PayPal’s at it again. In January 2010 they stopped donations to WikiLeaks on the grounds that the site was used for illegal activities. I didn’t like it but I could (sort of) understand their rationale.
But now PayPal is attempting to force Smashwords, the popular site that helps authors and small publishers compile ebooks, to remove books containing “…themes of bestiality, rape and incest.” According to the email from Smashwords, PayPal claims that they are being “…compelled to do this to remain compliant with the rules of the banks and credit card companies.”
A quick search for the call-for-censorship terms at Amazon, BN and Powels reveals books in all three categories at all three sites. Since all three sites accept the usual variety of credit cards I’m guessing either PayPal is acting on its own, or the credit card companies are testing to see what happens when they try to decide what folks should read, and by implication, write.
No matter how its happening, it worries me. Censorship seems to be part of the push toward conservative thinking that often accompanies any economic downturn. Somehow sex and erotica are favorite targets of those who would tell me how to live, what to read and what to write.
It’s wrong because here in the United States we have the right to express our ideas no matter what they are. In a market driven economy where sex sells everything from cars to baby food, restricting the sale of certain topics is in fact censorship, and it’s censorship without due process. It’s arbitrary and it means PayPal and/or the credit card companies can decide they don’t like books about cats or dogs or anything that criticizes the government in any fashion.
When, as it appears in this case, such a move is led by at least one corporation it smacks of oligarchy.
I’m not alone in these concerns.
The Electronic Freedom Foundation has a blistering post called Legal Censorship: PayPal Makes a Habit of Deciding What Users Can Read. The National Coalition Against Censorship posted NCAC, ABFFE Protest PayPal Ban on Erotic Material.
So what can we do?
We can sign the petition at Change.org. You can follow what’s happening by joining Smashwords and getting their newsletter. You can also get a free newsletter from EFF.org that will help you track this and other issues. We can also stay alert to any challenge to our personal freedoms and protest them as best we can.
How will you work to stop censorship?