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This past week PayPal Holdings Inc., a company that serves as an electronic alternative to traditional paper methods for payments, made an announcement that they were updating their AUP (acceptable use policy).
That agreement prohibits “the sending, posting, or publication of any messages, content, or materials” that “present a risk to user safety or wellbeing” or contain “misinformation.” The policy notes that what counts as misinformation is at PayPal’s “sole discretion.”
This meant that if Paypal discovered someone made any public posting of radical information, such as “men cannot have babies,” “men are not women,” “there are only two genders,” or anything else that PayPal found objectionable, PayPal would deduct $2,500 from the offending user’s account.
At $2,500 per infraction, any person who may be accused of spreading alleged misinformation could stand to lose quite a large sum of money.
Following media scrutiny and criticism on social media, PayPal removed the updated policy from its website, stating: “An AUP notice recently went 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. Our teams are working to correct our policy pages.”
In essence, PayPal responded to their error by saying that they accidentally wrote a thoroughly worded notice about closing accounts and seizing funds from people for “misinformation,” and then they accidentally posted it.
Adopted on December 15, 1791, as one of the ten amendments that constitute the Bill of Rights, the First Amendment to the United States Constitution was drafted in order to prevent the federal government from making laws that regulate an establishment of religion, or that prohibit the free exercise of religion, or abridge the freedom of speech, the freedom of the press, the freedom of assembly, or the right to petition the government for redress of grievances.
The federal Supreme Court has extended this policy to all government entities at all levels within our nation. The right to free speech is something that is accepted as unalienable by most Americans, but legally private entities, like PayPal, are entitled to control their own domains, which may infringe upon accepted civil liberties.
While freedom of speech is widely proclaimed, a point that seems to be lost among many is that in order to protect your own freedom of speech, citizens must protect all freedom of speech, even speech that they may not agree with or even find offensive.
As a Libertarian, I defend the right of individuals and corporations to set their own policies of acceptable intercourse; however, I also accept the free market approach wherein either the market, or individuals, may choose for themselves to either accept or reject the actions of businesses.
In this recent PayPal example some overly woke person on the PayPal payroll thought that it would be a good idea that their corporation do some virtue signaling by updating their policy to reflect their position on what they deemed to be misinformation. The core problem with the announced policy is that it is PayPal, or specifically personnel at PayPal, that will be in charge of making the arbitrary decisions as to what is, or is not, misinformation.
Efforts to police misinformation are prone to significant error and overreach. Governments, media organizations and tech platforms have all made serious attempts to limit the spread of misinformation by cracking down on speech they thought was wrong or dangerous – but time and time again, these measures have resulted in censorship of legitimate discourse.
Facebook, for instance, took great pains to prevent users from theorizing that COVID-19 emerged from a lab. Twitter faced pressure from the Biden administration to purge accounts that criticized the mainstream consensus on vaccines, masks and other subjects. YouTube’s policies prohibited content creators from spreading so-called COVID-19 misinformation, including statements like “masks don’t work” or “COVID-19 is no more dangerous than the flu.” Some of those statements have more validity than others, but they’re no longer considered outside the bounds of acceptable conversation. What the gatekeepers termed “misinformation” is now just information.
The government’s so-called misinformation experts have performed no better than media organizations or social media platforms. Remember Nina Jankowicz, who was chosen as director of the Department of Homeland Security’s Disinformation Governance Board? Though she had wrongly flagged the New York Post Hunter Biden laptop story as fake Russian nefariousness, the department picked her to advise elite law enforcement and national intelligence on misinformation trends.
It would be completely reasonable for PayPal users to fear that misguided misinformation policing might end up costing them money, and the company is well advised to reverse course.
PayPal spoke, and we the people responded. The term coined for when an action creates an unexpected reaction is “blowback.” However, I liken the process more to Isaac Newton’s Third Law of Motion, wherein: “for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.”
While PayPal is free to put in place whatever policies it thinks are best, the company should not be surprised if people do not trust it to correctly define terms like misinformation, hate, or intolerance – and, thus, take their business elsewhere.