What are we to make of the latest bout of corporate bullying, this time by PayPal, which has taken to cancelling the accounts of those whose views diverge from its own?
When I was growing up, it was the banks that were boycotted by customers on political grounds, most famously, Barclays, which was hounded over its investments in apartheid South Africa.
The high street giant was eventually forced to withdraw from the country in 1986 after more than a decade of protests.
As a student of that era, I remember no-one opened an account at Barclays, so tarnished was it by its links to a pariah state. The bank’s share of the student market reportedly dropped from 27 per cent to 15 per cent over the period.
Today, big business is still called to account for dubious associations but boardrooms now think twice about their ethical profiles.
This, however, has created a new problem, most notably with tech titans who have set themselves up as moral arbiters, and exploit their power by playing God with customers’ lives and livelihoods.
In the case of PayPal, accounts have been closed, without warning, apparently because the account holder is seen to have breached the US based online payment company’s “acceptable use” policies.
The parents’ group UsForThem, which campaigned to keep schools open during the pandemic and continues to lobby for children’s wellbeing, found that its PayPal account was shut down due to “the nature of its activities”.
The small volunteer organisation has not been able to access donations since it was closed in early September and the move has impacted its ability to operate.
“It is hard not to draw the conclusion that this is a politically motivated cancellation of an organisation that in some way offends PayPal,” said UsForThem’s Molly Kingsley.
Other groups targeted by PayPal recently include Left Lockdown Sceptics, a socialist collective opposed to government lockdown, and Law or Fiction, a group of lawyers also opposed to lockdown.
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Among the first to be singled out was the Free Speech Union, run by Toby Young, whose website, the Daily Sceptic, and personal accounts have also been terminated.
Young, an outspoken champion of gender critical views, suspects it is his support for “people who’ve got into trouble with HR departments for refusing to declare their gender pronouns” that has upset PayPal. He said further red flags for PayPal include scepticism over vaccines and the “climate emergency”.
These are all divisive issues but censoring debate is not the way forward. There is something deeply sinister about the Goliath versus David tech totalitarianism that silences those who challenge fashionable beliefs.
It is not just PayPal, of course. Social media platforms have made a habit of removing content that doesn’t toe their line and banned users who dispute their narrow version of the truth.
This became particularly pernicious during the pandemic when respected scientists criticising the Covid response found themselves barred by the likes of Twitter and Facebook.
According to the British Medical Journal, Facebook removed 16 million pieces of its content and added warnings to around 167 million during the pandemic, and YouTube removed more than 850, 000 videos related to “dangerous or misleading Covid-19 medical information”.
The “experts” appointed by these platforms to arbitrate on complex medical matters are unlikely to be suitably qualified to gauge what is and what is not misinformation, the catch-all excuse for banning stuff. They may also, as seems probable, be motivated by political bias.
What to do, though, in the face of Big Brother tactics that increasingly seek to police public opinion?
Toby Young, writing in the Spectator, said he tried appealing to PayPal for an explanation but failed: “As so often when dealing with these Silicon Valley behemoths, it’s impossible to hold them to account. There is no redress if they decide to terminate your account”.
He suggests legislation is the answer to “prevent companies like PayPal demonetising organisations and individuals because their employees disapprove of their views”.
Meanwhile, SNP MP and KC Joanna Cherry said PayPal’s actions should be subject to UK anti-discrimination laws. And Lord Frost, the former Brexit minister, has urged the Financial Conduct Authority to investigate.
Until that happens, there is a more direct route to avenging attempted ideological takeover by online monopolies and the metaverse: cancel them.
The comedian Jack Dee told his 582,000 Twitter followers: “I’m in the process of cancelling my PayPal account. Big Tech companies that feel they can bully people for questioning mainstream groupthink don’t deserve anyone’s business.”
Hundreds are said to have joined the backlash, boycotting the service in solidarity. This may not bring PayPal to its knees – and it raises obvious difficulties about opting out of Twitter and other channels of mass communication – but it’s a start. And it would make some of us feel a lot better, just as halting the Barclays juggernaut, if for a moment, did back in the pre-digital age.
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