Shopify has routinely denied calls to ban a noted right-wing anti-LGBTQ+ harassment group from using its platform to sell merchandise. Now it’s becoming clear just how deep the company has stuck its head in the sand to ignore the LGBTQ community’s pleas.
According to a report from Business Insider that cited internal emails, Shopify is doing more than ignoring pleas to kick far-right harassment group Libs of TikTok off its platform. The company has reportedly told its customer support employees “not to engage” with people demanding action or even discuss details with anyone save those running the Libs of TikTok store.
The online campaigns have called out Shopify which has its own policies against supporting hate groups. Shopify has a team that evaluates policy violations, but an anonymous company employee told Insider that since Libs of TikTok has merchandise with an “ambiguous” message, the team has not come to any agreement and the shop has remained active. The source noted that LGBTQ employees have posted their frustration to company Slack channels.
Libs of TikTok is a mainly Twitter-based disinformation and harassment account that reposts content from LGBTQ+ social media and tries to reframe the posts in a sinister context. This often comes out as a campaign against “grooming,” or the idea that those who support LGBTQ youth are trying to manipulate children into sex.
The Libs of TikTok account features shirts and mugs with the message “Stop Grooming Our Kids.” Meanwhile, the company’s acceptable use policy includes a ban on groups that uses its services “to promote or condone hate or violence against people based on race, ethnicity, color, national origin, religion, age, gender, sexual orientation, disability, medical condition, veteran status or other forms of discriminatory intolerance.”
In 2018, Shopify banned some far-right hate groups like the Proud Boys, it also “tweaked” its policies against condoning hate. The company has also claimed that it banned stores related to other far-right groups like the Three Percenters and Oathkeepers. The site banned a merch store for former President Donald Trump and a store selling “Free Kyle” Rittenhouse t-shirts, referring to the teen who had been accused of killing two people in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Rittenhouse was later found not guilty.
But scrutiny over Libs of TikTok and other anti-LGBTQ groups has deepened as conservatives continue their crusade of trans hate and anti-trans rhetoric and policies proposed by states across the U.S.
This crusade against Shopify and Libs of TikTok has come to a head after a spate of violence against gay and trans communities. The man who murdered five people and injured dozens more at the Club Q LGBTQ nightclub in Colorado Springs, Colorado is now facing hundreds of murder and attempted murder charges, as well as allegations that the shooting was motivated by bias, according to ABC News. Before the recent Colorado shooting, The Human Rights Campaign recorded 32 fatalities of transgender and gender non-conforming people in 2022, which only includes those that we know of. The use of the slur “groomer” has only increased in prominence, at one point even trending on Twitter mere days after the shooting.
So does Libs of TikTok fit the bill of “condoning hate or violence?” Well, yes. The Southern Poverty Law Center’s Hatewatch has cited the group for promoting a wave of anti-LGBTQ rhetoric leading up to the Club Q shooting. According to a report from left-leaning media watchdog group Media Matters for America, Shopify was ignoring its own policies against promoting violence all the way back in July. Another recent MMA article noted that the account has targeted teachers and hospitals with harassment campaigns and has platformed other noted far-right protest groups and online influencers.
In an email statement, a Shopify spokesperson told Gizmodo that Libs of TikTok’s account “is not currently in violation of Shopify’s Acceptable Use Policy” further arguing “We host businesses of all stripes and sizes, with various worldviews.” The company also told MMA back in July that it had conducted an “investigation” that showed the hate group was not in violation of Shopify’s AUP.
If Shopify is hung up on the idea that “groomer” is not explicitly referencing LGBTQ hate, then it’s also ignoring how dangerous events have become for gay and trans communities. In an email, Kayla Gogarty, MMA’s deputy research director, told Gizmodo:
“By allowing [Libs of TikTok] to sell merchandise with anti-LGBTQ slurs and false degrading rhetoric, Shopify is failing to enforce its own acceptable use policy, which prohibits rhetoric that promotes hate against LGBTQ people. And the company is even profiting off of [the group’s] hate.”
But it’s not just online advocates who have noticed how staunchly Shopify is standing behind the group running Libs of Tiktok. Shopify is a Canada-based company, and Ottawa city council member Ariel Troster said that the “groomer” rhetoric being sold is an obvious dog whistle used to promote hate against the LGBT community, according to CBC. Toster has also called out Shopify CEO Tobi Lütke’s on Twitter. Lütke seems to be digging his fingers deeper into his ears, as some advocates have reported that Shopify CEO Tobi Lütke’s Twitter account has blocked them.
Nandini Jammi, a co-founder of the digital adtech watchdog group CheckMyAds, has been at the forefront of the campaign against Spotify. In an email to Gizmodo, Jammi called out Lütke personally for not “operating on principles, but on personal feelings.”
“For years, Tobi has been undermining the very real safety concerns of his own employees and the processes they’ve put in place at the company,” Jammi said. “While he advocates free speech, he seems to ban accounts whenever it becomes politically inconvenient for him personally (i.e. Trump, Rittenhouse). I’m not sure how much longer he can keep this going. Tobi’s handling of this issue is going to sink morale at the company, if it hasn’t already.”
The far-right account has even caught the public limelight in right-wing circles as prominent as Fox News. Thanks to Twitter’s $8 blue checkmark experiment gone awry, the account even managed to buy itself a “verified” status last month. The account is run by former real estate salesperson, the Los Angeles-based Chaya Raichik, according to a report by Taylor Lorenz of The Washington Post. That story and its reporter caught a wave of flak and outright hate from Libs of TikTok and its supporters on the right.
Gogarty said that “Raichik... has a long history of targeting LGBTQ people and their allies, and her dangerous rhetoric on social media has led to real-world harm. Raichik has contributed to targeted harassment of LGBTQ people and even helped to drive threats against hospitals that provide lifesaving care to the trans community.”