Bankrolling Hate: The Dirty Little Secret Behind Online Commerce

In a global economy in which so many components interact and overlap, unsavory collaborations are both plausible and probable. Thus, the recent revelation that hate groups use PayPal, Amazon, and Spotify to propagate and promote intolerance may not be a terribly shocking revelation considering the increasing prevalence of Internet-based commerce. What is far more likely to raise eyebrows and anger is the extent to which companies benefit from the sale of products related to hate speech.

In a recent article for the Washington Post, Caitlin Dewey discusses the findings of a study conducted by civil-rights advocacy organization Southern Poverty Law Center regarding online profiteering by white supremacists. Heidi Beirich, a director of research at SPLC, advised Dewey that the organization has reached out to the above-mentioned online commerce giants numerous times in the past to discuss the use of their services by known hate groups.

“I have contacted them and explained, ‘You are literally funding hate groups,’ ” Beirich told Dewey. “But they never respond. … Someone says they’re concerned, they’re looking into it, they’ll get back to you soon — then, nothing. You never hear back.”

Beirich advised that the sales of products promoting hate — including songs, Nazi flags, and other memorabilia — generate thousands upon thousands of dollars when hate groups use PayPal, Amazon, and Spotify, as the aforementioned sites collect fees based on percentages of sales.

Although many online sites and services have existing policies regarding hate speech and the promotion of violence such as terrorism, the SPLC’s report stresses that such policies are not always actively or aggressively enforced. Yesterday, social media giant Facebook updated its policies regarding controversial content, including depictions of violence and the endorsement of terrorism.

The SPLC’s report was released amidst new inroads by PayPal that further improve the company’s burgeoning foothold on e-commerce. According to Silicon Hills News, PayPal is now partnering with Coinbase to integrate use of the peer-to-peer exchange medium known as bitcoin. Additionally, PayPal has stepped up promotion of mobile payment technologies designed especially for small businesses.

Indeed, organizations like SPLC seem to be engaged in an uphill battle, in which the most decisive victory would be to persuade large, profit-oriented business endeavors to return or decline money that comes into their coffers through the promotion of racist ideology. Although hate groups use PayPal, Amazon, and Spotify to pander agendas driven by prejudice and hostility, such sites and services are also utilized by millions of individuals who do not share such sentiments. Thus, even without the patronage of a relative handful of hate-mongers, the leading forces of e-commerce will still loom large on the dual proving grounds of cyberspace and global capitalism.

[Photo by David McNew/Getty Images]

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