These companies have largely been built with scale and ease of access in mind, with scant oversight of what vendors were actually selling. But questions about the businesses have emerged as many rioters donned what amounted to a type of uniform that could be purchased online. This included shirts with certain phrases or illustrations printed on them, and flags that not only supported President Trump, but promoted a civil war, conspiracy theories and debunked election claims. One shirt infamously worn by one of the rioters that said “Camp Auschwitz” was later found on Etsy, prompting an apology from the company, which is known for handcrafted goods.
“There’s so much focus on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube, but, in our view, the platforms are much, much wider than social media,” said Danny Rodgers, chief technology officer and co-founder of the Global Disinformation Index, a nonprofit focused on the spread of falsehoods online. “There’s a broad diversity of platforms that support and enable these dangerous groups to exist, to fund raise, get their message out. It’s not just kicking people off social media, it’s kicking people off merchandising platforms.”
While Shopify, which declined to comment for this article, is not a household name, its technology supports a huge number of vendors from Allbirds to The New York Times. These companies use Shopify’s tools to build sleek online stores, where they can easily upload images of their wares and sell to customers. Shopify, which is valued at more than $100 billion, earns money through subscriptions to its software and other merchant services, and has said it has the second-biggest share of the U.S. e-commerce market after Amazon.