Feb 7, 2022 - Economy

Free speech issues rattling corporate America

Illustration of a speech bubble staked into the ground.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

GoFundMe is facing blowback for a decision that has ensnared companies way bigger in size.

Why it matters: New controversy engulfing the crowdfunding platform highlights an increasingly thorny issue for organizations in America: free speech.

Catch up quick: GoFundMe took down a campaign previously aimed at raising money for an anti-vaccination mandate protest in Canada.

  • The move quickly became politicized, and the company has come under fire from a handful of Republican lawmakers now calling for an investigation.
  • Donald Trump Jr. on Twitter also called for all Republican attorneys general to look into the decision saying the company "seems to have no problem finding BLM riots."
  • Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) sent a letter to the Federal Trade Commission on Sunday asking for an investigation into GoFundMe’s practices while accusing the platform of having a history of “penalizing and removing fundraisers for conservative causes.”
  • A GoFundMe spokesperson pointed Axios to an earlier statement describing how the "Freedom Convoy 2022" campaign violated its Terms of Service.

The big picture: Companies like Facebook and Google have long faced the brunt of criticism for how they handle speech and content on or related to their platforms.

  • Now — almost every business, including smaller tech firms, will eventually need to reckon with these types of decisions.
  • Separately, for example, the community behind a blockchain service fired its director of operations when offensive comments he made resurfaced, Coindesk reports.

State of play: Spotify CEO Daniel Ek took his most definitive stance on free speech over the weekend, telling employees Sunday that while he strongly condemns past racial slurs used by Joe Rogan, the platform won't cut ties with its most popular podcaster.

  • He told staffers that "these kinds of disputes will be inevitable" as the company chases the goal of becoming "the global audio platform."
  • Substack, the subscription newsletter company, has also come under fire for allowing newsletter writers to publish COVID-19 misinformation to consumers that pay for that content directly. A report last month found that Substack generates "at least $2.5 million per year through publishing anti-vaccine misinformation."

Flashback: Last year's Capitol siege proved a turning point for many companies trying to navigate these types of issues.

  • Dozens of companies, including financial services firms and cloud servers, banned accounts belonging to Donald Trump or accounts affiliated with pro-Trump violence and conspiracies, like QAnon and #StoptheSteal.

What to watch: The rise of alternate platforms. GiveSendGo, which calls itself a Christian crowdfunding site, has attracted groups like the Proud Boys and is now hosting the “Freedom Convoy” fundraiser.

Editor's note: This article has been updated to include Cruz's statement.

Go deeper