At the shallowest level, there is a layer of dumbness over this story, but buried underneath is something even more disturbing. The Babylon Bee, a popular satire site, had been using the services of Mailchimp to manage their email list. Then, on Thursday of this week, they were notified that their account had been suspended. The reason offered was that the system had detected “harmful information” in some of the site’s emails. After the Bee’s CEO went public with the news, someone at Mailchimp apparently realized how foolish they looked and quickly moved to restore the account. But as PJ Media notes, by that time it was already too late.
On Thursday, the online integrated marketing company Mailchimp suspended The Babylon Bee’s account, claiming that the system detected “harmful information” in the Bee’s emails. After Babylon Bee CEO Seth Dillon shared the news on Twitter, Mailchimp apologized. It was too late, however.
“I’d email everyone to let them know [Mailchimp] just suspended our account but Mailchimp just suspended our account,” Dillon announced on Twitter. Like many other companies, The Babylon Bee uses Mailchimp to send out emails to its broad email list. Without Mailchimp, the Bee could not tell its subscribers that Mailchimp had suspended the satire site.
Shortly after Dillon shared the news on Twitter, Mailchimp responded, saying that the company had reinstated the account.
Seth Dillon was about as polite as he could be under the circumstances, but the business relationship is apparently at an end.
Thank you, but we're moving to an email service provider that doesn't make these "mistakes." We'd also prefer to be on a platform that doesn't censor conservatives for being "hateful" or "misinformative." https://t.co/XSI9EUjOgc
— Seth Dillon (@SethDillon) June 24, 2021
There’s a long history of virtue-signaling social media sites and news outlets trying to bring the hammer down on satire sites, often without even realizing the sort of content they were trying to suppress. If that were all that was happening here, it would simply be another funny story. But this case is different in a significant way.
When Twitter or Facebook suspends accounts that supposedly post “harmful” commentary or “misinformation” (like suggesting that the virus may have originated in a lab) they are responding to publicly available content. Anyone can view it, and even though they are supposed to be protected by Section 230, they will always claim that they are at risk for such things showing up on their sites. It’s not a very good defense of their actions, but it’s at least something.
Mailchimp, however, is not a social media site. They handle email accounts, frequently ones sending bulk messages. If you send someone an email saying that the CIA killed JFK or Elvis just came back on a flying saucer, nobody else gets to see that unless the recipient decides to share it themself. What is the justification for suspending an account under these circumstances even if the email hadn’t been satirical?
While we’re on the subject, what is Mailchimp doing scanning the content of the Bee’s emails to begin with? I realize that’s sort of a naive question because we already know that Google scans everyone’s G-mail accounts. But they do it to target advertising toward you. They’re not sitting there waiting to censor you. But that appears to be precisely what Mailchimp was doing.
I was already no fan of Mailchimp, particularly because they offer very intrusive services like flagging the sender if/when the recipient opens the email. (There’s a way around that, by the way. Just turn off images in your email account.) The underlying news in this story makes me even less likely to ever consider using them and less likely to answer emails from anyone who uses them unless it can’t be avoided.