Concerned about the spread of false allegations of election fraud in the days following the 2020 presidential election, Eventbrite officials went on the offense. When its users began organizing a Nov. 13 March for Trump event in Washington D.C., Eventbrite shut it down, stating that events spreading “harmful misinformation” about the election were now banned from the platform.
While the ban has kept event listings like those to the chaotic Jan. 6 Trump rally-turned-insurrection at the U.S. Capitol off the Eventbrite platform, the site still played a key role in facilitating bus and vanpool rides to Washington D.C. Ads from smaller pro-Trump groups selling charted bus and rideshare tickets for the Jan. 6 rally are easy to find on the site, and many include calls for armed uprisings and violence to show support for the President.
Some users have already been warned by Eventbrite to stop spreading misinformation, like the Skyrock Patriots of Baltimore who were flagged last month for trying to sell bus tickets promising to take supporters to Donald Trump’s second presidential inauguration on Jan. 20, even though Trump legitimately lost the election to Joe Biden.
For some hardcore Trump supporters like Ben Philips, of Bloomburg, Pennsylvania, the income earned through the site augments an existing pro-MAGA business. Philips is the owner of the Trumparoo toy company, which makes stuffed kangaroo toys with a Trump-like tuft of orange hair that he sells to passengers in the van caravans he organizes on Eventbrite, charging $25 per person. (Eventbrite typically charges $.79 per ticket sold plus 4.5% fee for ticket sales on its platform.)
On Jan. 6 Philips died on the steps of Capitol Hill from a sudden stroke, hours after he dropped off a van full of Trump supporters he met on the site at the presidential rally, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. Passengers learned of Philips’ death when he didn’t return to the van. After multiple calls to his cellphone, a passenger received a call from Washington Police notifying them that Philips had died.
Philips’ Eventbrite posts often used incendiary language to advertise his ride share service, telling supporters, “This is 1776 all over again, if we don’t fight now, we lose our country,” reminding passengers to “be ready to FIGHT FOR TRUMP!”
Philips’ post for the Jan. 6 rally was taken down earlier this week, although some of his other posts are still active on the site. Eventbrite officials tell Billboard that the company removes content like Philips’ post on a daily basis and have made significant investments in monitoring content through self-reporting tools and algorithmic monitoring.
“Our Community Guidelines prohibit events, content, or creators that share or promote violence, illegal activity, and/or misinformation that may result in harm,” the company wrote in a statement sent to Billboard. “In light of the insurrection on January 6, we now consider events fueling false claims about the 2020 election to be a violation of our harmful misinformation policy. Any event, content or creator that seeks to impede democracy is not welcome on our platform. We remain vigilant and will continue to prioritize the swift removal of such events when we become aware of them.”
Eventbrite has had an uneasy relationship with Trump since he embraced the platform during the 2016 Iowa Republican Presidential Caucus. In 2016, white nationalist Richard Spencer was allowed to list two events on the platform, drawing widespread criticism from groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center. After the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, where one counter-protester was killed, Eventbrite CEO Julia Hartz started banning known hate groups like the Proud Boys and anti-Islam activist Brigitte Tudor.
The 2020 decision to ban “harmful misinformation” from its self-service ticketing system came as the company was finalizing efforts to sunset Eventbrite Music, a feature-rich ticketing platform that had been used by some of the country’s largest promoters but had struggled with growing losses further compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic. As of Sept. 30, the company had set aside a $50 million reserve fund to cover losses from refunds and chargebacks from its music product.
Self-service ticketing was Eventbrite’s original business model and a full-fledged return is expected to put the company back on the road to profitability. But monitoring millions of users requires significant resources.
While Eventbrite was quick to determine that high profile events like the Nov. 13 march violated the company’s community guidelines, Trump supporters like Ashley Weiss and Reggie Skyrock of Skyrock Patriots had no problem using the platform to sell 400 bus tickets to the Jan. 6 rally — even after they were called out by several media outlets for selling non-refundable bus tickets to a second Trump inauguration they promised would take place once President-elect Joe Biden’s election victory was overturned. (Those Trump inauguration tickets were still on sale late into December).
Billboard reached out to Weiss and Skyrock for comment but did not receive a response.
In total, Weiss and Skyrock commissioned nine buses to transport Trump supporters from Joppa and White Marsh, Maryland, to Washington D.C. on Jan. 6. The 406 available seats were priced at $50 a seat, according to Skyrock’s listing page, generating $20,300 in sales. Eventbrite typically charges users 4.5% of sales plus a $.79 per-ticket fee, which would mean these sales generated approximately $1,200 for Eventbrite.
Trump supporters have been using the platform on smaller scales too: Peter Boykin with the group Gays for Trumps says he often sets up microphones near rallies where anyone can speak their mind, raising money through Eventbrite’s donation engine. (Eventbrite charges a 2.5% processing fee for donations collected on its platform).
“If you make any direct threats to people and keep your commentary fairly general, [Eventbrite] won’t bother you,” says Boykin, noting that statements about “fighting for your country” are usually OK, but making direct allegations against people or groups about the election is “what typically gets people in trouble.”
An Eventbrite official confirmed to Billboard that the company views Skyrock and Philip’s posts as violations of their new policy and removed archived copies. To improve its existing moderation efforts, Eventbrite has partnered with Civic Alliance, a bipartisan group which encourages participation in voting and civic engagement.
“We’ve also joined in a statement with our partners at the Civic Alliance calling for an orderly and peaceful transition of power,” the company said in a lengthy statement provided to Billboard. “Through this partnership, we stand united with hundreds of other businesses and peer platforms at a critical moment for protecting the integrity of our electoral process and the functioning of our democratic institutions.”
Eventbrite’s entire statement can be found here.