Tech firms enlist SPLC to fight ‘hate’
Amazon, Spotify join forces with ‘partisan leftist group’
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.