Should companies be able to chose their customers
KCL Fintech Soc - Sophie Bieber, London 08.07.19
Earlier this year the US supreme court ruled in favour of a bakery that refused to create a wedding cake for a same sex couple. This couple were allowed respite from breaking the law of refusing service based on sexual orientation under the cry that it went against their own belief system.
This became a complicated case as it was one couple’s right to practise their religion versus another’s right to service. In the online world, this can get even trickier as the laws are far less finalised on when an online company may ban a user. In UK law it is written that “it is unlawful to refuse to provide a service to a prospective client on the basis of age; disability; … religion or belief; sex or sexual orientation.” The interesting word here however is “belief” as this includes political beliefs.
It used to be that politicians would debate in Parliament and go to the pub after for a drink. Now politicians make wide and hugely critical fear mongering statements about the other side, attacking not only their views but their ethics as an individual. They build an idea of the opposing side as a genuine danger to the average person and society as a whole. This has led to demonization of certain viewpoints, meaning if a company is associated with an idea it can end their business through bad publicity alone.
In November this year, PayPal banned English Defence League founder Tommy Robinson for using the platform to collect donations to fight his legal battles. Tommy is a public speaker on the far right who has often been called an islamophobe and white supremacist. Earlier this year, he was also banned permanently from Twitter. It’s hard to feel sorry for the man increasingly losing his platforms when he has incited violence, performed Nazi salutes and supported attacks against Muslim citizens.
However, as much as Tommy Robinson may be a case where banning makes sense, in order to physically protect the countries citizens, there are cases where people are banned who were not causing harm in the same way. Meghan Murphy, another banned Twitter member, is a radical feminist, she’s been vocal in her fear that trans women’s rights may overshadow and take away the platform from cisgender women’s rights. While this is definitely controversial and overlooks many serious issues faced by trans women today. It seems a harsh punishment to have her ability to talk to the public permanently removed.
Thus, as we have yet to put in to concrete terms when an online company may deny their services, this delicate balance of free speech and defending against discrimination will continue.
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