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PayPal’s Bans Acting Like Censors & Putting Businesses at Risk

PayPal’s Bans Acting Like Censors & Putting Businesses at Risk
  • According to a digital privacy advocate, online payment processors like PayPal have far too much power when it comes to controlling and censoring free speech

A digital privacy advocate warned Fox News that PayPal’s suspected content-based restrictions could be a sign of increasing control over free expression by Big Tech companies.

The legal director at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Corynne McSherry, shared with Fox News, “For a decade I’ve been watching content moderation at the platform level go terribly awry. Now, more and more we’re watching the same problems … in other parts of the internet stack. It’s not just PayPal. Several of the major payment processors have been playing an increasing role in policing online speech.” 

McSherry informed Fox News that numerous users have had their incomes diminished after PayPal suspended their accounts over content. Amid these allegations, the tech company has been harshly criticized for its 2019 collaboration with the Southern Poverty Law Center and potentially censoring organizations leaning towards conservative ideologies unjustly.

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In September 2022, PayPal suspended the access to funding of two British organizations: The Free Speech Union and The Daily Sceptic. These groups advocated for free speech and published stories critical of the COVID-19 lockdowns, which made them victims of censorship. After two weeks, the accounts were restored; however Toby Young, founder and director of those organizations voiced concerns to The Telegraph that  “PayPal’s software was embedded in all our payment systems, so the sudden closure of our accounts was an existential threat.”

McSherry shared, “When they make decisions about whether they’re going to process payments for you, that can mean that your business is going under. That can mean that you will not survive because there’s no money coming in.” 

PayPal’s decision to suspend and then reinstate Young’s personal account without warning violated their user policy, leaving the Free Speech Union in disbelief. PayPal has also stated that according to the First Amendment, they have complete autonomy to restrict accounts for any purpose at anytime.

In December, Peter Thiel, the co-founder of PayPal shared with The Free Press, “if the online forms of your money are frozen, that’s like destroying people economically, limiting their ability to exercise their political voice.”

McSherry warned that any business removed during fundraising months could face the risk of losing significant sums of money. She told Fox News, “That could be life or death” for your business. 

In June 2021, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and other civil liberties groups sent a letter for transparency to PayPal and Venmo regarding their suspension/banning decisions. Unfortunately, no response was ever received from them. It remains uncertain how many accounts have been blocked or terminated with no warning whatsoever.

About the author

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Steven Ly

Steven Ly is the Startup Program and Events Manager at TheNextHint Inc. She recruits rockstar startups for all TC events including Disrupt, meetups, Sessions, and more both domestically and internationally. Previously, she helped produce Dreamforce with Salesforce and Next '17 with Google. Prior to that, she was on the advertising teams at both Facebook and AdRoll, helping support advertisers in North America and helped grow those brands globally. Outside of work, Priya enjoys Flywheel, tacos, the 49ers, and adventuring around the globe.

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