Activists are calling for Apple, Amazon, Google and other streaming companies to drop the National Rifle Association’s digital TV channel in the wake of the mass shooting at a Florida school last week, putting the companies in the delicate position of policing content.
The gun-control organizations Moms Demand Action and Everytown sent a letter Friday asking five companies – Google, Amazon, Apple, AT&T and Roku – to cease streaming NRATV, saying “it’s time for tech leaders to acknowledge their role in helping the NRA spread this dangerous content.”
The firms “have a choice of whether they do or don’t share incendiary rhetoric,” Moms Demand Action founder Shannon Watts said in a subsequent interview with The Washington Post. “We’re asking them to reconsider.”
Responding to the letter, a spokeswoman for Roku, Tricia Mifsud, said in a statement, “Our customers can choose from thousands of entertainment, news and special interest channels, representing a wide range of topics and viewpoints.” Roku removes channels that violate its policy against “content that is unlawful, incites illegal activities or violates third-party rights,” it said. Asked by The Post if the company was considering dropping NRATV on these grounds, Mifsud replied, “To our knowledge, NRATV is not currently in violation of these content policies.”
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A spokesman for AT&T’s DirecTV service, Eric Ryan, said the company has no transactional relationships with the NRA; if there is NRA content on the platform it is only because a third-party has sold time to the group, such as with an infomercial.
Apple, Google and Amazon didn’t respond to requests for comment. The NRA didn’t respond to a request for comment.
The activists’ demand – coming after the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida – pits tech companies who say they’re merely passive intermediaries against those who say that, as cultural gatekeepers, the firms should police the content on their platforms.
Watts, who started her group in 2012 after the shooting in Newtown, Conn., with the hope of changing gun policy, said she and her staff had reached out to executives and customer-service representatives at all five tech companies Friday morning but had yet to hear back from them.
According to its website, NRATV produces and streams several dozen series, often from personalities associated with the group, including NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre and outspoken organizational representative Dana Loesch.
Other programs include “Armed & Fabulous,” in which viewers can “meet the inspiring women of the NRA’s Leadership Forum” and “NRA: Freedom’s Safest Place,” which it says alerts Americans “to the threats to their freedoms.” There is also weapon-centric programming like “Love At First Shot,” which “provides a look at the world of firearms for the first-timer” and more outlying shows like a special about life on the road with country-music star Lee Brice.
“The NRA has been completely radicalized, and the TV channel is even more radicalized than that,” said Watts, alluding to shows programs featuring LaPierre and Loesch. She said it serves as a key communication tool for the NRA, noting that the service continued to be active even when the group’s Twitter account went dark immediately after the Parkland shooting.
The request from Moms Demand Action and Everytown – the latter was founded by former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg – follows calls by various Hollywood personalities, such as actors Alyssa Milano and Evan Handler, for Amazon to stop carrying NRATV. The calls came with a social-media movement and corresponding hashtag, #StopNRAmazon. (Amazon’s chief executive, Jeffrey P. Bezos, owns The Post.)
Warren Leight, the showrunner for “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit,” wrote on Twitter, “Attention Amazon and Amazonhelp – it’s been over a week since the Parkland tragedy. Why are you still offering NRAtv and its violent rhetoric?” He also said, “Memo to Amazon: this is not going to go away” and retweeted another commenter’s message that NRATV is “the most Orwellian and Hitlerlian propaganda I have even seen in America.”
Most digital providers offer a host of specialty channels as part of their OTT service, referring to programming that goes “over-the-top” of traditional cable lines. Roku, for instance, carries Yupp and Acorn, for South Asian and British programs, respectively.
While the most promoted channels on Roku and other services tend to be major players like CBS and HBO, their business model tends to rest on providing as comprehensive a selection as possible, which can include more specialty packages like NRATV.
The controversy once again highlights how tech platforms find themselves saddled with an unwanted editorial burden. Facebook was initially reluctant to intervene over the spread of fake news on its platform during the 2016 presidential election, saying it didn’t want to be an “arbiter of the truth.” Last summer, Google and GoDaddy both stopped hosting the neo-Nazi site the Daily Stormer after a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville
But content companies have been generally unwilling to ban or drop content that doesn’t explicitly fall into hate-speech categories.
The call from Moms Demand Action also follows activist pleas for various companies to end partnership programs such as NRA-based sales discounts. Earlier on Friday, the rental-car giants Enterprise and Hertz each said they would no longer offer discounts to members of the organization.