Why I left Shopify

The following is an email I wrote to Tobi Lutke, CEO of Shopify, in February of this year, after giving my two weeks notice. I’m sharing it now, six months later, because I’d prefer to have the “whole story” out in the open for people to judge for themselves, and because I have no reason to keep it secret. There’s nothing I have to tell that isn’t already public knowledge, there was no internal drama or scandal that caused me to leave. I still care about a lot of people at Shopify and have nothing but respect for them and the jobs they do. At the time I was accused of trying to hurt my friends and coworkers, I hope those who know me know that wasn’t, and still isn’t the case.

The email is unedited other than a name I removed. I didn’t save his response, but it was polite and respectful.

Tobi,

You probably don’t know me, I don’t think we’ve ever met, but i’ve worked on the front-end team in Toronto for the past two years. I’ve told [my boss] that I’m leaving Shopify, my last day will be the 23rd. I wanted to let you know directly and explain my reasons.

I was disappointed to learn we were hosting Breitbart, I hoped we’d kick them off, but doubted we would. I struggled with this discomfort but ultimately it was a struggle I thought I could get past, and ignore as irrelevant in contrast to all the good this company does.

But “In Support of free speech” isn’t something I can get past. Cries to protect free speech always sound the same to me, as noble as the intentions behind them can be.

Free speech is not a neutral stance. We’re defending the right of an oppressor to spread and profit from their hatred. Breitbart and their writers have every right to hate the marginalized groups they hate, and every right to tell anyone who will listen about that hate. They don’t have a right to make money from that hate through our platform. You’ve spoken a lot about what it would mean to kick them off our platform, what the implications would be. Asserting our moral superiority, drawing arbitrary lines, diminishing ourselves through bias. I agree that these implications are scary.

But we tend not to evaluate the implications of so-called neutral stances. I strongly believe that there are no neutral positions. There is no centre. Taking no position is taking the position of supporting and reinforcing existing power structures. Of turning a blind eye to the rise of powerful forces with terrifying goals, until it is too late to stop them. There is no neutral middle ground between wanting to live your life as a free, law-abiding muslim american, and wanting to live in a whites-only nation.

In our case, the implication behind doing nothing is that we are enabling the fundraising efforts of a frightening and powerful voice for hatred in the world.

I don’t expect you to change your mind on this position, and I know you’ve said you’d respect those of us who felt we had to leave if we disagreed. I guess I’m hoping you’ll give me a reason not to. I love my job. But I can’t hold so many conflicting views at once, something has to give. So I’m going to do my best to find an employer I can feel more comfortable working for.

Thank you.

Epilogue: I did, in fact, find an employer I’m more comfortable working for, and am happily adjusting to a role that suits me much better.

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