A San Francisco–based crowdfunding startup has removed Tommy Robinson from its platform, citing the far-right activist’s drive to collect money on behalf of a schoolboy accused of assaulting a 15-year-old Syrian refugee.
Donorbox allows people to collect recurring donations from supporters through a website, or via a plug-in on other webpages. According to the company’s terms and conditions, accounts would be removed if they, promoted “hate, violence, harassment, discrimination, terrorism, or intolerance of any kind, including by race, ethnicity, national origin, religious affiliation, sexual orientation, sex, gender or gender identity, or serious disabilities or diseases.”
Until Thursday night, Robinson — whose real name is Stephen Yaxley-Lennon and who has become a lightning rod in the UK for so-called anti-Muslim activism — collected money from his fans using a Donorbox account linked to his TR Online website.
Responding to a series of questions from BuzzFeed News over email about the company’s terms and conditions, a Donorbox spokesperson said Robinson was told to remove the service from his site after the company became aware he was raising money for a 16-year-old accused of assaulting a 15-year-old Syrian schoolboy.
“We had Tommy Robinson stop using Donorbox when we discovered he was fundraising for a bully in the UK,” the spokesperson said. Hours later, the page was completely removed.
Robinson began supporting the 16-year-old boy after a video surfaced allegedly showing him attacking the Syrian pupil. The video went viral in late November, with efforts to fundraise for the Syrian refugee raising more than £150,000.
Instead, Robinson interviewed the 16-year-old about his version of events and began a fundraising drive on his behalf. He told his supporters in a video posted to Facebook on Thursday night that he had been able to raise £26,000 for the accused.
Nick Ryan, from the social media advocacy group Hope Not Hate, said the decision could put the focus in the UK back on the payment platforms which host far-right figures.
“For too long far-right agitators and hatemongers have profited handsomely from hate,” Ryan told BuzzFeed News. “Those like Stephen Lennon rely on a constant stream of bile to stir up anger, which, thanks to willing enablers from social media and payment platforms, translates quickly into hard cash.
“Never has hatred paid so well — and it’s high time this stops.”
As well as removing Robinson from the platform, Donorbox said the company would also investigate the crowdfunding account of the pro-Robinson news website called Politicalite.
The hyperpartisan website primarily posts news and updates about UKIP and Robinson, and the 25-year-old owner collects money from readers using a Donorbox plugin at the bottom of every article.
Its most viral article this year was a piece about child grooming gangs, which was 90% plagiarised from an acclaimed Sunday Mirror investigation.
“Because Donorbox is not a social network, we will not de-platform conservative organizations without a full, impartial investigation,” the spokesperson said.
Hours later, in an unexplained move, Donorbox then scrubbed the section relating to the promotion of “hate, violence, harassment, discrimination, terrorism, or intolerance” from its terms and conditions page.
Donorbox has been asked about the removal of the text. Robinson and Politicalite have also been approached for comment.
Mark Di Stefano is a media and politics correspondent for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
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