Over the last year there has been an alarming trend of deplatforming controversial political and social commentators. Huge personalities like Alex Jones and Milo Yiannopoulos have been banned from YouTube and Twitter. Given that there are any number of ways to stream content these days, those seemed like hurdles that could be easily overcome, particularly because their niche audience is also the type to support those personalities through donations and merchandise purchases. However, when Patreon (a subscription platform that monetarily connects providers and users) announced they would no longer allow Jones or Milo on their platform the issue went from interesting to concerning.
Popular atheist philosopher and author Sam Harris announced last September that he intended to leave the platform in protest of their censorship. Last week he finally pulled the trigger, moving his fundraising efforts to his own website.
“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.”
Podcasting superstars Dave Rubin and Jordan Peterson have also indicated they are on their way out of Patreon and may even be exploring launching their own subscription platform.
As a podcaster, writer and independent artist I was pleased to see such successful content creators using their popularity to favor free speech and equal access. It’s a frightening prospect to leave one’s livelihood (or least one’s primary source of funding) - as Harris puts it - to the whims of nameless, faceless people whose ideologies affect how they value your business. Good for them for making a stand.
However, podcaster Bridget Phetasy (who broadcasts from the same home at Ricochet as my own Smart Girl Podcast) posed a question on Twitter that I thought deserved some consideration. Should smaller content creators (like us) follow Harris and Rubin out the door even though our lower profile means we don’t have many other viable alternatives?
It’s one thing for guys like Harris to leave the platform with a major declaration. He enjoys millions of subscribers and is a global celebrity in his field. As with Rubin and Peterson, it won’t be difficult for fans to find and support them. Their losses will most likely be negligible considering the diversity of their pursuits.
For small content creators like Phetasy and myself, it is a more daunting thought. Our fan-bases are smaller and typically find our offerings through secondary sources like networks, blogs or social media sharing. We are still in the process of building followings. In the nascence of our podcasting careers we can ill afford interruptions or displacement of the content we provide. There are too many other options out there.
The flip side is that people like us are equally as vulnerable to malicious targeting from those in charge who often classify any right-of-center commentators as “hateful”. My problem has never been with how giant tech companies like Google or Twitter choose to run their business. As a conservative I do (and bloody well should) support their autonomy in the free markets. My autonomy as a customer is also vital to that relationship. I can make my own decisions based on my satisfaction with the service just as I would for any other type of service I pay for. That’s exactly the way the free market is intended to work. If you stop to consider it, this whole kerfuffle is actually a very healthy example of the free markets at work. My primary issue with it all is that I am well aware that to many - even most- liberals there is absolutely no difference to them between Milo, Alex Jones and someone like Bridget Phetasy or me. To hold any view contrary to the left-wing talking points is heresy and we are seeing the consequences for such heresy on a daily basis. It may very well just be a matter of time before such rules aren’t just applied to the “fringes” but will force themselves on all of us who choose not to toe the liberal line.
It’s a conundrum. Do we forgo our meager gains now in order to stand on principle like Harris and Peterson? Or do we stay the course and cross our fingers that none of this nonsense finds its way to us?
As always, I think the answer lies in the free markets. Phetasy and I are under no moral obligations to follow suit and leave Patreon. We have more to lose, given our status in this field at the moment. We don’t have the luxury of being backed by millions of fans (yet). We can support the sentiment behind Harris’s decision and be vocal about it, but that doesn’t mean we have to do the same thing. There is no reason why we shouldn’t just stay where we are and let the fans sort it out. If our listeners are uncomfortable with our Patreon memberships they will leave and we will be forced to address that. The free markets will help us responsibly navigate our relationships with our listeners and fans.
For all the reasons stated above, fans of conservative broadcasting should absolutely be paying attention to what’s happening on platforms like Patreon. They can adjust their preferences accordingly. But it’s important not to forget that there are many more dedicated content providers out there (like me) who don’t have the flexibility to take a stand in the way Sam Harris did. We count on your clicks and your loyalty. We are grateful for every dollar you choose to send our way in support of our work and our messages. Please don’t judge us too harshly for choosing to stay where we are. Judge us for our honesty, our passion and our support of free markets and free will.