Coinbase Explains Guidelines for Removing Accounts and Content

"Our approach is to be free speech supporters, but not free speech martyrs," Coinbase CEO Brian Armstrong wrote.

AccessTimeIconFeb 7, 2022 at 12:20 p.m. UTC
Updated May 11, 2023 at 4:10 p.m. UTC

Coinbase's CEO spelled out the crypto exchange's policies on when to remove accounts or moderate content, wading into a broader tech industry debate about free speech, de-platforming and corporate responsibilities.

It's a dangerous precedent, Armstrong wrote in a blog post Friday, when Coinbase (COIN) or any tech company begins to make "judgment calls on difficult societal issues, acting as judge and jury."

Armstrong's post was a timely one given what's happening in Canada, where the crowdfunding platform GoFundMe - at request of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's government - has frozen distribution of more than C$9 million that had been raised in support of truckers protesting the country's vaccine mandate for truckers who cross into the U.S. It also comes amid mounting pressure on streaming platform Spotify to drop Joe Rogan's podcast for allegedly spreading coronavirus "misinformation."

In describing Coinbase's approach to removal or moderation, Armstrong differentiated between infrastructure products and public-facing products. Infrastructure products are used privately by individual customers and allow access to basic financial services.

For those, he wrote, Coinbase will follow "rule of law," as elected governments, not companies, should decide what is and isn't allowed.

Public-facing products may include user-generated content, with social features visible to large numbers of users, and thus require a more nuanced approach, Armstrong wrote, in an apparent reference to Coinbase's forthcoming marketplace for non-fungible tokens (NFTs).

Coinbase will remove content only if 1) It's illegal in a jurisdiction in which Coinbase operates; 2) It's a free speech exception under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution; or 3) A critical partner (such as a payment processor or bank) requires Coinbase to remove it.

"Our approach is to be free speech supporters, but not free speech martyrs," Armstrong wrote.

Armstrong previously went against the Silicon Valley grain in 2020 by declaring Coinbase was an apolitical company, while big tech companies signaled support for protest movements.


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Stephen  Alpher

Stephen Alpher is CoinDesk's managing editor for Markets. He holds BTC above CoinDesk’s disclosure threshold of $1,000.