An Open Letter to Shopify’s CEO
Dear Tobias Lütke,
My name is Emma Pullman, and I am Lead Campaign Strategist at SumOfUs.org, a global consumer watchdog with 12 million members worldwide. Our online petition calling on Shopify to end its troubling relationship with Breitbart News recently surpassed 140,000 signatures and is still growing.
We have identified nearly 15,597 of your store owners and customers among the list of petition signers that want to see Shopify end its relationship with Breitbart. 759 shareholders are asking you to stop co-signing Breitbart’s message, and dozens of your own employees are troubled at your lack of leadership on this issue.
In your recent Medium post, you state a case to the public about why keeping Breitbart as a client is is a matter of “free speech”. I would like to lay out a few reasons why your response is not only disappointing, but inadequate. SumOfUs would also like like to take the opportunity to communicate that your decision to side with Breitbart is currently perceived by the general public, your customers, shareholders and employees as a decision to prioritize profits over common decency.
We disagree with your claim that choosing which companies can operate on your platform “censor[s]” a right to freedom of expression . Profit and commerce aren’t forms of speech. In actuality, you are enabling Breitbart’s hateful content by allowing Breitbart to use your platform. You are hiding behind the argument of free speech, when it’s clear you are trying to turn a profit.
You also argue that Shopify is a “neutral” platform, and that is regrettable. Davey Alba argued in Wired, “there’s no such thing as a neutral platform anymore,” — and we agree. Tech has a take a side, and you have taken Breitbart’s. You have stated publicly that you would be delighted if Breitbart switched to another platform, but that doesn’t absolve you from continuing to profit from its message.
Breitbart is not just any client, it is a platform for white nationalists who are trying to rebrand themselves as the “alt right”, with ambitions to send their hateful message around the world. Breitbart now has unprecedented access to the White House — which is one of the reasons why over 1,100 companies and organizations have stopped advertising with it.
Your decision to continue doing business with Breitbart — and in such a public way — is an act of blatant disregard to the people who are most affected by Trump’s policies.
Working with Breitbart is not an example of your company protecting “free speech”. Shopify is a private business that is choosing to continue working with and, therefore, profit from a platform for hate speech.
One of the central claims in your letter is that you are against exclusion of any kind. This particular point makes your failure to end Shopify’s relationship with Breitbart all the more troubling. Breitbart is founded on the idea of excluding people on the basis of religion, ethnicity, gender expression, immigration status or sexual orientation.
As we have pointed out in our petition, you have considerable leeway in your terms of service policy to refuse to do business with companies like Breitbart. Adopting a hate speech policy would go a long way to addressing the concerns of the public as well as your customers, shareholders and employees.
Next week, SumOfUs, our members, partners at Sleeping Giants who have been leading much of this work, and supporters will venture to Ottawa to deliver this petition directly to you. We would appreciate the opportunity to meet with you to discuss the petition and this matter in person. Of course, if you end your relationship with Breitbart before then, we can cancel our trip to Ottawa.
Daniel Weinand, CEO, Co-Founder, CCO
Harley Finkelstein, CPO
Craig Miller, Chief Marketing Officer
Russ Jones, CFO
Brittany Forsyth, VP of Human Relations
Atlee Clark, Director of Apps and Developer Relations
Mark Hayes, Director of Communications
Jean-Michel Lemieux, VP of Engineering
Mat Paciga, Head Sales Scientists and Founding member of Shopify Plus
Toby Shannon, VP of Support
Scott Lake, Co-founder