Defend the narrative™: PayPal edition

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PayPal is doing its part to preserve the Narrative™. They just cut the account of yet another independent media outlet, after having done so a number of times earlier this year.

This time the victim is a website called The Daily Skeptic. I’ve only read a few things written there over the years, and only when linked from some other article, so I can’t speak to its political leanings. It appears to be a venue mostly for people who dissent from the prevailing narratives rather than having a single political agenda. For instance it features articles from people who support and oppose supporting Ukraine in its war against the Russians.

It certainly isn’t a site for whack-jobs to conspire. If you are looking for that, tune into MSNBC.

In any case, The Daily Skeptic’s story goes like this:

The first I heard about this was on Thursday afternoon last week when I received a notification from my personal PayPal account informing me that it was being shut down because I’d violated the company’s ‘Acceptable Use Policy’. I looked at that policy and it covers things like fraud and money laundering so my first thought was it must be a mistake. Then, a few minutes later, I got another notification, this one from the Daily Sceptic’s PayPal account. That, too, had been shut down and for the same reason. Eh? That was odd. Then, another email, this one from the Free Speech Union’s PayPal account. Same story – the Acceptable Use Policy.

Now call me a cynic, but the chances of all three accounts violating the same policy within minutes of one another struck me as a bit implausible. Was something else going on?

I contacted customer services and asked what I’d done, exactly, on my personal account that ran afoul of PayPal’s Acceptable Use Policy. I’ve had it since 2013 and use it, at most, four times a year, usually to receive money from a Swiss weekly magazine I occasionally write for.

The person I spoke to said she had no idea, but if I wanted I could “escalate“ the matter and someone higher up the food chain would get back to me. I did that, obviously, and a couple of days later received a notification that my appeal has been unsuccessful. No explanation offered beyond the original one. Oh, and by the way, it would be keeping the money in that account for up to 180 days while it decided whether it was entitled to “damages” for my yet-to-be-explained breach of its Acceptable Use Policy.

Paypal stole my money

It was the same story with the other two accounts. The only clue as to what might be going on was a message sent a couple of days ago from PayPal on the now closed Daily Sceptic account. The crucial passage read:

PayPal’s policy is not to allow our services to be used for activities that promote hate, violence or racial intolerance. We regularly assess activity against our long-standing Acceptable Use Policy and carefully review actions reported to us, and will discontinue our relationship with account holders who are found to violate our policies.

That message was a bit weird since it didn’t explicitly accuse the Daily Sceptic of promoting “hate, violence or racial intolerance”, or say that that was how we’d violated its precious policy. But it certainly implied it. To which my response is: How exactly? Or, more profanely: What the f*** are you talking about?

Even if the Daily Sceptic is guilty of that sin – and I defy anyone to point to an article we’ve published that promotes “hate, violence or racial intolerance” – why is that a reason to shut down my personal account or the FSU account? I still haven’t received any indication of why that’s happened. And for what it’s worth, I’ve written to the CEO of PayPal UK – Vincent Belloc, you can email him here – and the Corporate Affairs Department of PayPal US and PayPal UK (you can email them here and here), asking for some kind of explanation. No reply, obviously. Laughably, it says on the media contact page of PayPal‘s website above the email addresses: “Reporter on a deadline? Looking to book an interview or need a comment for a story?” The implication is that someone from its crack Corporate Affairs team will get back to you immediately. But I emailed them last Thursday and still haven’t heard back.

I have no particular axe to grind defending the Daily Skeptic, as I don’t know enough about the site to feel a personal connection. I do like the concept though, and even if I didn’t it scares the bejeezus out of me to have financial institutions pick and choose who they serve and whether they can just steal the money of their customers.

Oh, did I mention that? PayPal reserves the right to steal your money and then sends you a bill to pay taxes on the money they stole. No kidding. Annoy the powers-that-be and they will steal your money, freeze you out of the financial system, and then stick you with an additional bill.

Comply with us or else.

PayPal isn’t alone in using these tactics to crush dissent. As you may recall the Canadian government and GoFundMe went after supporters of the Canadian Truckers’ protests, freezing bank accounts, withholding donations, and generally doing everything they could to suppress dissent of any kind, including sending out the mounties to suppress the protests.

It was not only a massive abuse of power used against the protesters and their supporters, it was also a message intended to chill anybody considering dissent of any kind.

