PayPal backtracks on user policy, but its message was clear

ben weingarten
Conservative Opinion

Ben Weingarten

Federalist Senior Contributor; Claremont Institute Fellow
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PayPal continues to deal with the blowback from its rescinded plans to fine users $2500 for spreading misinformation. The company insists the language in its acceptable use policy (AUP) was published by mistake, quickly removed the language from its site and apologized for the confusion. That did not prevent PayPal’s stock from nose-diving as the story went viral and people accused the payment giant of censoring free speech. Straight Arrow News contributor Ben Weingarten says that while PayPal may have backtracked on its user policy, the fact that it drafted the language sends a clear and unsettling message.

The payment processing company, one of the largest non-bank lenders in the world with some $75 billion in assets in 2021, recently modified its user agreement, threatening to fine those who “use…PayPal…for activities that involve the sending, posting, or publication of any messages, content, or materials that, in PayPal’s sole discretion … promote misinformation” at a rate of up to $2,500 per violation. When the world got wind of this policy, the criticism was, rightly, swift and massive. The stock tanked. 

PayPal’s former President David Marcus even panned the company, tweeting:

“It’s hard for me to openly criticize a company I used to love and gave so much to. But @PayPal’s new AUP goes against everything I believe in. A private company now gets to decide to take your money if you say something they disagree with. Insanity. “

So PayPal backtracked. 

A spokesman said that the updated “acceptable use policy” had gone “out in error that included incorrect information. PayPal is not fining people for misinformation and this language was never intended to be inserted in our policy… We’re sorry for the confusion this has caused.”

But no one should be confused. Taking the company at its word, while it might have accidentally released the policy, it still drafted it. That means at very minimum it contemplated being an arbiter of truth – determining what counts as misinformation and pilfering people’s accounts to punish them should they engage in Wrongthink. And it already applies subjective measures to mete out punishment against its users – generally cutting in one ideological direction.

PayPal’s acceptable use policy already had language calling for fines up to $2,500 per violation for those using the product to engage in “the promotion of hate, violence, racial or other forms of intolerance that is discriminatory.”

In a world where up to half the country is classified as semi-fascist by the president, where conservatism, which calls for a colorblind society antithetical to bigotry, and a rule of law antithetical to violence – is equated by our betters with bigotry and violence, one can imagine how arbitrarily such a policy could be applied to ideological undesirables.

PayPal just gave us a sneak peek at America’s fast-approaching dystopian future: A social credit system with American characteristics. And it should disturb every American, and drive a deep cultural, political, and legal backlash.

The payment processing company, one of the largest nonbank lenders in the world with some $75 billion in assets in 2021, recently modified its user agreement, threatening to fine those who QUOTE, “use…PayPal…for activities that involve the sending, posting, or publication of any messages, content, or materials that, in PayPal’s sole discretion … promote misinformation” at a rate of up to $2,500 per violation. When the world got wind of this policy, the criticism was, rightly, swift and massive. The stock tanked. 

PayPal’s former president David Marcus even panned the company, tweeting:

“It’s hard for me to openly criticize a company I used to love and gave so much to. But @PayPal’s new AUP goes against everything I believe in. A private company now gets to decide to take your money if you say something they disagree with. Insanity. “

So PayPal backtracked. 

A spokesman said that the updated “acceptable use policy” had gone “out in error that included incorrect information. PayPal is not fining people for misinformation and this language was never intended to be inserted in our policy… We’re sorry for the confusion this has caused.” But no one should be confused. Taking the company at its word, while it might have accidentally released the policy, it still drafted it. 

That means at very minimum it contemplated being an arbiter of truth – determining what counts as misinformation and pilfering people’s accounts to punish them should they engage in Wrongthink. And it already applies subjective measures to mete out punishment against its users – generally cutting in one ideological direction.

PayPal’s acceptable use policy already had language calling for fines up to $2,500 per violation for those using the product to engage in “the promotion of hate, violence, racial or other forms of intolerance that is discriminatory.”

In a world where up to half the country is classified as semi-fascist by the president, where conservatism, which calls for a colorblind society antithetical to bigotry, and a rule of law antithetical to violence – is equated by our betters with bigotry and violence, one can imagine how arbitrarily such a policy could be applied to ideological undesirables.

Consider who PayPal has punished in the past. Just weeks ago, PayPal allegedly shut down the account of “Gays Against Groomers,” a self-identified “coalition of gays against the sexualization, indoctrination and medicalization of children.”

The group’s founder said it had never received a violation before and that it was simply notified that it had violated Paypal’s user agreements – without specifying where.

Around the same time, PayPal also suspended the account of Great Britain’s Free Speech Union, described as an “organization which defends gender-critical academics and people who have lost work for expressing opinions,” as well as that of its founder, and his website the Daily Sceptic. 

All reportedly because of again unspecified violations of its Acceptable Use Policy. As we explored in a recent episode, the effort to push both the private sector and government to pursue those who would dare challenge radical gender ideology is strong, so PayPal’s efforts would be consistent with that trend. Years ago – all the way back in 2017 – PayPal briefly barred the account of prolific counterjihadist scholar Robert Spencer, and it has barred plenty of others on the right as well.

The payment processing outlet’s efforts go beyond targeting critics of the left, to even leftists who challenge establishment orthodoxy. Months earlier, two “alt” news sites that might seemingly be described as the dissident left, had their PayPal accounts suspended without explanation.

One of the purged thinks PayPal may have done so based on a purported violation of another restricted activity, “Provid[ing] false, inaccurate or misleading information” – which would again be in the eye of the beholder.

PayPal’s contemplating of the chilling standard that it quickly revoked, but apparent application of similar standards, illustrates a trend we have already seen accelerating in recent years: The targeting of those who hold beliefs that challenge the prevailing orthodoxy of America’s ruling elites using public and private sector power—a running theme in my Straight Arrow News commentaries.

Amazon can pull your book. Facebook and Twitter can censor and silence you. And yes, financial institutions can de-bank you.

PayPal’s pulled language should serve as, and maybe even was meant to serve, as a warning: Comport your beliefs with those of the Ruling Class, or else.

If we assume that dissent on virtually every major issue is ultimately going to be cast by those in government, Woke Capital, Big Tech, and beyond as fake, if not hateful, and violent dangerous – because these institutions cannot tolerate threats to their monopoly on power and influence – then the assumption has to be that every institution may well impose a standard like the one PayPal laid out. Whether implicitly or explicitly, du jour or de facto.

That is a direct threat to our livelihoods, our freedoms, and our ability to function as a society. Therefore, all on the left or right who believe in preserving any semblance of this country must fight back against viewpoint discrimination. 

And they will likely need to use the force of law to achieve it, given the corruption of our civil society, and its loss of respect for free speech, and tolerance of dissent.


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