No Neutral Platforms: The Giving and Blocking of Activist Money Flows

August 21, 2017; Fast Company and Fortune

After the recent events in Charlottesville, last week, Color of Change, an online civil rights group, launched Blood Money, a website targeting major credit card companies that process funds for “white power hate groups.” This week, JPMorgan Chase announced a million-dollar donation to be split between the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). The giving and the blocking of money has become a modern-day vehicle for activism, and it is now being leveraged in the U.S. fight for the public square.

Ben Painter, writing for Fast Company, called Silicon Valley’s argument for neutral platforms that absolve companies like Facebook and Twitter of responsibility for the opinions they allow to spread “an increasingly dubious stance.” Color of Change would agree. Executive Director Rashad Robinson noted that events like Charlottesville allow white power hate groups to spread their agenda, terrorize those who oppose it, and encourage donations, “often through the semi-anonymous process of online donations.” They also make money for the four major card companies—MasterCard, Visa, Discover, and American Express—and payment platforms like PayPal and ApplePay, which take about 1.4 to 3.5 percent per transaction. A recent Color of Change audit revealed that in 2014 and 2015, before Trump, “the top 20 widely recognized hate groups received over $20 million in contributions, sales, and grants.”

PayPal and ApplePay have already suspended services to white hate groups. By the end of last week, Discover, MasterCard, Visa, and American Express reported that they were taking similar action. Payment processors have already set a precedent for cutting off money flows to “nefarious organizations” like international terrorist organizations.

Robinson said,

The major credit card companies that continue to allow this to happen are not bystanders, they are complicit. They are involved and they will be held responsible…Credit card companies have the power to cut off institutions that they view in violation of their terms, services, and values…the challenge has been for them to treat white terrorist organizations at terrorist organizations.

In addition to the million-dollar donation, JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon wrote, in a statement to employees, “There is no room for equivocation here: the evil on display by these perpetrators of hate should be condemned and has no place in a country that draws strength from our diversity and humanity.” JPMorgan will also contribute up to one million more through employee donation matches and $50,000 to the Charlottesville Area Community Foundation.

SPLC President Richard Cohen wrote, in a statement emailed to CNBC, “Now more than ever, America’s leading institutions must speak out against white supremacism. While we appreciate JPMorgan Chase’s contribution, we are even more grateful for its strong public position against hate and bigotry.”

But how much is enough? While a million is nothing to sneeze at, it’s a microscopic portion of JPMorgan Chase’s money. It is, after all, the biggest U.S. bank. While this is a good start, it’s certainly not reparations. What more should companies be doing in their move away from neutral platforms?—Cyndi Suarez