PayPal’s so-called content-based ban raises additional concerns about Big Tech’s grip on free speech, a digital privacy advocate told Fox News.
“For a decade, I’ve been watching serious problems with content moderation at the platform level,” Corynne McSherry, legal director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital rights group, told Fox News. “Right now, we’re increasingly seeing the same problem … in other parts of the internet stack.”
“It’s not just PayPal,” McSherry continued. “Several major payment processors are playing a growing role in policing online speech.”
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McSherry told Fox News that many users said PayPal temporarily suspended their accounts, resulting in lost revenue. Critics have also accused PayPal of censoring conservative-leaning organizations without reason and reviewed the tech company’s work with the Southern Poverty Law Center in 2019.
PayPal, for example, suspended two UK-based organizations in September 2022 — the Free Speech Union, a free speech advocacy group, and The Daily Sceptic, a news platform that began publishing news critical of the COVID-19 lockdown, This removes their access to funds. The accounts were restored two weeks later, but the group’s founder and director, Toby Young, told The Telegraph, “PayPal’s software is embedded in all of our payment systems, so the sudden closure of our accounts was an existential threat.”
“When they decide whether or not they’re going to process payments for you, that could mean your business is going out of business,” McSherry said. “It probably means you won’t be able to survive because there’s no money coming in.”
Yang’s personal account was also suspended and then reinstated. PayPal said the accounts violated its user policies, but did not provide details, and the Free Speech Coalition said it received no prior warning. The payments platform also said the First Amendment allows it to restrict accounts at any time for any reason.
PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel told the Free Press in December, “If your online form of money is frozen, it’s like destroying people economically, limiting their ability to exercise their political voice.”
McSherry said that if businesses were pulled during fundraising months, it could put them at risk of losing huge amounts of cash.
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“It could be life or death for your business,” McSherry told Fox News.
In a statement, PayPal told Fox New’s that it is “committed to providing safe and affordable financial services to people of all backgrounds, with different perspectives. We also take our responsibility to protect buyers and sellers very seriously, while working to ensure that we The service is not used for fraudulent or illegal activities.”
The Electronic Frontier Foundation and other civil liberties groups wrote a letter Asked PayPal and Venmo in June 2021 for clarification on the reasons behind their ban decisions, but the alliance never heard back. It is unclear how many accounts were suspended or banned.
For example, Gays Against Groomers, an alliance of LGBTQ members who oppose the focus on gender identity and sexual orientation in children’s education, said PayPal and Venmo had their accounts closed for “violating” their user agreements. But the platforms did not detail the violations, and their accounts were later reinstated, the group said.
“They took down our account for discriminatory behavior, but I think that’s exactly what they did to us,” Gays Against Groomers founder Jaimee Mitchell previously told FOX Business.
The payment platform told FOX Business following the account suspension: “PayPal has a long-standing and consistent Acceptable Use Policy. When we believe that an individual or organization violates this policy, we take action. Per company policy, PayPal does not disclose specific account information. For current or former clients.”
PayPal’s Acceptable Use Policy prohibits use of the service for activities that involve the promotion of hatred, violence, or “racial or other forms of discriminatory intolerance.” Critics have accused PayPal of enforcing vague policies that allow them to censor viewpoints they disagree with, but PayPal CEO Dan Schulman has defended the platform’s efforts to stamp out hate speech.
“These payment processors are largely irresponsible,” McSherry said, noting that the companies can create their own policies and contracts that allow them to remove users without explanation. “The only way to put pressure on them is to speak up, and that’s very, very difficult.”
Big tech companies “are in a situation where they’re big enough that they’re not as vulnerable to civil society pressure as they should be,” McShery said.
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The legal director previously told Fox News that while the company’s First Amendment rights allow for the decision to ban big tech companies, it demonstrates “the enormous power over online speech concentrated in the hands of a relatively small number of people.”
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“There needs to be more movement and more visibility to force infrastructure providers to essentially remain neutral,” McSherry said.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation is one of an international coalition of 56 civil liberties groups that has launched a new initiative called “Protection Stack.” It calls on online communications and commerce companies to avoid excessive content regulation and promote free speech.
“We’ve tried to put as much pressure on them as we can with a number of partner organizations,” McSherry said. “We won’t give up.”
To read more about the Power Payment Processor’s take on online presentations from McSherry, click here.