An Update to Patreon’s Policies on QAnon

Hey friends,

Today, Patreon is taking steps to address the QAnon conspiracy theory. We have updated our Disinformation policy to address accounts repeatedly propagating QAnon disinformation. You can read more about why we are taking this action, and what this means for creators moving forward in our newest blog post.

We want to be available to answer any questions or confusion regarding this update. Our Policy team will be available here on Monday 10/26 to field any questions or concerns you have regarding your Patreon page. We encourage you to read the blog post just in case any of your concerns are addressed therein.

Please thread any questions below so our Policy teammates can provide clarity on Monday, 10/26/20.

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Each time a similar content-based ban is handed down, it makes me wonder what’s next in terms of subjective banning. It’s really only a matter of time with slippery-slope subjective bans such as this until it turns into supression of dissent.

Don’t get me wrong - I believe QAnon are idiots, but they have the right to be idiots. And I agree that Patreon have the right to ban them. The problem is, that each ban brings us one step closer to complete suppression of all dissent.

I’m a free-speech maximalist, and I believe the answer to bad speech is good speech. And as an author, I want to be free to write freely, not worry about the heavy hand of the censor.

One man’s disinformation is another man’s truth.

Today it’s QAnon. Where does it end? Can Patreon articulate a clear, objective standard for all to see?

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I think it’s reasonable to want one clear, consistent standard for everything, but these are human problems that require human judgement. The implementation of any policy document will ultimately come down to people deciding. Otherwise you might as well toss it into a web of complex if/then statements and call it AI like social media platforms do. That seems to lead to even worse outcomes with people being banned or restricted randomly with no recourse or explanation.

A clear, objective standard is impossible because these are not clear, objective problems.

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If a clear, objective standard is not possible, then ANY post of ANY kind could be banned for any reason, with no recourse, destroying an individual’s livelihood.

The entire point of ‘Free Speech’ or ‘Free Expression’ is the free exchange of ideas - not ‘good’ ideas or ‘approved’ ideas, but ideas. Once you start down the slippery slope of suppression of ideas based on the subjective opinion of their value, there is no longer a free exchange of ideas, and that is the road to repression and despotism.

History is replete with examples of attempts to ban or suppress unpopular ideas (Heather Has Two Mommies, anyone?). Here’s the American Library Association’s list of the 100 most often banned or challenged books:

Top 100 Most Banned and Challenged Books: 2010-2019

Remember the most salient point - if you want to be able to express yourself freely, you must defend the right of others to do so as well.

Either we need an articulable, objective standard, or we are all at risk.

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Then propose one. People have been working on this problem for as long as there are communities and all solutions proposed so far either leave a lot of people shut out to maintain a negative peace or lead to a situation where only the people too horrible for the bigger places want to be there with a few very principled people like you.

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There is a simple solution - don’t interact with those accounts. You won’t even see them if you don’t.

It’s similar to how I advise people to deal with TV, movies, books, art, theater, music, or any other thing they don’t like - don’t watch, listen, read, or attend. You are in complete control of what you watch, subscribe to, buy, or attend.

Your argument is, in effect, that dissent and counterculture can (and should) be banned because they upset people. That’s a VERY dangerous road to go down, and is worse than the problem it purports to solve.

Given all of us have the power to ban any patrons we wish, and the complete power not to support any creator, or even see their content, the notion that we should ban them because we don’t like them is one of the more frightening things I can imagine.

That’s how we get to book burning, burning of witches, and the use of psychiatric hospitals to silence dissent.

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Hi, Michael. Thanks for sharing your concern. Our small Policy team agonizes over this and other difficult topics every day.

We see the line for free speech on Patreon as being very similar to the one drawn in the real world. We think dissent, alternative narratives, and honest, open dialogue are integral to discourse, and to a free and open society. That being said, we place the same guardrails around freedom of speech that the US and many other open societies do. In particular we believe that freedom of speech does not include the right to incite actions that would endanger others.

