In the era of digital media, the major threat to free expression comes not from predatory governments but from corporate entities that came to control the flow of communication.
The incumbent media economy, which is based on commodifying user attention and turning profits from ad targeting, has endowed a handful of profit-driven platforms with enormous power to shape the ways people interact online. It is now corporations that pass judgment on what constitutes legitimate or illegitimate speech in the new public arena.
Those who really keep the wheels of the digital economy turning – content creators, community administrators and moderators – have taken a back seat, largely unable to benefit from the value they generate. Many of them set out to explore alternative monetization models, often taking to services that enable the flow of individual subscriptions and donations from content consumers to creators.
But at some point, it became apparent that these centralized payment systems are hardly just providers of value-neutral financial infrastructure that they often claim to be. The recent exodus of prominent right-leaning public personalities from the crowdfunding platform Patreon is perhaps the most salient example.
The trouble with Patreon
Political speech and money that fuels it are closely intertwined. Previously, many high-profile figures on the political right have accused social platforms like Facebook and Twitter of stifling conservative voices by selectively implementing their anti-hate speech to block and ban users based on their politics.
Source: Market Across
Towards the end of 2018, allegations of liberal bias spilled over the narrow circle of content-hosting websites to payment systems and crowdfunding services. A wave of backlash against Patreon, a service that facilitates user payments to content creators, erupted late in 2018 as the conservative YouTuber known as Sargon of Akkad and the alt-right provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos were barred from the platform.