When activists discovered Shopify was the platform behind Breitbart’s (reportedly very successful) online store, they called on shop owners to ditch Shopify for what they saw as its passive endorsement of the far-right site. Inspired by the #DeleteUber campaign that culminated in CEO Travis Kalanick resigning from President Trump’s economic advisory committee, critics believed that a hashtag campaign could undermine a key source of revenue for Breitbart. In the process, Shopify—a Canadian company—has had to learn the same lesson as so many US tech companies in recent weeks: There’s no such thing as a neutral platform anymore.
Companies have spent so long pushing to have it be socially acceptable for people to have branding displayed all over their clothes and across all the devices they use. People identify with brands so strongly now that it is only logical that companies will be forced to take a stand on controversies.
Shopify and its CEO, meanwhile, have held to the notion that it is simply a service, and as such, it should not shut out merchants based on their beliefs. “Shopify operates as a neutral platform that supports the right to free speech,” a company statement reads. “The hosting of a store is not an endorsement of a store, its products, or its owners.” In case you missed the point, Shopify spells it out: “Shopify does not advertise on Breitbart nor do we endorse them.”
Unfortunately you cannot play it both ways. If companies want their branding to seep into every single interaction we have, then they will increasingly be forced to make the same decisions individuals are faced with daily. I’d rather we didn’t live in a world where the products we use are treated as indicators of our personalities and opinions, but I’m also not the one slapping ads on every square inch of my website. Since this is the world we live in, I’m absolutely using Lyft and have deleted the Uber app from my phone.