This article is from The Spectator edition published Thursday, September 22 and is reprinted here with permission.
I thought one of the benefits of being cancelled – I lost five positions in quick succession at the beginning of 2018 – is that it immunizes you from being cancelled again. After all, what more dirt could be thrown at me? The offense archaeologists did such a thorough job four years ago, sifting through everything I’d said or written dating back to 1987, that there was nothing left to dig up. But it turns out that was naive. Last week I got cancelled again.
The instrument of my downfall was PayPal, the technology company that supports online money transfers and operates as a payment processor for online businesses, auction sites and so on. At around 2 p.m. last Thursday I received an email from PayPal informing me that the company was ‘initiating closure’ of my personal account because I was ‘in violation’ of its ‘Acceptable Use Policy’. I looked up that policy and it covers a multitude of sins, but no clue was offered as to which one I’d committed. ‘If you have money in your PayPal balance, we’ll hold it for up to 180 days,’ it said. That was a bit annoying because I have over £600 in the account, but it wasn’t the end of the world. I mainly use it for receiving payments from European magazines I write for occasionally.
Then it got serious. Within a few minutes of contacting me, PayPal sent the same message to the Daily Sceptic, the news publishing website I’ve been running for two-and-a-half years, and the Free Speech Union, the organisation I set up in 2020 to defend people threatened with cancellation. In both cases, PayPal was shutting down the accounts for the same reason – breaching the Acceptable Use Policy. No further details. To give you a sense of how serious this is, about a quarter of the Daily Sceptic’s donor revenue is processed by PayPal and about a third of the Free Speech Union’s 9,500 members pay their dues via PayPal.
‘So what?’ you might think. Just email all those people and advise them to use a different payment processor. I’ll do that, obviously, but it’s inevitable that some won’t bother – some of them won’t even open the emails – and the resulting loss of revenue will be hugely disruptive. The Daily Sceptic has four people on the payroll and the Free Speech Union has 15 and they both operate on tight margins. I was relying on PayPal to deliver the service it promised to perform when I first signed up and which I’ve been paying for until now (1.5 per cent commission on every transaction). I had no idea it could just whisk the rug out from under you, with no notice and without having to provide any proper explanation. In my case, the excuse offered was obviously bogus. How could all three accounts be guilty of ‘violating’ the same policy within minutes of each other?
I tried appealing to customer services and got nowhere. I wrote to Vincent Belloc, the vice president of PayPal UK, and didn’t get a reply. I contacted the ‘corporate communications team’ in New York and London, telling them I was planning to write about what had happened and asking for a comment. Nothing. 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.
So why has PayPal cancelled me? I can only guess, but I suspect it’s because someone at the company isn’t very keen on free speech. I did some googling and discovered that numerous organisations and individuals with dissident political views have had their accounts closed by PayPal recently, particularly on the three issues you’re not allowed to be sceptical about: the lockdown policy and other Covid restrictions, the mRNA vaccines, and the ‘climate emergency’.
The Daily Sceptic frequently publishes articles on those subjects and the Free Speech Union may have fallen foul of another taboo – defending people who’ve got into trouble with HR departments for refusing to declare their gender pronouns. PayPal, like most Big Tech companies, has sided with the trans-rights activists on that issue. A journalist called Colin Wright, an ex-academic with a PhD in biology and an outspoken critic of the view that sex is a social construct, lost his account in June.
I expect the Daily Sceptic and the Free Speech Union will survive this attempt to demonetise them, but it’s left me wanting to do something about this insidious new way of cancelling people. As the switch to a cashless society gathers speed, we need to put some laws in place to protect people from being punished by companies like PayPal for saying something their employees disapprove of.
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