In the case of the QAnon conspiracy theory, there have been numerous recorded instances of real world violence, doxings, and other harms against others being committed in the name of the QAnon conspiracy theory. Additionally, in the U.S., the FBI has identified QAnon as a part of a group of “conspiracy theory-driven domestic extremists”. Given this threat, the increased amount of activity QAnon disinformation on other online platforms, and the realization that there was a small group of QAnon-dedicated creators receiving funding through Patreon, we decided to take action.

We will continue to support creators and their works of all kinds, fictitious or otherwise. Nevertheless, when these works move from simply being controversial online speech to reckless speech inciting violence in the real world, we’ll assess and determine whether Patreon can continue to be a party to that content’s proliferation.

We will never take these policy decisions lightly and, absent threats of actual harm to individuals or groups, will take great care to not restrict the types and varieties of speech that creators can fund through Patreon. We share the concerns you’re raising about platforms overstepping their role and our goal is to never do that here.

Michael_Loucks said:

There is a simple solution - don’t interact with those accounts. You won’t even see them if you don’t.

Actually, that’s not a bad idea. How about a simple patron-determined filter system to make it more plausible? If someone has conspiracy theories they have to share,. they can tag their page and anyone who doesn’t want to read it can set a filter to automatically drop them from their own sight.

The filter would also work on NSFW, or any other category the patrons can dream up. You’re on a diet and don’t want to see food related accounts? Filter (NOT block) accounts advertising that is what they are and call it done. Don’t like furries? Furry creators can self-identify then the patrons can would set their filters to not to see that. Same would go for any other fandom or entertainment genre.

Just a thought off the top of my head. Throw it on the list of nice things Patreon could have added (from the looks of things in this community that list would be at least half a mile long by now).

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Which leads directly to my concern about witch burnings and psychiatric hospitals for those who dissent. Perhaps the FBI is trustworthy on this matter, but perhaps not. Would a similar designation of a group by, say Pakistan, Thailand, or Iran carry similar weight? In other words, as I’ve used in my tagline for decades: «Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?».

While it is likely the case that the FBI’s comments here are apolitical, one only need to look at their treatment of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to see just how badly it can go. We may trust the FBI or MI5, but what about the CIA, FSB, IRGC, etc?

Obviously, Patreon is free to ban whomever they like, but right now you’ve said, in effect “we’ll know it when we see it” which if of little comfort to creators who might elect to explore counter-cultural or even antisocial art and literature.

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Hey again, Michael:

We are constantly assessing ways to improve and refine discovery features on the platform in order to ensure patrons are able to discover creators whose content meet their interests, while limiting interactions with content that they are not interested in.

That being said, for Patreon and other platforms that process payments, the solution that you’re suggesting would not go far enough. By being a financial conduit for supporting creators, these platforms must ensure they are not financially funding and supporting illegal, dangerous, or harmful activity. This is necessary in order to remain in compliance with our payment processing partners, and more broadly speaking with the law. After reviewing the QAnon-dedicated creator accounts on Patreon, we determined that a small portion of creators were engaged in spreading the conspiracy theory in a manner that promoted illegal, dangerous, and harmful activity.

Even after making this determination, we thought it was of the utmost importance to allow for journalism, analysis, debunking, and other works around QAnon to remain allowed on the platform, as long as they were not dedicated to promoting the most dangerous parts of the conspiracy.

Illegal might seem straightforward, but illegal based on which country’s laws? Could, for example, a Patreon account post images of Muhammed? Insult the King of Thailand?

Dangerous to whom? And in whose opinion?

Harmful to whom? And is ‘harm’ limited to physical harm? Or is being ‘hurt’ emotionally or spiritually enough?

And if payment processors are the final arbiters, will Patreon actively defend creators and push back on such demands?

I’m not trying to be difficult, only to show the problems with these kinds of potential bans and how they interfere with creator creativity and freedom of expression.

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Thank you!

