PayPal Breaks!

by Doc Coleman on March 14, 2012 · 0 comments

in Asides, Galley Table

An interesting thing happened yesterday.

Last week, I got together with the Galley Table crew and we recorded an episode of the Galley Table talking about PayPal’s latest shenanigans in trying to censor online content by threatening to withdraw their services to online booksellers like Smashwords. PayPal’s take on things was that a) they didn’t want their service to be associated with morally questionable content, and b) they were being pressured into it by the credit card companies that they do business with. We called bullshit. The products that PayPal wanted to censor (and worse!) are sold every day in brick and mortar stores using those credit cards. Nobody bats an eye. For that matter, much worse things are sold on e-Bay, PayPal’s parent company, and paid for via PayPal. If PayPal wants to censor content, why not start with e-Bay?

So last week we recorded, and Episode 61 of Galley Table went live yesterday. And do you know what happened?

PayPal recanted.

They are no longer going to threaten the livelihood of legal booksellers doing legal business, even if some of that business is in the erotica market. They are reducing the objectionable content from broad classes of literature to specific books. This is interesting because it shifts the burden of proof from the bookseller, trying to prove that a class of work is legal and should be allowed, over to PayPal, who now needs to prove that a specific work is objectionable and violates the law.

I know there are some out there who will laud PayPal’s actions as an attempt to stand up for morality. I certainly cannot fault anyone for clearly stating the morals that they believe in and choosing to absent themselves from activity that they deem to be morally ambiguous. But I cannot abide the hypocrisy of interfering with legal commerce between two other parties, while continuing to participate in the same questionable type of business deals yourself. In the end, that hypocrisy is what made this a freedom of speech issue, instead of a moral argument.

There will always be some content in the world that someone will find morally objectionable. We can’t help that. Personally, I’d rather that people explore such themes in fiction, and not in real life.

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