Shopify is holding fast to its commitment to continue hosting an online storefront for controversial media site Breitbart News, despite mounting pressure on many retail sector companies to dump brands associated with President Donald Trump.
Shopify co-founder Tobias Lutke said in a blog post this week that the e-commerce platform would continue to host the Breitbart store in support of the organization's right to free speech, even though Lutke added that his company doesn’t align politically or ideologically with Breitbart and would be “delighted” if Breitbart found a different host for its store.
However, Shopify reportedly has asked Google Ads not to display Shopify advertisements on the Breitbart News site, disassociating itself from the media brand on that level. A Shopify spokeswoman told TechCrunch that Shopify considers itself a “neutral platform.”
Remember the days when the only ideology you had to care about as a company in the retail sector was capitalism?
Those days are over, and whether we like it or not, we all have to choose sides. Retailers can't just sell clothes with a celebrity's name on the anymore. That celebrity's political leanings (and who the celebrity's father is) suddenly matter a lot more. The decision to sell items with that person's name on it is now a statement of support for that person's politics — at least in the eyes of many voters/consumers.
Nordstrom said its decision to stop selling Ivanka Trump's clothing line was a business decision. But even staying neutral amounts to choosing a side in the "If you're not with us, your against us" era. Shopify thinks it's championing free speech, but like most businesses, it can do whatever its wants, including refusing service to anyone for any reason, to paraphrase terms of service of Shopify and many other businesses.
Instead, Shopify is essentially saying it's not cutting ties with Breitbart because it's too busy defending Breitbart's right to free speech. Shopify may be over-valuing its own significance as a protector of the American Way here, and by the way, Breitbart doesn't need the help. Its own business is built on the principle of taking advantage of its right to free speech on a daily basis to say whatever pops into its head. That's how Breitbart got to be such a big deal, and it may know a thing or two more about the topic of free speech than Shopify does.
The other thing that doesn't ring true here is Shopify pulling its ads from Breitbart, while continuing to insist that it's neutral. A number of companies have done that, and Shopify has every right to, but isn't there something inconsistent about refusing to support a company through ads on their site, but then accepting their money to host the same site's e-commerce venture?
Will any of this matter to consumers, or to Shopify's other partners? That's what Shopify is about to find out — and it will be interesting to see if it revisits its supposed neutrality when all the votes are in.