Uber sent a message to drivers and company employees earlier today condemning the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia and pledging to ban white supremacists and other members of hate groups from its platform. “There is simply no place for this type of bigotry, discrimination, and hate,” Regional General Manager Meghan Verena Joyce wrote in a message that was posted publicly on Twitter by New York Times journalist Mike Isaac.
The message goes on to say that Uber will “act swiftly and decisively to uphold our Community Guidelines, including our policy against discrimination of any hate — that includes banning people from the app.” This is Uber’s first official message on the violence perpetuated by white supremacists, neo-Nazis, and other hate groups in Charlottesville. It is not, however, the company’s first instance of action against those affiliated with the “Unite the Rally” event.
Over the weekend, Uber banned notable white supremacist James Allsup after Allsup and his passenger, alt-right personality Tim “Baked Alaska” Gionet, made racist remarks while riding past the National Museum of African-American History and Culture in Washington, DC. The Uber driver, an unidentified black women, felt so uncomfortable that she asked the two to leave the car. Uber then “permanently removed” Allsup from its platform, the company confirmed in a statement obtained by BuzzFeed News.
Uber’s response is just one of many from corporations, politicians, celebrities, and business leaders in the past week that have definitively condemned the hate groups in Charlottesville following the death of counter-protestor Heather Heyer. Distancing one’s self from neo-Nazis may not seem all that bold or remarkable. Yet these statements from Uber and other tech companies — including Facebook, Twitter, Airbnb, Google and others — stand in stark contrast to the position of President Donald Trump, who failed to immediately condemn white supremacists for Saturday’s violence and who, in recent days, has tried to cast blame on “both sides” and defended protestors wishing to preserve Confederate monuments.
Moving beyond statements into actions, Uber’s decision to ban white supremacists, ostensibly based on the personal accounts of riders and drivers, marks a notable shift in how platform-owning tech companies respond to online hate, especially those who deal in real-world interactions. While many tech companies have typically taken more liberal approaches to free speech — and some continue to have inconsistent approaches — a line has now been drawn at allowing hate groups that actively seek to commit offline violence from using these platforms to organize and communicate.
Facebook said yesterday it would take a more active role in scrubbing its site of violent threats. Airbnb has used its Community Commitment, first released back in October to prevent racial discrimination, as a tool to ban white supremacists and affiliated members of the alt-right movement from seeking lodging on its platform for Charlottesville, and the company says it will continue to do so. (Airbnb says it will identify these users “through our background check processes or from input of our community.”) Web hosting providers like GoDaddy, Google, and even the free speech-friendly CloudFlare have also taken a stand against neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer, forcing it to the dark web.