If you haven’t already read it, Kindly Inquisitors is an excellent book. I think you would enjoy it… in a preaching-to-oneself sort of way.

That sounds like a reasonable and honest explanation. It’s also an explanation that everyone here can understand, even if they don’t like it. Regulatory compliance is not optional.

Why didn’t you just say that in the first place?

Patreon wrote a full length blog post purporting to explain the reasoning for the QAnon move. It says nothing about compliance. Anywhere.

Moreover, the blog post section supposedly answering “Why are we doing this?” doesn’t even answer the question at all. Its answer is essentially “because we discovered that some QAnon people were here.”

Okay. And?

Lots of people are here…

I often get the impression that Patreon’s disconnect with its customers is rooted in Patreon trying to be something it is not. Patreon began as a marginally-glorified payment processor. Fans give us money, we do the things the fans like, rinse, repeat. As a payment processor, you have huge compliance obligations. You did this because the rules you have to follow requires it. No big deal. Understandable.

But Patreon is trying on these other ill-fitting costumes. And in the course of doing so Patreon is creating expectations it can’t fulfill. The ultimate consequence is an erosion of trust.

There are multiple robust forum threads on this site, where creators have shared their biggest pain points and most desired features. There is a surprising amount of agreement between them, which supports the notion that there are core problems to be addressed and not just tweaks to be added on. Yet a review of those threads, as well as a review of my own years-old messages with support (where I made similar constructive suggestions that I was told would be ‘passed along to the product team’) send a clear message that nothing is going to change.

I can handle that. But it’s much harder to handle it when we are told that you are working on it, instead of being told “we have other priorities [because we are trying to be a good payment processor, not another Wordpress].”

Expectations management and transparency go hand in hand, and they go a long way.

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@Michael_Loucks You say “That’s a VERY dangerous road to go down”, but then the worst of the dangers you cite are “book burning, burning of witches, and the use of psychiatric hospitals to silence dissent.”

Those are serious things of course, and we should be concerned about them.

But the kinds of conspiracy theories QAnon promulgates have, historically, lead to genocide.

You can say that the Tutsi should just have not listened to the rantings on Radio Télévision Libre des Mille Collines if it offended them. Unfortunately their neighbors listened to it and slaughtered them with machetes. Over half a million people were killed, laboriously and by hand.

This is but one of the most notorious recent examples of how conspiracy theories have lead to genocide. More recently, Facebook has been the medium for similar rantings that lead to the the “ethnic cleansing” of many villiages of the Myanmar Rohingya, and a half a million have fled to refugee camps.

Examples stretch back into history and around the globe, and they range from small outrages to the mass murders of whole populations. The Parisians’ suspicions that the Hugenots would retaliate for an assassination attempt against them leading to the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre in 1572. Anti-Catholic conspiracy theory rumors culminating in a Protestant mob burning down a convent in Boston in 1834.

I’m sure you know of others.

The QAnon garbage has already lead to one person showing up with a gun at a completely innocent business, hell bent on rescuing fictional abused children.

In the US, we have had a vast problem with vigilante justice prompted by the barest rumors of wrong-doing. Between 1882 and 1968 some four thousand Americans were murdered by frenzied mobs. In 1919, a wave of violent mobs swept through over 50 American cities.

QAnon is throwing matches into a powder keg.

The concerns you cite are legitimate concerns, but are utterly, awesomely over-shadowed by the consequences of allowing unfettered proliferation of “conspiracy theories” that are basically slanders of part of the population.

You clearly have no idea of what is actually at stake here. You are advocating a course of action – or inaction – that leads to murder, and to mass murder on an unimaginable scale.

P.S. as something of a specialist in the history of “the use of psychiatric hospitals to silence dissent”, we didn’t get there through any sort of censorship, but that’s a history lesson for another day.

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The problem is, as always, that your argument can be applied to just about any group where an individual (or a few individuals) become extremists. By your logic, we could ban Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Unions, etc, etc.

