The most valuable company in the world is taking a stand against websites selling apparel and paraphernalia from white nationalists and hate groups.
On Wednesday, Apple confirmed to BuzzFeed News that it had disabled Apple Pay support for a handful of websites that sold sweaters with Nazi logos, T-shirts emblazoned with the phrase “White Pride,” and a bumper sticker showing a car plowing into stick figure demonstrators. Following Saturday’s Charlottesville demonstrations, where one woman was killed by a car driven by a white nationalist, the iPhone-maker blocked three white nationalist sites from using Apple Pay.
Apple was unable to provide comment for this story at the time of publication; A spokesperson referred BuzzFeed News to the company’s guidelines for Apple Pay, which forbid the service’s incorporation into sites promoting hate, intolerance, and violence. Apple CEO Tim Cook sent an email to employees Wednesday night announcing donations to the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League, saying that he disagreed with the president drawing a moral equivalence between Nazis and white nationalists and those who opposed them.
Apple’s move to distance itself from these sites comes as a number of technology companies have faced intense scrutiny for enabling the websites or social media accounts of white nationalist and white supremacist organizations. On Monday, both GoDaddy and Google removed the registration capabilities of The Daily Stormer, a white supremacist blog, in response to its posts about the events in Charlottesville.
“We’ve seen the terror of white supremacy & racist violence before,” Apple CEO Tim Cook wrote on Twitter on Monday. “It's a moral issue - an affront to America. We must all stand against it.”
Uber, Facebook, Twitter, MailChimp, and WordPress have all taken varying levels of action against white supremacists on their platforms in the wake of Charlottesville. Airbnb banned people tied to white supremacist groups who attempted to use its site to book lodging for the rally last week. Intel's CEO and other leaders resigned from President Donald Trump's manufacturing council over what they saw as Trump’s inadequate condemnation of the violence and rhetoric from racist groups over the weekend. On Wednesday, Trump disbanded two major business councils following a cascade of member resignations.
Apple removed Apple Pay capabilities from little-known sites, including americanvikings.com and vinlandclothing.com, the latter of which sells apparel with Nazi logos. Apple Pay’s “acceptable use guidelines” state that users may not incorporate its payment service into a site that “promotes hate, violence, or intolerance based on race, age, gender, gender identity, ethnicity, religion, or sexual orientation.”
Heidi Beirich, leader of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Project, praised Apple’s actions, and likened the move to one in 2014 when the company removed songs from iTunes that the SPLC had characterized as “hate music.”
“Tim Cook has been the leader in the fight against hate on tech platforms,” she said. “It would be a much better country if people had followed his lead on this front."
Both vinlandclothing.com and americanvikings.com were hosted by GoDaddy, which provides users several options, including PayPal and Stripe, to process online payments. A spokesperson for Stripe declined to comment. GoDaddy said it was looking into the issue as well but has not commented beyond that.
A third site on which Apple disabled payments had gone offline before publication time. Shopify, which hosted the site, Behold Barbarity, did not return a request for comment.
Brien James, the owner of americanvikings.com, said he identifies as “a civic nationalist” and “pro-white” and told BuzzFeed News he was unaware his business had even accepted Apple Pay. His six-year-old site currently sells white pride T-shirts, as well as a bumper sticker that shows a car plowing into protesters that reads, “No one cares about your protest.” James called the site a hobby, and did not seem too worried about losing payments capabilities or the possibility of being taken offline.
“I don’t know the legalities of free speech on a website or if you own a hosting company… but if you run a business you have a right to decide who or not you do business with,” James said. “If they don’t like me, they don’t have to do business with me.”
James said Facebook had removed his “American Viking Political” page earlier on Wednesday. His site still currently accepts PayPal. A PayPal spokesperson said the has banned Vinland Clothing and Behold Barbarity and confirmed that American Vikings can still accept payment via PayPal.
PayPal wrote in a blog post yesterday, “Intolerance can take on a range of on-line and off-line forms, across a wide array of content and language. It is with this backdrop that PayPal strives to navigate the balance between freedom of expression and open dialogue — and the limiting and closing of sites that accept payments or raise funds to promote hate, violence and intolerance.”
The SPLC’s Beirich had less flattering things to say about PayPal, though she did laud their actions: “PayPal has been the banking system for white nationalism, but this action is a great change in direction for them. We’ve been in correspondence with them about this for two years, and at times didn’t feel like they were taking it seriously. We’re very pleased that PayPal is going to enforce its terms of service aggressively.”
Apple and PayPal’s actions will likely exert pressure on credit card companies to act against white supremacists. Color of Change, a nonprofit advocating for racial justice, has started a campaign called Blood Money listing known hate groups that use major credit cards, employ payment processing services or sell items on Amazon.com. Blood Money was among the first to point out the three sites that Apple later banned from using Apple Pay.
PayPal told BuzzFeed News it had been working with Color of Change “for some time” on reviewing the sites listed for violations of the company’s Acceptable Use Policy. It has removed 34 of the sites on the list but said that “the process can take some time. It’s very thorough.”
After cutting service from larger, more well-known hate group sites — PayPal banned the Daily Stormer back in 2014, for example — payment processors are now scrambling to deal with many smaller ones that litter the web as they face increasing scrutiny over allowing hate groups to use their technology.
PayPal has banned some associated with the alt-right in the past six months, but the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) alleged that PayPal had allowed eight white nationalists, including Unite the Right Organizer Jason Kessler and noted alt-right white nationalist Richard Spencer, to use its technology to raise funds for the Unite The Right rally. PayPal told BuzzFeed News that the company had already banned or hobbled some of the eight accounts in the SPLC’s blog post prior to Unite the Right and that it canceled almost all of the rest after the SPLC’s blog post.
Discover said in a statement to BuzzFeed News, “In light of recent events, we are terminating merchant agreements with hate groups, given the violence incited by their extremist views.”
The credit card company declined to specify which groups.
Ryan Mac is a senior technology reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in San Francisco. He reports on the intersection of money, technology and power.
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Blake Montgomery is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in San Francisco.
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