David Heinemeier Hansson

November 29, 2022

May Shopify's immunity spread to the whole herd

I've lost count of how many times various groups have tried to cancel Shopify over some store they didn't like. But I do remember the first big one. The fight over the Breitbart merchandise store. It involved mass-media attention for weeks, a Twitter hashtag, 200,000 signatures gathered, and ripples across the tech ecosystem. Yet Shopify's leadership held the line, and withstood the immense pressure to compromise its common carrier principle. That was not cheap, especially in 2017, but in the years that have followed, it has proven priceless.

Because now we're back at it again. The same trite argument of transitive guilt is leveled against the company for refusing to shutdown a store owned by Libs of TikTok, a political enemy of the agitators. The store in question sells merchandise with political slogans, none of which violate Shopify's acceptable use policy. Just like was and remains the case with the Breitbart store.

So this latest cancelation drive is following the same failed path that was first attempted five years ago. The only novel element is that there's a new buzzword available to chant along the way: Stochastic terrorism. Which is really just a fancy term for the nonsense accountability leap that "your political speech is directly responsible for violent outcomes that third parties might commit later".

It doesn't seem like this new scientific-sounding buzzword is doing much to arrest the continuing decline in effectiveness of these cancelation tactics, though. Perhaps because American society at large seems to be getting tired of the extremists. Whether they be election deniers or woke scolds.

But perhaps also because enough companies like Shopify have developed organizational antibodies to fight off new cancelation attempts cultivated in the same stale ideological petri dish.

See, Shopify didn't just "live to tell" about their original refusal to back down from their common carrier principle, they thrived! They vastly expanded their market, they grew their stock valuation manyfold, and they've had no trouble attracting new customers or talent since.

We've seen the same dynamic with other high-profile cancelation targets who've become more and more impervious to the ridiculous demands of hysterical activists. In entertainment, think of Dave Chappelle or Joe Rogan. Both have survived so many attempts that they're practically immune now.

That's the anti-fragile progression here. The more companies or individuals that survive and thrive after being chased for ideological cancelation, the stronger the overall societal immune system will be to protect future targets. And the easier it becomes for everyone else to shrug and tune out the latest attempt.

Good thing too. It would be a dystopian dark road to travel, if we were to segregate all forms of commerce along political fault lines. If we needed a Shopify for the left-wingers and a Shopify for the right-wingers. If we had to gauge all our commercial relations on whether we approved of the political convictions held by other customers of our vendors. What an exhausting selection process it would be indeed!

And I think that's why the general public have begun to just ignore this nonsense. Even people who have no sympathy for Breitbart or Libs of TikTok can recognize that Shopify is simply an awesome platform that serves stores from across the political spectrum (and, thankfully, even more outside of it!). They don't have to love or agree with all the customers on this platform. Just like they don't have to love or agree with everyone who buys the same car as them, the same phone as them, or eat at the same restaurant as them.

I also think most people have a basic appreciation that if service companies are pushed to vet all customers for political beliefs, the day may soon come where service is denied them because of their views. And where does that end?

So bravo to Shopify for holding the line for the last five years. May the immunity they've developed against the virulent obsession with denying political enemies the right to transact or transmit spread to the whole herd.

About David Heinemeier Hansson

Made Basecamp and HEY for the underdogs as co-owner and CTO of 37signals. Created Ruby on Rails. Wrote REWORK, It Doesn't Have to Be Crazy at Work, and REMOTE. Won at Le Mans as a racing driver. Fought the big tech monopolies as an antitrust advocate. Invested in Danish startups.