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Cutting off white supremacists: Apple Pay, Cloudflare and PayPal join the trend

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Apple, Cloudflare and PayPal have joined the parade of companies cutting off services to white nationalists after an anti-racist counter-protester was killed and others were injured in Charlottesville, Va., last weekend.

In statements circulated among employees and published online, the companies condemned hate groups and distanced themselves from President Trump’s assertions that some “very fine people” were among the torch-carrying white supremacists in Charlottesville and that “both sides” were to blame for the violence.

The moves come as corporations scramble to erase any perception that they condone white supremacists, at least partly motivated by fear of tarnishing their brands.

“We must not witness or permit such hate and bigotry in our country, and we must be unequivocal about it,” Apple CEO Tim Cook said in a Wednesday memo to employees that was posted on BuzzFeed. “This is not about the left or the right, conservative or liberal. It is about human decency and morality. I disagree with the president and others who believe that there is a moral equivalence between white supremacists and Nazis, and those who oppose them by standing up for human rights.”

The company also disabled Apple Pay support to several websites selling apparel with white nationalist and Nazi themes.

Cloudflare — a Web security provider whose services shield sites from cyberattacks — has prided itself on its neutrality and unwavering commitment to free speech, standing firm in 2013 when it was accused of supporting terrorism because it provided services to a Chechen news site.

But events of the past week proved too much for the tech firm, and it terminated the account of neo-Nazi website the Daily Stormer. (It was the third blow for the site: GoDaddy and then Google canceled the Daily Stormer’s domain earlier in the week after the site mocked Heather Heyer, the counter-protester who was killed in Charlottesville.) Cloudflare’s CEO, Matthew Prince, said Cloudflare’s terms of service gave it the right to terminate users at its sole discretion, and “I’d had enough.”

He wrote in a blog post that the tipping point was when the Daily Stormer "made the claim that we [Cloudflare] were secretly supporters of their ideology. … We could not remain neutral after these claims of secret support."

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Prince's reasoning was personal — he said in an email to employees that the decision was his alone — but in recent days, other tech companies have booted white supremacists from their services, citing violations of their terms of use policies.

Shortly before the far-right rally in Charlottesville last weekend, Airbnb banned users who sought to book lodging on its platform so they could participate in the demonstration.

Airbnb said in a statement that if it discovered that someone was using the platform to do something "that would be antithetical to the Airbnb Community Commitment," it would "seek to take appropriate action including, as in this case, removing them from the platform."

PayPal expressed a similar sentiment Tuesday, saying in a statement that it does not allow its service to be used to accept payments or donations for "activities that promote hate, violence or racial intolerance." It explicitly named the activities of the Ku Klux Klan, white supremacist groups and neo-Nazi groups as violating its terms of service.

After the violence in Charlottesville, PayPal cut off more than three dozen hate groups, according to a CBS report.

Tech companies have the legal right to terminate user accounts if those users violate their terms of service, according to legal experts, although many companies don't often exercise those rights except in extreme circumstances because they are reluctant to police content and speech.

The events in Charlottesville, however, were a "critical demarcation," said Richard Levick, a lawyer and chief executive of communications firm Levick.

"There's no neutrality here," Levick said. "Once Airbnb makes its network available for neo-Nazis, they are now a de facto accessory for the violence in Charlottesville."

Chaos erupted in the Virginia college town Saturday when, after clashes between far-right rally-goers and counter-protesters, a man who police said had Nazi sympathies drove a car through a crowd of activists, killing 32-year-old Heyer and causing 19 others to be hospitalized. Two state troopers patrolling the skies over the mayhem died in a helicopter crash.

Trump's reaction ratcheted up the pressure on companies. It took two days before the president specifically denounced neo-Nazis and other such hate groups, and he has repeatedly faulted "both sides" for the violence.

CEOs serving on White House advisory councils also have sought to distance themselves from the Trump administration.

A wave of executives, including Merck & Co. CEO Kenneth Frazier, Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank, Intel CEO Brian Krzanich and BlackRock CEO Larry Fink, resigned from White House advisory councils this week after Trump's comments about who bore responsibility for the violence in Charlottesville. The defections — and the promise of more — led those panels to be disbanded.

"It's getting harder and harder to convince people that those who support [Trump] don't also support the bigotry, racism and violence," said Marlene Towns, a professor at Georgetown's McDonough School of Business. "It's unforgivable for a brand to still be aligned with any person that is aligned with these groups and their actions."

Twitter: @traceylien

UPDATES:

1:40 p.m.: This article was updated with additional details about Cloudflare, the Charlottesville violence and Trump's response, and with comment from Richard Levick.

This article was originally published at 11 a.m.

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