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Sam Harris is Closing His Patreon Account – Is Patreon Being Ethical?

Sam Harris is Closing His Patreon Account – Is Patreon Being Ethical?

Just as I’m ramping up my Patreon account to crowdfund Think Bigger Think Better, I learned Sam Harris is closing his Patreon account with the following note:                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              
“Dear Patreon Supporters
As many of you know, the crowdfunding site Patreon has banned several prominent content creators from its platform. While the company insists that each was in violation of its terms of service, these recent expulsions seem more readily explained by political bias. Although I don’t share the politics of the banned members, I consider it no longer tenable to expose any part of my podcast funding to the whims of Patreon’s “Trust and Safety” committee.I will be deleting my Patreon account tomorrow. If you want to continue sponsoring my work, I encourage you to open a subscription at samharris.org/subscribe.”

Sam Harris – Taking an Ethical Stand

Harris has 9000 contributors on Patreon and makes (according to one estimate) $23,000 to $65,000 an episode!

So we have to admire Harris for taking a stand for what he feels is right at financial cost to himself. 

But do I agree?

(These are my initial views I’d be interested in a challenge from people who may have thought about this a bit more.)

Why is Patreon Closing Accounts?

I looked into the matter briefly, and the people banned seemed to have alt-right and white supremacist affiliations– notably with the Proud Boys which admits only men and advocates for political violence. Not ALL the banned accounts inclined toward violence, Patreon has also ceased allowing pornographers, and one prominent leftie. 

Is that systematic? It doesn’t look it.

Here is the thing freedom of speech (which means allowing “freedom for the thought we hate” – Oliver Wendell Holmes) has always excluded incitements to violence. However, the precise political content does NOT in my opinion matter.

As a business ethicist, I’m interested in the ethical behavior of businesses like Patreon (and Harris for that matter.)

First, take my blogs, podcasts, and social media posts (For example: here are the worst ethics scandals of 2018). Am I under an obligation to allow anyone to post comments? 

No. 

I don’t ban trolls, but I do ban people who insult ad hominem friends and followers.

The alt-right’s right to speak does not require me to give them a megaphone.  I have standards. And while I’d welcome a right-wing intellectual, i.e. Bill Kristol, or pseudo-intellectual, like Jordan Peterson, I see no reason why I should give Milo Yiannapoulos a stage.

Is Patreon Acting in an Ethical Manner?

There is a question of whether Patreon is following its own rulesHas it advertised itself as a come-one, come-all crowdfunding platform?

No they do not as far as I can tell.

Is it using its Trust and Safety rules to axe people with whom it disagrees? There would have to be a systematic-looking policy, and given the mix of banned accounts, it doesn’t look systematic.

And, Jordan Peterson says some silly and heinous right-leaning things and they haven’t axed him.

This doesn’t seem (right now) like an assault on all right-wing users.

Here is a thread from a dialog with Patreon CEO Jack Conte.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         
Is it guilty of political bias? Well, political bias is not unethical. We all have it. Harris has it, I have it.I’m not ashamed to say I find center-left politics more rational and ethical.

The guests and books I endorse lean that way also. (To be honest, I’d love a right-wing intellectual on my show – I can’t right now think of one.  Rush?  Sean-baby?)

In a free-market, another crowd-funding site will pop up and (perhaps) appeal to or encourage support for the alt-right. 

And, as you will have read, Trump’s border wall experienced a surge of crowed-sourced funding. 

Conclusion

From my point of view, it is possible to admire Harris taking a strong stance, but not agree with his reasons for doing so.

In regards to my own support page, I think Think Bigger Think Better is a very valuable resource, serving followers with in-depth commentary on the most important topics of our time, with well-known world leaders. 

For me, the purpose of Think Bigger Think Better and funding it through Patreon outweighs the censorship debate. (I hate ads!) 

I will continue to monitor the situation as I build my own operation

 

Thanks for your continued support,

Paul

2 thoughts on “Sam Harris is Closing His Patreon Account – Is Patreon Being Ethical?

  1. But Sam Harris had to leave – it was predestined. He no more had control over leaving than Patreon do over banning accounts.

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