Payment processors like PayPal and Stripe are becoming “de facto internet censors”, according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), the leading liberal nonprofit claiming to defend free expression and privacy online.
The EFF thinks that the behavior of services like Stripe and PayPal — which Breitbart News covered extensively in an article today — constitute a major threat to free expression on the web.
“EFF is deeply concerned that payment processors are making choices about which websites can and can’t accept payments or process donations,” an EFF spokeswoman told Breitbart News. “This can have a huge impact on what types of speech are allowed to flourish online.”
“We’ve seen examples — such as when WikiLeaks faced a banking blockade — of payment processors and other financial institutions shutting down the accounts of websites engaged in legal but unpopular speech.”
“I’m deeply concerned that we’re letting banks and payment processors turn into de facto Internet censors.”
Online financial services have clamped down on right-wingers and supporters of free speech in recent years. As reported by Breitbart News, it has become increasingly difficult for individuals engaged in controversial yet lawful speech to fund their activities online. Right-wing YouTubers Brittany Pettibone and Lauren Southern have both been kicked off Patreon, while attempts to create a free-speech friendly alternative to the fundraising platform have failed due to the refusal of payment processors like Stripe and PayPal to do business with them.
Although the EFF is generally associated with liberal causes like the campaign to reinstate the Obama administration’s “net neutrality” regulations, it clearly part ways with much of the left on the issue of corporate censorship, warning that major financial institutions have too much power to cut off income from controversial speech on the web.
“These financial giants have little incentive to defend free expression online because it doesn’t impact their bottom line, and it’s often difficult or impossible for small websites to appeal decisions to shut down accounts or freeze payments” said the EFF spokeswoman. “Policies by big financial institutions like Visa and Mastercard also influence the policies of other financial intermediaries — including payment processors and crowdfunding sites.”
“That means that speech-restrictive policies by just a handful of companies — especially Visa and Mastercard, and also PayPal to an extent — can make it difficult or impossible for some law-abiding websites to process payments or donations at all.”
Of course, making it difficult for (some) law-abiding websites and individuals to process payments and donations is precisely the objective of culture warriors on the left. The decision of Patreon to ban Lauren Southern, for example, was the result of a lobbying campaign by the British far-left pressure group Hope Not Hate.
The EFF spokeswoman says it should not be the responsibility of financial institutions to judge what speech is and is not acceptable on the web.
“We need to be asking ourselves: who should be deciding what kind of speech should be allowed to thrive online? Should it be Internet users,
elected officials, or the courts? Or should it be financial intermediaries, like Visa and Mastercard?”
“In my opinion, financial institutions don’t have the expertise to judge whether speech has societal value or violates the First Amendment. They shouldn’t be making those decisions at all.”