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Debates on Free Speech: Patreon Bans Controversial Figures From Its Site

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at UFL chapter.



Last month, Patreon decided to ban Carl Benjamin aka Sargon of Akkad from their crowdfunding site. This move was as a result of the language used by Benjamin during an interview on another individual’s YouTube account.

Patreon is a crowdfunding site used by many YouTube content creators, activists and podcasters as a means of income. For many of these people, Benjamin included, this is their main source of income. So, banning any person from this site can potentially be a risk on their livelihood.

The language used by Benjamin was the N-word. However, Benjamin had used the word as a means to explain why he does not like the alt-right. According to the transcript published by Patreon, he said:

“I just can’t be bothered with people who chose to treat me like this. It’s really annoying. Like, I — . You’re acting like a bunch of n*****s, just so you know. You act like white n*****s. Exactly how you describe black people acting is the impression I get dealing with the Alt-Right. I’m really, I’m just not in the mood to deal with this kind of disrespect.”

The site has received much backlash in response to this action. Firstly, as a violation of free speech and secondly this statement wasn’t given through the Patreon site itself but through a completely different platform. In response to this, Patreon said:

“As a funding platform, we don’t host much content, but we help fund creations across the internet. As a result, we review creations posted on other platforms that are funded through Patreon. Sargon is well known for his collaborations with other creators and so we apply our community guidelines to those collaborations, including this interview.”

Others banned from Patreon include the former editor of Breitbart, Milo Yiannopoulos, for “association with or supporting hate groups.” Gab, a social media site heavily used by the alt-right along with far-right activist Lauren Southern have been barred from the site.

In response to Patreon continuing to ban controversial figures, prominent individuals are deciding to stop using the site. One such person is Canadian professor of psychology, Jordan Peterson. He announced via YouTube that he would no longer be using the site by January 15th.

To replace Patreon, Peterson will be creating an alternative to the crowdfunding site with Dave Rubin and Sam Harris. But there may not be a need for this when similar platforms exist. A major one being Bitcoin. Bitcoin does not subject users to the same speech guidelines as sites like Patreon and Twitter.

Patreon’s actions have brought the standards of internet censorship into question. Some argue that Patreon is violating free speech rights because many individuals rely on their services for their income. If you supposedly have the right to voice your opinions freely, then how is it really “a right” if Patreon has the power to eliminate your main source of income in direct response to your speech?

On the other hand, some argue that hate speech is in violation of Patreon’s terms of service. And with that comes the question of what is and isn’t determined to be hate speech. While there are some instances that can be clearly defined as hate speech, there are still many where it could be up for debate, like in Benjamin’s case. While he used the N-word, which many would say automatically classifies as hate speech, some may argue that because he wasn’t using it to describe black people and was using it to make a greater point that it isn’t hateful speech.

Ultimately, Patreon has the power at the end of the day to choose who can use their services because they are a private entity. However, this controversy may steer individuals to using alternative means of crowdfunding that allow them to voice their ideas – even controversial ones.

Cassidy Hopson is a junior at the University of Florida majoring in journalism. Follow her on Twitter @CassidyHopson.
Darcy Schild is a University of Florida junior majoring in journalism. She's the Editor-in-Chief of Her Campus UFL and was previously a Her Campus national section editor. She spent Summer 2017 as an Editorial Intern at HC headquarters in Boston, where she oversaw the "How She Got There" section and wrote and edited feature articles and news blogs. She also helped create the weekly Her Campus Instagram Story series, Informed AF. Follow her on Twitter and on her blog, The Darcy Diaries.