ExpressVPN is one of the most common and frequent direct sponsors for YouTube channels, from Video Game Nerd to Drew Gooden to Uncle Roger. However, one of the company’s most high-profile sponsorship deals is with conservative media company The Daily Wire, including videos hosted by Ben Shapiro and other staff.
Ben Shapiro, a political commentator, and Jeremy Boreing, a producer and director, founded The Daily Wire in 2015. It’s one of the most prominent conservative news sites, largely because it caters to far-right American politics. Ben Shapiro has called women who have abortions “baby killers,” supports the death penalty, downplayed the impact of climate change, threatened violent action if anti-LGBTQ+ churches lost their tax-exempt status in the US, and said in 2011 that “the Jews who vote for Obama are, by and large, jews in name only.”
The other hosts, editors, and writers at The Daily Wire share similar views, at least publicly. Candace Owens has worked at the company since 2021, and she claimed in 2019 that black Americans had better lives in the 100 years after slavery was outlawed than they do today (which is obviously false), and that “socialism has led to more deaths than anything in the last 100 years.” Michael Knowles, one of Daily Wire’s video hosts, recently said that monarchism would be “better at protecting people's rights than our supposed democracy right now” and that “radical environmentalists” started the Maui wildfire that killed at least 115 people. The Daily Wire is a terrible organization that stokes fear and hatred, contributing directly to far-right extremist violence.
The Daily Wire doesn’t have many direct sponsors and advertisers on its site or YouTube videos, presumably because most companies don’t want their brand associated with its increasingly-unpopular ideas and views. The YouTube video descriptions from Ben Shapiro and other Daily Wire accounts include links for the Daily Wire’s own streaming service and merchandise, Birch Gold and other companies that sell gold as investments, the Christian for-profit Grand Canyon University, home movie archival service Legacybox, and ZipRecruiter. There’s one sponsor that shows up over and over again, though: ExpressVPN.
ExpressVPN has an affiliate sales program that rewards creators with a commission (percentage of each sale) for each signup, which is common for products and services sold online. The exact way the program works varies by each company, but I don’t want to give the impression that ExpressVPN just didn’t look closely enough at The Daily Wire before accepting the company as an affiliate.
The sponsorships date back to at least October 2019, so ExpressVPN has had over three years to think about its partnership. The partnership is likely making a lot of money for both The Daily Wire and ExpressVPN, in part because Ben Shapiro and other hosts make repeated claims that big tech and governments are working together to censor conservatives, and services like ExpressVPN can supposedly protect your privacy and restore the full internet. Here’s a direct quote from a recent video titled There’s No Such Thing As Free Medicine:
We are living in an era of tyranny. The Internet is at the frontier of a battle for control. When powerful interests want to push their agenda, they get big government and big Tech to silence any voice that doesn't fit the narrative. Americans are being forced to give up the very thing that makes Americans great our freedom of speech. Well, I don't like my voice being censored, I also don't like being monitored by big Tech and big government, that's why I use ExpressVPN [and] you should do the same.
The ad read hits on some of the other common talking points with VPNs, like the ability to change your IP address to throw off tracking scripts, but the focus here on “big government” and “big tech” makes it more nefarious. I mentioned earlier that Birch Gold, a company that sells gold as an investment, is another frequent advertiser on The Daily Wire. Gold companies are popular advertising partners across all conservative media because the supposed imminent collapse of the global economy and fiat currency is a frequent conservative talking point. Once that audience is convinced their life savings are in danger, they’re more likely to buy gold. It’s a self-sustaining ecosystem.
The ExpressVPN ad read follows the same pattern as the economic fear-mongering. Prominent conservatives complain constantly about censorship, usually after they are removed from online platforms for hate speech or other terms of service violations, so promoting ExpressVPN as a way to circumvent censorship is playing to that audience. Of course, the type of censorship that VPNs can improve (network-level site blocking, authoritarian governments blocking social media, etc.) isn’t the kind of censorship most conservatives in the US are concerned about (getting banned from Facebook for COVID misinformation).
ExpressVPN is complicit in funding far-right extremism in the United States through its partnership with The Daily Wire. The connection does not appear have been widely reported in mainstream news or tech media in the past, despite the company’s recommendation in many “best VPN” lists hosted by sites in the latter category. The service is currently the top recommendation from CNET, TechRadar, Tom’s Guide, ZDNET, and others.
It’s not always possible to avoid companies that have questionable corporate partnerships, but considering how many VPN services are in existence, not using or recommending ExpressVPN should be fairly easy. If you absolutely need a VPN service, I personally like ProtonVPN. Do your own research, though.
I reached out to ExpressVPN for a statement about its sponsorship deals, and the company did not respond.