sent me this astonishingly rude email:

Mike (WePay Support)
Sep 1, 2017 1:56 PM PDT

Hi there,

We apologize for the inconvenience, but WePay is no longer able to process payments for your account. Our banks and processors hold us to a strict guideline on what we can and cannot process through our site. All information regarding our review process is proprietary so typically, no additional information is available in these instances. Unfortunately, we will not be able to provide you with our services. We wish you all the best moving forward.
Best,
Mike
WePay | Customer Delight

In other words, we’re kicking you off, not telling you why and don’t bother contacting us. I tried to take up the issue with Meetup, but I had too much going on in my life at that time to resolve the issue.

Without the ability to process payments for classes WePay had, effectively, made the Los Angeles Bread Bakers Meetup useless. Meetup does not allow you to integrate other payment services such as PayPal. You have to use WePay if you want to use Meetup’s registration/reservation system. Thankfully, Roe Sie of the King’s Roost took over LABB and runs class payments though his business. But, without Roe’s help, the LABB meetup would have folded.

LABB never had any complaints about payments or refunds for classes. Maybe it had something to do with an anti-Trump bake sale that was organized by some members of the group a few weeks before we got booted off. It could also have been a simple credit card problem. Or maybe they were cleaning up things ahead of being purchased by Chase. But I have no way of knowing since WePay refused to disclose their reasoning.

Kris De Decker, who runs the awesome blog Low Tech Magazine just had the experience of getting caught in a Facebook “fake news” algorithm when the company rejected an ad he had taken out for his blog post on energy security.

This incident combines the idiocy of Silicon Valley’s monopoly over content with their belief that algorithms can parse the nuances of all the world’s languages. No intelligent person would confuse Kris’ carefully researched, non-partisan writing with “fake news.”

I’ll conclude with some advice: if you are a small business person or someone who hopes to run an internet based business, if you can, make sure that you are not dependent on any one platform. And have a contingency since it’s probably not a matter of if, but when you will be deplatformed even if you’re not spouting conspiracy theories or hate speech. It’s also time for us all to think about, as Kris De Decker has, of starting some alternatives to the big Silicon Valley platform monopolies.

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6 Comments

  1. Don’t worry – before long, we’ll have APIs between the services so that as soon as you’re kicked off of one service, you’ll be kicked off and blacklisted from all of the others.

  2. This was interesting, thanks for writing it. Wanted to point out that while Sam Harris chose to remove himself from Patreon, he was not deplatformed. Similarly, though he seems to hold some unfortunate views about race and intelligence, he is not a member of the alt-right, having supported Clinton’s candidacy in 2016 and remains critical of 45.

  3. I occasionally wonder what I might do if my blog were pulled from the inter webs for some peculiar socio-political reason. Or if the cost of maintaining a web presence were to selectively get jacked up. Or more likely, if everything I’ve ever done on the web (e-mails, Google searches, public comments, etc) were cherry picked, made public, and I was declared an Enemy of the People. That kinda takes me back to my desire to quietly opt out of more things ahead of the curve. “Collapse now and beat the rush” as John Michael Greers likes to say.

  4. My neighbor, a few houses down, runs the Ensaymada Project from her house, but also sends these delicious desserts off nationwide, to Canada too. For those in the L.A. area, she offers pick-up.

    Aside from her home and online operation, they also source to local bakeries, dessert shops and foodie fests, to include cultural events.

    In just 5 years or so, she’s on yelp, all social media sites, plus word of mouth. She’s featured on youtube, other small media outlets. So definitely not dependent on only one platform.

    http://www.ensaymadaproject.com/

    It’s delicious!!! do taste some, I recommend “Ube” flavour.

  5. Why exactly do you think Sam Harris is a figure for the alt-right? If you were familiar with his work it would be hard to come to that conclusion. To lump him in with Alex Jones is far, far more rude than that “astonishingly rude” email you received from WePay.

  6. Fascinating. That strikes me as yet more censorship wrapped up in a fancy digital package. It also strikes me that the vast majority of folks are totally willing to accept it as coming with the territory, or within their rights as a business. I can’t quite wrap my mind around the docility here.

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