PayPal this week banned at least 34 organizations for promoting “hate, violence or racial intolerance,” including Richard Spencer’s group and others apparently involved in the Charlottesville riot. PayPal’s announcement mentions “KKK, white supremacist groups or Nazi groups” that have violated its acceptable use policy.
It’s a private company (that’s not yet regulated as a utility) so it can do as it pleases, and the Nazi/Klan creeps certainly aren’t going to evoke any sympathy. But as someone who’s been at the receiving end of “hate group” smears, it would be good to know how such decisions are made. PayPal’s announcement notes that “our highly trained team of experts addresses each case individually” – highly trained in what? Sniffing out heresy? (No one expects the PayPal Inquisition!) When PayPal goes beyond the objective standard of banning activity prohibited by law to banning those it simply doesn’t like (however loathsome they might be), all dissenters are vulnerable.
PayPal’s highly trained experts haven’t yet targeted my organization, but Twitter has, albeit in a small way so far. You can pay them to promote a tweet that’s already been posted, as a form of advertising, and here are three that we submitted for promotion that were rejected:
Illegal immigrants are a large net fiscal drain because of their education levels and this fact drives the results. https://t.co/0t3iPsabQF
— Center for Immigration Studies (@CIS_org) August 3, 2017
As Prince wrote in a blog post on the incident, “Without a clear framework as a guide for content regulation, a small number of companies will largely determine what can and cannot be online.”
The internet is now a utility more important than phones or cable TV. If people can be denied access to it based on the content of their ideas and speech (rather than specific, illegal acts), why not make phone service contingent on your political views? Or mail delivery? Garbage pickup? Electric power? Water and sewer? (I hope I’m not giving the SPLC’s brownshirts any ideas.)