By Jeffrey Dastin, Sheila Dang and Anna Irrera
(Reuters) – As of last year, entrepreneur Dustin Krieger has faced bans on a growing list of major tech companies: four suspended PayPal accounts, half a dozen Twitter deactivations, Shopify-listed merchandise, and most recently the removal of his widely-reviewed book by Amazon’s promotion QAnon conspiracy theory.
But he doesn’t give up.
“We will maintain our own presence wherever we are allowed,” Krieger, president of a Wyoming-registered company, told Reuters.
Tech companies like Amazon.com Inc (NASDAQ:AMZN), eBay Inc (NASDAQ:EBAY), and PayPal Holdings Inc. (NASDAQ:PYPL), which have cracked down on extremist corporations in recent years, fell heavily following the deadly siege of the U.S. Capitol by supporters of former President Donald Trump on January 6th.
However, traders like Krieger show how efforts to “de-platform” vendors while lowering their revenues have resulted in an exchange of blows when individuals create new accounts or switch to other websites, sometimes using cryptocurrency.
Krieger estimates he lost between $ 1 million and $ 2 million in sales to what he said was directed by a “rabid left-wing cancel culture mob,” but he believes he may recover. “The advantage of my business model is that there are lots of legs, lots of patriots support each other and patriots shop with our sponsors,” he said via email. Krieger is on social media with “Dustin Nemos”.
Starting Sunday, Krieger’s websites were offering $ 19.99 sleep aids for “Sleepy Joe,” derisively related to President Joe Biden, and a $ 15.45-per-month subscription to ground coffee, the Named for the so-called “Great Awakening,” which is linked to the QAnon theory, and claims that Trump was secretly fighting a cabal of child predators, including Hollywood characters and prominent Democrats. Visitors can read some articles about Visa (NYSE:V.) Inc-own Authorize.net using major credit card networks.
A Visa spokesman said, “We are vigilant in our efforts to prevent illegal activity on our network and we urge our affiliated banks to review their merchants’ compliance with our standards.”
While it is difficult to gauge how much far right and marginal causes in the United States are making, experts who study extremist groups say it can turn into big business.
After the Capitol uprising, Stripe suspended payment processing for Trump’s campaign website. Reuters found that Trump merchandise sales on top e-commerce platforms and on the president’s campaign website, as well as fundraisers from supporters to maintain billboards and fly air banners over cities, drove around $ 30 million last year, according to Web Analytics. Dollar brought in the company SimilarWeb and studies by several researchers.
In the past year, marginalized groups in particular generated at least $ 2 million, according to research and an estimate of e-commerce sales. That included over $ 150,000 raised by an author named Neon Revolt to fund a QAnon book on crowdfunding. Also included were Bitcoin payments of $ 559,000 to individuals or organizations promoting far-right views. This comes from data from Elliptic, a blockchain analytics company. Bitcoin According to Elliptic, payments have already reached $ 17,400 in 2021.
Amazon confirmed the removal of the QAnon products and declined further comments. EBay and PayPal also said they are cracking down on merchants who promote violence according to company policies.
The “de-platforming” after the Capitol raid and the move to less popular payment methods like Bitcoin will seriously hinder fundraising, said Imran Ahmed, executive director of the nonprofit Center to Combat Digital Hate.
Since Amazon recently removed 32 items sold by Florida-based MericaWear, its owner Andrew Arnold has been considering going out of business. A black t-shirt promoting the QAnon conspiracy is a bestseller, and Shopify is also demanding that QAnon merchandise be removed from the MericaWear website, he said.
“The unfair direction of MericaWear has proven to be an economic misfortune,” Arnold told Reuters in written statements and estimated the losses at 10,000 US dollars.
As of Sunday, Reuters’ website was able to prepare orders for Trump hoodies for USD 17.76 each. The award reflected the year the United States was founded.
Others survived by looking for new “untapped” platforms like niche crowdfunding sites before potential bans by mainstream services and payment processors were possible, said Mark Pitcavage, an Anti-Defamation League expert who studies right-wing extremism .
Though less common, Pitcavage said some groups require membership fees to maintain constant revenue, such as the Oath Keepers militia movement. Several of its members were charged with criminal charges following the siege of the Capitol.
Even when far-right personalities are booted from tech platforms, some have turned to alternative tech companies to circumvent bans, said Megan Squire, a professor at Elon University who studies online extremism.
For example, Nicholas Fuentes, a commentator who has voiced anti-Semitic views and puts on a show every week, has used third-party websites including Microsoft Corp. (NASDAQ:MSFT) ‘s Github will resume live streaming on various YouTube channels for the past few days, despite the fact that the Alphabet (NASDAQ:TogetL) Inc streaming service in February, Squire said.
Entropy software, which bills itself as “creative streaming solutions in the age of mass censorship,” allows Fuentes and other content creators who couldn’t make money on YouTube to continue receiving donations from their videos, Squire said. Entropy’s website processes transactions and cuts money less than it does on YouTube. However, it is unclear how much creators earn.
When asked about Fuentes’ use of Github, the software development platform said in a statement, “We have banned user accounts … these replicated activities that have been removed from other platforms to incite violence.”
Fuentes did not respond to requests for comment through its website, which also marketed America First merchandise. YouTube said it closed multiple accounts to stream Fuentes’ content, while representatives from Entropy failed to respond to a request for comment.
Squire said she’s been watching Fuentes on YouTube every night for the past week, and YouTube shut down channels after reporting them.
“The punch-versus-mole game continues,” she said.