When the Canadian government gave itself the authority to freeze its political critics’ bank accounts earlier this year, it should have rattled the confidence in the state held by the most trusting among us. You didn’t have to be a donor to the Freedom Convoy to realize the dangers of this sort of power.
Though as is so often the case, those who feel such measures would never be wielded against them paid no heed.
In October, fears of financial de-platforming were reignited when PayPal, the online payment processor and money exchange service, announced a policy that would empower the company to fine any of its users $2,500 if PayPal believed they were engaged in “misinformation,” among a litany of other digital sins. Conservatives saw this as an attack against them, especially since so much commentary on Covid these past almost three years has had those “misinformation” tags appended by social media companies, even if the posts prove prophetic later on.
The backlash was swift, and PayPal days later said the whole thing was a misunderstanding (or perhaps misinformation itself?). Even so, conservative PayPal users, the most sensitive, for obvious reasons, to Big Tech censorship, shut down their accounts in such large numbers the company had to throw up barriers to slow down the closures.
These are the sorts of stories that challenge my libertarianism. If you don’t like it, don’t use PayPal, my instincts say. If you don’t like Facebook’s heavy-handed “fact checking,” don’t post there. If you don’t like Twitter’s periodic ideological culls, don’t build up a following there. Even if we all agreed social media companies have a legal right to do what they want, I reserve the right to call out the moral wrongness of it.
When it comes to finances, I don’t see a legal or moral footing. Your money is yours, and that’s true whether you keep it sitting in a PayPal account, a CIBC account, or in a wad of cash under that loose floorboard in the guest bedroom. The last option notwithstanding, society is moving in a cashless direction, making it next to impossible to function in the world without a bank account.
Imagine if your bank decided that it didn’t want to handle your money because of your political views. It’s not an altogether foreign concept. The American bank JP Morgan Chase cut ties with Kanye West last month over a string of controversial statements by the rapper. It’s a much ickier – and far more disruptive – decision than if Twitter just decided to vaporize West’s ability to tweet.
The issue gets even murkier when one looks at the host of internet reforms Canada’s Liberals are entertaining, one of which would force technology platforms to zap content the government deems is hate speech. Is it all that difficult imagining someone getting de-platformed for making a comment about the immutability of biological sex or quoting a bible verse? Such things have already earned people Twitter bans.
Financial de-platforming raises the stakes of the run-of-the-mill Big Tech censorship to which most conservatives are now accustomed. I cannot help but feel small and powerless before some of these companies, but I’ve tried to put together a few responses to this.
First, speak up. PayPal was clearly unnerved enough by the volume of cancellations that it backtracked on the policy. Organized boycott campaigns are often unsuccessful, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t worth a shot.
Second, reject government’s intervention into this space. The only thing worse than private sector censorship is state censorship, I’ve often said. State-enforced private sector censorship somehow seems even worse, or at least more difficult to combat.
Third, support alternatives. When GoFundMe cancelled the Freedom Convoy fundraiser, a Christian competitor, GiveSendGo was there to take the business. While this didn’t stop the government from taking aim at the money, the company stood firm.
These are bandages over bullet holes, I realize, but they are all better than giving up and giving in. The mechanisms behind censorship are, in my view, less important than the cultural thrust behind censorship. It should be outrageous to civilized society that PayPal would dare threaten users based on political values, but instead too many people took solace in the fact that they didn’t think they engaged in wrong think and figured it wasn’t their battle to fight.
Such a response will inevitably prove short-sighted, by which point there will be no one left to speak up for the naïve.