Tech firms en­list SPLC to fight ‘hate’

Ama­zon, Spo­tify join forces with ‘par­ti­san left­ist group’

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY VA­LERIE RICHARD­SON

The South­ern Poverty Law Cen­ter has plenty of crit­ics be­moan­ing its fall from ven­er­a­ble civil rights cham­pion to left­ist fundrais­ing machine, but ap­par­ently not in the tech in­dus­try.

The Alabama-based le­gal group’s in­flu­ence has soared as the go-to con­sul­tant on “hate” for top tech firms, in­clud­ing Ama­zon, Spo­tify, Lyft and Google­owned YouTube, in the af­ter­math of the white su­prem­a­cist rally in Char­lottesville, Vir­ginia, in Au­gust.

Those al­liances have as­tounded and alarmed con­ser­va­tives, who fear that the cen­ter’s hotly con­tested “hate map” is be­ing wielded to cen­sor main­stream right-of-cen­ter groups and view­points.

Jim Camp­bell, se­nior at­tor­ney with the Al­liance De­fend­ing Free­dom, has seen it hap­pen. The con­ser­va­tive non­profit was floored after be­ing re­moved last month from Ama­zonSmile’s list of char­i­ties over its sta­tus as an “SPLC Des­ig­nated Hate Group.”

“We rely on the South­ern Poverty Law Cen­ter to de­ter­mine which char­i­ties are in cer­tain in­el­i­gi­ble cat­e­gories,” Ama­zon told the Al­liance De­fend­ing Free­dom in re­sponse to a query. “You have been ex­cluded from the Ama­zonSmile pro­gram be­cause the South­ern Poverty Law Cen­ter lists Al­liance De­fend­ing Free­dom in an in­el­i­gi­ble cat­e­gory.”

What frus­trates con­ser­va­tives is that tech com­pa­nies are ac­cept­ing such des­ig­na­tions seem­ingly with­out ques­tion even though the South­ern Poverty Law Cen­ter has long been ac­cused

of juic­ing its prodi­gious fundrais­ing through fear­mon­ger­ing.

“It’s im­por­tant to know that the SPLC is not a neu­tral watch­dog or­ga­ni­za­tion,” Mr. Camp­bell said. “It’s very clearly an openly par­ti­san left­ist group that puts a lot of peo­ple on the list that sim­ply have good-faith dis­agree­ments with the way the SPLC sees pol­icy sit­u­a­tions.”

Oth­ers are less diplo­matic. Fox News com­men­ta­tor Tucker Carl­son called the cen­ter a “thor­oughly dis­cred­ited left-wing group” after The Daily Caller re­ported in Fe­bru­ary that YouTube had part­nered with the SPLC to po­lice con­tent on its plat­form.

“To­day the cen­ter smears peo­ple that don’t de­serve to be smeared,” Fox com­men­ta­tor John Stossel said in a Jan­uary video for Rea­son. “It’s now a left-wing, money-grab­bing slan­der machine.”

After Spo­tify joined forces last week with the South­ern Poverty Law Cen­ter to tar­get “hate con­tent,” the Fam­ily Re­search Coun­cil said the mu­sic-streaming ser­vice “should be aware that they are part­ner­ing with an or­ga­ni­za­tion that was con­nected in fed­eral court to do­mes­tic ter­ror­ism.”

In 2012, Floyd Lee Corkins shot a Fam­ily Re­search Coun­cil se­cu­rity guard after see­ing the group listed as an anti-LGBT hate group on the cen­ter’s web­site.

“Spo­tify should be aware that in part­ner­ing with SPLC, it is team­ing up with a po­lit­i­cal defama­tion machine that has little re­spect for free­dom of thought and ex­pres­sion,” said re­tired Lt. Gen. Jerry Boykin, the coun­cil’s ex­ec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent.

Defenders have ac­cused con­ser­va­tives of at­tempt­ing to cover up their own “hate­ful val­ues” by at­tack­ing the cen­ter and “paint­ing them­selves as in­no­cent vic­tims and the SPLC as a boogey­man,” as ThinkProgress’ Zack Ford put it.

“The South­ern Poverty Law Cen­ter is greatly con­cerned about the spread of white su­prem­a­cist pro­pa­ganda on­line and be­lieves that tech com­pa­nies should en­force their own terms and ser­vice agree­ments,” Heidi Beirich, di­rec­tor of the South­ern Poverty Law Cen­ter’s In­tel­li­gence Project, told ThinkProgress.

The crit­i­cism doesn’t come just from the right. Jour­nal­ists have been re­port­ing for years on the South­ern Poverty Law Cen­ter’s fat en­dow­ment, high salaries and ex­ten­sive fundrais­ing op­er­a­tion, no­tably with Ken Sil­ver­stein’s ground­break­ing 2000 re­port in Harper’s on how the cen­ter “prof­its from in­tol­er­ance.”

In 2009, left-wing jour­nal­ists Jef­frey St. Clair and Alexan­der Cockburn blasted Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor Mor­ris Dees as the “arch-sales­man of hate­mon­ger­ing.”

The At­lantic slammed the cen­ter’s 2016 de­ci­sion to list Bri­tish anti-ter­ror­ism ac­tivist Maa­jid Nawaz as an “anti-Mus­lim ex­trem­ist.”

“Has a civil rights stal­wart lost its way?” Politico asked in a 2017 ar­ti­cle fea­tur­ing pho­tos of the cen­ter’s “sleek six-story head­quar­ters” in Montgomery.

None of that has hurt the cen­ter’s cred­i­bil­ity with Sil­i­con Val­ley, a re­la­tion­ship that took off after the “Unite the Right” rally in Char­lottesville, which left one dead.

Days later, Ap­ple do­nated $1 mil­lion to the cen­ter and agreed to match em­ployee do­na­tions. Other com­pa­nies cracked down on white su­prem­a­cist groups by clos­ing their ac­counts and shut­ting off their ac­cess.

In a Fe­bru­ary re­port, the South­ern Poverty Law Cen­ter said “Char­lottesville broke the dam,” fi­nally per­suad­ing tech­nol­ogy com­pa­nies to heed the calls to make their plat­forms less hos­pitable to ex­trem­ist groups.

“The post-Char­lottesville mo­ment has pro­vided good ex­am­ples of com­pa­nies tak­ing ac­tion where they’ve for­merly been re­luc­tant to do so, and they have been largely re­warded for it,” said the re­port. “They should go fur­ther.”

Crit­ics fear that the tech in­dus­try has over­com­pen­sated by em­brac­ing the SPLC and its “hate map,” which has grown in the past year from 917 to 954 or­ga­ni­za­tions rang­ing from the Ku Klux Klan to main­stream con­ser­va­tive out­fits such as the Fam­ily Re­search Coun­cil.

When the Me­dia Re­search Cen­ter’s Brent Bozell an­nounced Tues­day a coali­tion to fight threats to free speech, Con­ser­va­tives Against On­line Cen­sor­ship, he specif­i­cally named the South­ern Poverty Law Cen­ter.

“Top so­cial me­dia firms, such as Google and YouTube, have cho­sen to work with dis­hon­est groups that are ac­tively op­posed to the con­ser­va­tive move­ment, in­clud­ing the South­ern Poverty Law Cen­ter,” said Mr. Bozell.

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