PayPal’s dystopian financial censorship scheme backfires

The popular platform stepped on an absolute minefield when it recently published a disturbing “misinformation” policy promising to fine users who commit speech crimes.

PayPal is one of the biggest digital finance companies in the world. But the popular platform stepped on an absolute minefield when it recently published a disturbing, borderline dystopian “misinformation” policy promising to fine users who commit speech crimes.

“You may not use the PayPal service for activities that … involve the sending, posting, or publication of any messages, content, or materials that, in PayPal’s sole discretion … promote misinformation,” PayPal’s policy read.

PayPal is one of the biggest digital finance companies in the world. But the popular platform stepped on an absolute minefield when it recently published a disturbing, borderline dystopian “misinformation” policy promising to fine users who commit speech crimes.

It further noted that the company would access users’ bank accounts and subtract them $2,500 fines (per infraction!) if they ran afoul of PayPal’s subjective perspective on “misinformation.”

After news of this policy update emerged, the backlash was swift and severe. Countless social media users posted about their decision to cancel their PayPal accounts in light of the disturbing policy. The company’s stock took a hit , and critical press coverage spread like wildfire.

The pressure campaign worked. Well, sort of.

PayPal quickly walked back the “misinformation” policy. The company claimed that the policy was released in error. (Sure.)

“An AUP notice recently went out in error that included incorrect information,” the company said in a statement. “PayPal is not fining people for misinformation and this language was never intended to be inserted in our policy.”

So I guess you could say the original policy was, um, misinformation?

I’m not so sure we should take PayPal’s claim that its policy was mistakenly released at face value. It already censors right-of-center users for their political viewpoints , so it’s hardly a stretch that it would attempt something like this. “It was an error” sounds more like a convenient excuse to walk back its mistake while attempting to save face. But, regardless, it’s a positive development that PayPal is reversing course.

However, concerned customers shouldn’t assume that everything is fine now.

As it turns out, PayPal has in place another dystopian financial censorship policy that enacts similar fines for those it deems bigots or hatemongers. Law professor Eugene Volokh exposed the PayPal policy, which again authorizes $2,500 fines (taken directly out of your bank account) for “activities that … relate to … the promotion of hate, violence, racial or other forms of intolerance that is discriminatory” in the “sole discretion” of, yup, PayPal.

This is, of course, entirely subjective. Anyone with mildly right-of-center viewpoints on topics ranging from affirmative action to climate change to religious liberty to abortion has, at one point or another, faced shrieks of “bigot!” from some progressive opponents. A company setting itself up to rob users of thousands of dollars for subjectively perceived speech crimes is not just dystopian, but also in grotesque violation of its users’ financial privacy and the trust that has been placed in the company by millions of hard-working people.

That said, we don’t need to run to the government for a solution here.

We already saw how widespread consumer backlash led PayPal to reverse its first policy. So we simply need to keep the pressure on and demand the company end its other Orwellian infringements. And if it won’t, then we should all cancel our PayPal accounts and migrate to other platforms.

This kind of newfangled corporate financial censorship represents a grave threat to a free and open society. We must stop it here before this kind of overreach spreads further throughout our digital lives.

This column originally appeared in the Washington Examiner. 

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Brad Polumbo
Brad Polumbo
Brad Polumbo is a libertarian-conservative journalist and co-founder of Based Politics. His work has been cited by top lawmakers such as Senator Rand Paul, Senator Ted Cruz, Senator Pat Toomey, Congresswoman Nancy Mace, Congressman Thomas Massie, and former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, as well as by prominent media personalities such as Jordan Peterson, Sean Hannity, Dave Rubin, Ben Shapiro, and Mark Levin. Brad has also testified before the US Senate, appeared on Fox News and Fox Business, and written for publications such as USA Today, National Review, Newsweek, and the Daily Beast. He hosts the Breaking Boundaries podcast and has a bachelor’s degree in economics from the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

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