I know I found it chilling. In fact, now that my job requires me at times to openly fight The Narrative™ I worry about my own PayPal account. Seriously.

Matt Taibbi wrote a piece earlier this year about a wholesale purge of alternative media sites done by PayPal. It really is scary stuff:

Consortium editor Joe Lauria succeeded in reaching a human being at the company in search of details about the frozen or “held” funds referenced in the note. The PayPal rep told him that if the company decided “there was a violation” after a half-year review period, then “it is possible” PayPal would keep the $9,348.14 remaining in Consortium’s account, as “damages.”

“A secretive process in which they could award themselves damages, not by a judge or a jury,” Lauria says. “Totally in secret.”

Consortium, founded by the late investigative reporter Robert Parry, has been critical of NATO and the Pentagon and a consistent source of skeptical reporting about Russiagate, as well as one of just a few outlets to regularly cover the Julian Assange case with any sympathy for the accused. Ironically, one of the site’s primary themes involves exploring disinformation emanating from the intelligence community. The site has had content disrupted by platforms like Facebook before, but now its pockets are being picked in addition.

This episode ups the ante again on the content moderation movement, toward the world hinted at in the response to the Canadian trucker protests, where having the wrong opinions can result in your money being frozen or seized. Going after cash is a big jump from simply deleting speech, with a much bigger chilling effect. This is especially true in the alternative media world, where money has long been notoriously tight, and the loss of a few thousand dollars here or there can have a major effect on a site, podcast, or paper.

As MintPress founder and executive director Mnar Adley points out, the current era of content moderation — characterized by private platforms either overtly or covertly working with government to identify accounts for censure — really began with PayPal’s historic decision in 2010 to halt donations to Wikileaks. In that case, PayPal acted after receiving a letter from the State Department claiming the site’s activities were illegal.

“PayPal banning donations from WikiLeaks really set up the blueprint for today’s censorship,” Adley says.

I strongly suggest you go read Taibbi’s entire piece, if you can stomach it. Narrative enforcers circle the wagons, creating a self-referential circle of sources who work together and with law enforcement to create a semi-official narrative that can then be enforced. Corporations choose “fact-checkers” who give excuses to suppress unapproved ideas, and then they hand off to law enforcement the names. Just in case they need to be harassed even more.

(As an aside, when I was president of a group called the “Taxpayers League of Minnesota” the SPLC named us a “hate group” and I got a call from the local Sheriff in our area investigating whether I intended violence. I found it ridiculous at the time and laughed, but looking back I shudder).

On July 26th of last year, PayPal announced a new partnership with the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) to “fight extremism and hate through the financial industry and across at-risk communities.” In describing the arrangement, PayPal talked about a third actor — the government:

PayPal and ADL have launched a research effort to address the urgent need to understand how extremist and hate movements throughout the U.S. are attempting to leverage financial platforms to fund criminal activity. The intelligence gathered through this research initiative will be shared broadly across the financial industry and with policymakers and law enforcement.

While companies like Facebook, Google, and Twitter at least occasionally explain why prominent accounts have been suspended, neither PayPal nor the ADL will comment about how suspensions and confiscations of companies like MintPress and Consortium fit into their efforts to head off “criminal activity.” I reached out this week not just to the media relations offices of PayPal and the ADL, but to figures quoted in last year’s announcement, including ADL’s Jonathan Greenblatt and PayPal Chief Risk officer Aaron Karczmer, getting no response anywhere.

Nobody I know would object to cutting off the funds of criminal or terrorist enterprises. I certainly don’t. But doing so should require indictments, open procedures, and full transparency. Adjudication would be nice. Star Chambers, not so much. Kicking people out of society for not falling in line with whatever nonsense (or sense) the powers-that-be promote is tyrannical.

Free societies simply must allow dissent. As a practical matter it is vital for the discovery of truth or the assessment of weighing competing values or goods. As a matter of principle people cannot be fully human without the ability to think for themselves, including having the ability to believe things that aren’t in line with the beliefs of others. This is civics 101 stuff, people.

I’ve said it before in my pieces here: the goal of the Establishment is to create a social credit system mirroring China’s. Ultimately the goal is to make it impossible to be a functioning member of society without buckling to the people in charge.

Join the club, or else.

We are far along this path already, but perhaps we have time to stop the process before it is complete. We certainly won’t if we don’t get off our butts and fight like our freedoms are at stake.

Because our freedom really is at stake.

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