When you label everyone with whom you disagree as a “hater” or an “extremist,” you can come to some pretty nonsensical conclusions.
This is exactly what the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) does. They have labeled a Muslim man and his anti-extremism group as “anti-Muslim extremists,” a woman who works against extremism in Islam as an “extremist,” and even placed Ben Carson on the “Extremist Watch List.”
And the SPLC has labeled Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), a Christian law firm dedicated to protecting the First Amendment, as a “hate” group.
What is worse than these unfair labels is that tech companies, like Amazon, are taking them seriously.
This past May, Amazon booted ADF from its AmazonSmile program, which allows users to donate a certain percentage of their purchases to charities of their choice. The disturbing reason for this decision is that Amazon was using the SPLC’s labels to determine which organizations qualified for the program.
This is part of a disturbing trend coming from Silicon Valley. Companies like Facebook, Twitter, and Amazon claim to be neutral platforms or services but are increasingly silencing conservative viewpoints.
On September 27, ADF Vice President of US Advocacy and Senior Counsel Jeremy Tedesco testified in front of the United States House of Representatives Judiciary Committee on the trend of tech companies treating conservative groups differently.
“Silicon Valley’s digital gatekeepers have frequently represented their platforms as committed to free expression and creating an open marketplace of ideas,” said Tedesco.
However, these businesses frequently violate their promise to treat all views the same way.
“Their recent push to restrict what they call ‘hate speech’ exacerbates this threat [to conservative speech],” continued Tedesco, “because, invariably, Silicon Valley and others apply the hate speech label to traditional, widely-held views they disagree with on a range of important topics like immigration, abortion, marriage, and sexuality.”
The SPLC labeled ADF as a “hate group” simply because of our views on marriage and sexuality, and our commitment to protecting religious liberty and the freedom of speech. Because Amazon took this ridiculous and unfair label seriously, our Ministry Friends are no longer able to contribute to ADF through AmazonSmile.
The SPLC has been discredited by several journalists and charity watchdogs, and yet tech corporations continue to rely on their “hate group” list. Attorney General Jeff Sessions recently ordered a review of the Department of Justice to make sure that they do not rely on the SPLC.
ADF President, CEO, and General Counsel Michael Farris wrote a letter to Amazon, requesting the “opportunity to meet with Amazon officials to discuss our organization and explain why we should not be excluded from the AmazonSmile program.” Amazon did end up meeting with ADF, and we are hopeful that Amazon will reinstate ADF to the AmazonSmile program and adopt a policy that does not exclude religious and conservative nonprofits.
ADF and other organizations illegitimately labeled by the SPLC simply want and deserve to be a part of the conversation. When the SPLC unfairly labels groups, and when companies like Amazon listen to them, they hurt not only that particular group but they pollute the respectful environment we need in order to give all ideas a fair hearing.
AmazonSmile using a discredited organization to help vet their charities is disturbing enough. But, as Tedesco noted in his testimony, it is only the beginning of tech companies meddling with conservative viewpoints and organizations.“This is only the tip of the iceberg on how these [tech] companies can impact the marketplace,” he said. “The power they wield over free expression and information access is deeply troubling and has real-world consequences for those caught in the crosshairs.”