And as a degreed historian, I made the claim about the use of psychiatric hospitals against dissenters because that is the road we are traveling - suppression of dissent and that was a tool used by the regime we appear hell-bent on emulating.

As for the consequences being overshadowed, that’s true only if you believe freedom of expression has no intrinsic value. It does, and it’s enshrined in the Constitution’s First Amendment for a reason. Sadly, nobody believes ‘make no law’ actually means ‘make no law’. See also the Ninth and Tenth Amendments, which are about liberty. Carelessly tossing them away in a vain attempt to gain safety is a losing cause, every time.

And while the context of the original quote was something quite different, the following is true in our current context:

Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.

And as a follow-up, please explain how your theory does not lead to banning the Bible, the Holy Qur’an, and the Communist Manifesto. Individuals and groups have used those to defend violent acts, and continue to do so.

“The problem is, as always, that your argument can be applied to just about any group where an individual (or a few individuals) become extremists. By your logic, we could ban Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Unions, etc, etc.”

Clearly it cannot, as my argument does not pertain to groups but to individuals engaging in specific behaviors.

“And as a degreed historian”. Oh? Which area of history?

“I made the claim about the use of psychiatric hospitals against dissenters because that is the road we are traveling - suppression of dissent and that was a tool used by the regime we appear hell-bent on emulating.”

That’s a slippery-slope argument, and a logical fallacy on the face of it. More subtly you made a causality error, claiming that “the use of psychiatric hospitals against dissenters” is an effect of censorship, which it is, to the best of my knowledge, at most of co-effect with it of tyranny.

Tyranny is something states do. We’re discussing Patreon, which is not a state.

“As for the consequences being overshadowed, that’s true only if you believe freedom of expression has no intrinsic value.”

That is the logical fallacy of the Excluded Middle. One need not believe freedom of expression has “no intrinsic value” to believe however great its value, that doesn’t exceed the value of millions of lives or the value of living in a society in which there is not a genocide.

“Sadly, nobody believes ‘make no law’ actually means ‘make no law’.”

Perhaps the prevalence you find of a lack of support for your extremism on free speech should give you pause.

“Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

That’s the Naturalistic Fallacy, using a deservingness (“should”) argument in the place of an argument of substance (“is”).

“And as a follow-up, please explain how your theory does not lead to banning the Bible, the Holy Qur’an, and the Communist Manifesto. Individuals and groups have used those to defend violent acts, and continue to do so.”

Is this really the best you can do? You really don’t seem to understand the basis of your own position, and have a garbled notion of the historical precedents and philosophical premises that argue for “free speech”. The Founding Fathers did not include the first amendment, well, initially at all, hence “amendment”, but more to the point, they did not include it because they believed “freedom of expression” had infinite value. If they had, we wouldn’t have promptly wound up with the execrable Alien and Sedition Acts of 1789.

In any event, to address your point, we weren’t discussing the banning of books by the state. We’re discussing the refusal of service of payment processing by a privately held business.

And given that (lamentably in my opinion) our SCOTUS has decided that money is speech and corporations have rights, it would seem that Patreon deciding they don’t want to use their money/speech to promote QAnon means that Patreon’s side is actually the maximally free-speech side.

I’m going to simplify and address two points because the answer to the second one is the one that really matters

First:

A product of the tyranny of Adams and the Federalists, and rejected by the public when they turned the Federalists out of office and elected Thomas Jefferson. Those acts were understood by the public as incompatible with the Constitution and the ethos of America.

Second:

You avoided the question - if the actions of individuals can lead to the banning of groups or ideologies to ‘prevent genocide’, how can you distinguish between QAnon and ‘Caedite eos. Novit enim Dominus qui sunt eius’?

I absolutely agree with you. The problem with judging what is illegal or “conspiracy” is based on what? I’m not a Q person, nor do I agree with them on many things, but their access to speech and my access to speech are similar in that once one is limited, how long before mine is? Is it based only on the leftwing media’s POV? How soon until all of Conservative producers are gone?

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