For more than a decade, America’s tech giants have helped author and self-described “pickup artist” Daryush “Roosh” Valizadeh earn a living from writing and selling books that denigrate women and glorify sexual assault.
Amazon sells Valizadeh’s self-published books, which detail his confessions of rape. Twitter verified his account, which he uses to promote them. YouTube has allowed him to publish videos and livestreams where viewers can donate money to him. Altogether, Valizadeh’s empire of hate brings in more than $60,000 a year, he claims — money that allows him to continue publishing books the Anti-Defamation League described as how-to manuals for sexual predators.
Now that’s finally starting to change.
On Monday, Amazon took the rare step of removing nine of Valizadeh’s 26 books from its website, including his most recent one, published Friday. Amazon banned the books after HuffPost reached out to ask whether Valizadeh’s content was in violation of the company’s hate speech policy — but not before it hit the top 1,000 books sold on Amazon that day. Valizadeh sold more than 2,000 copies at $23 each before Amazon knocked the books off its site, he claimed later.
HuffPost repeatedly attempted to talk to Valizadeh, who declined a female reporter’s interview request (he instructs all women who want to communicate with him to first show him a photo of themselves). He blocked another HuffPost reporter on Twitter after ignoring his emailed requests for comment. But on Twitter and his website, Valizadeh has expressed shock that his newest book has been taken off Amazon.
In America, having sex with her would have been rape, since she couldn’t legally give her consent. It didn’t help matters that I was relatively sober, but I can’t say I cared or even hesitated.
Daryush “Roosh” Valizadeh in a self-published “pickup” book
Since abandoning his job at a pharmaceutical company to become a full-time “game teacher” more than a decade ago, Valizadeh has admitted that his livelihood depends entirely on “game”-related sales. (“Game” is the word he uses to describe his pickup routines.)
His blogs and books, which he says he publishes for “heterosexual, masculine men,” conflate masculinity with sexually aggressive behavior. He preaches that “no means no — until it means yes,” and offers personal anecdotes to illustrate how men should treat women. In one 2011 book, he recounted his pursuit of an intoxicated woman in Iceland.
“In America, having sex with her would have been rape, since she couldn’t legally give her consent. It didn’t help matters that I was relatively sober, but I can’t say I cared or even hesitated,” he wrote. “If a girl is willing to walk home with me, she’s going to get the dick no matter how much she has drunk.” In the same chapter, he described how he once “jammed” his penis into a woman who was “half-asleep.”
Tech platforms such as Amazon, Twitter and YouTube have no Constitutional obligation to allow all points of view on their platforms. The First Amendment restricts the government’s powers, not those of private companies. But tech platforms often cite free speech to defend opening their platforms to white supremacists, violent misogynists and anti-Semites. And a 1996 law, the Communications Decency Act, shields platforms from liability for most user-generated content, allowing them to decide what kind of content they will permit on their sites.
Platform companies make more money when they have more people, racist or not, using their platforms. Their scale and reach make them useful — and also make it hard for victims of abusive behavior to avoid using their services. And platform companies are often more responsive to negative press coverage than they are to user complaints about abusive behavior. It was only after HuffPost reached out that Amazon removed Valizadeh’s books from its site.
Valizadeh still freely promotes the books, along with his racist, sexist, homophobic and anti-Semitic views, to his more than 40,000 followers on Twitter, which verified his account after he publicly advocated for decriminalizing rape in 2015. To his apparent delight and amusement, Twitter dismisses many of the reports it receives about his offensive tweets. A Twitter representative declined to comment on Valizadeh’s verified account and instead directed HuffPost to a tweet thread about why Twitter’s verification program is not currently a “top priority” for the company.
Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey acknowledged last week that the company needs “a complete reboot of our verification system,” though he did not expand on what that will entail or what the timeline will be. Dorsey and Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg were summoned to testify before Congress on Wednesday about their platforms’ content moderation practices, among other issues.
YouTube, which is owned by Google, has also been a valuable promotion tool for Valizadeh. (Google conspicuously declined to send a representative to last week’s hearings.) He uses the platform to boost his book sales.
“The last time I did a promotion on the livestream on YouTube, about 60 of you bought it,” Valizadeh said in an August video. “That’s my food income for the month, which was cool.”
YouTube has also directly helped Valizadeh profit off misogyny: During livestream broadcasts, viewers who donate money via YouTube’s “Super Chat” feature will have their questions about women and sex answered by Valizadeh himself. He raised roughly $100 from viewers from one recent two-hour livestream.
Some of the fans Valizadeh attracts via Twitter and YouTube donate money to him via FreeStartr, a crowdfunding platform, to ensure he can continue writing. FreeStartr, which prides itself as having “an absolute free speech guarantee,” did not respond to HuffPost’s repeated requests for comment.
After HuffPost reached out to YouTube, the company deleted one video from Valizadeh’s channel for violating its hate speech policy and banned him from livestreaming for three months. Valizadeh now has one “strike” against his account. If a user receives three strikes within a three-month period, YouTube will terminate their channel.
Valizadeh says he also collects advertising revenue from his blogs, where he advocates repealing women’s suffrage and encourages men to commit crimes such as recording sex with a hidden camera. The blogs are sustained by Cloudflare, a web service provider that refuses to regulate clients’ content and that also secures websites for neo-Nazis and pedophiles.
Valizadeh has long anticipated Amazon kicking him off its platform.
“If Amazon shuts me down, I can still sell books directly,” he said in an October 2017 podcast on YouTube, brainstorming the options he’d have to make money without tech giants’ support.
“A lot of people, they really hate me. I think maybe millions hate me,” he added, noting that he’s hopeful the “couple, maybe, I dunno, hundred thousand or less that do like me are willing to go the extra mile to buy any books that I write.”
But Valizadeh doesn’t have to worry about that quite yet. Most of his books are still available on Amazon. And he still has Twitter and YouTube to promote his sales.