PayPal tries to ban conservative websites — and the internet responds swiftly

PayPal tries to ban conservative websites — and the internet responds swiftly
PayPal banned two conservative websites and later reinstated them after the Anti-Defamation League and Southern Poverty Law Center labeled them "hate" websites. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

The payment-processing website PayPal discontinued at least two conservative organizations’ accounts after left-leaning groups labeled them “hate groups” — but the accounts were later restored after swift backlash from online users.

PayPal discontinued the accounts belonging to Jihad Watch and the American Freedom Defense Initiative on Monday. The move came after a reporter for the nonprofit investigative journalism organization ProPublica emailed questions to the groups.

“I am contacting you to let you know that we are including your website in a list of sites that have been designated as hate or extremist by the American Defamation League or the Southern Poverty Law Center,” the reporter, Lauren Kirchner wrote, according to both organizations.

Kirchner added that ProPublica had identified “all the tech platforms that are supporting websites on the ADL and SPLC lists.”

Among those tech platforms, she said, are PayPal, Amazon, Newsmax, and Revcontent.

“Can you confirm that you receive funds from your relationship with those tech companies?” the reporter asked the conservative organizations.

“How would the loss of those funds affect your operations, and how would you be able to replace them?” she queried.

Robert Spencer, who heads Jihad Watch, posted to the group’s website the reply that he sent to the ProPublica reporter:

The intent of your questions, and no doubt of your forthcoming article, will be to try to compel these sites to cut off any connection with us based on our opposition to jihad terror. Are you comfortable with what you’re enabling? Not only are you inhibiting honest analysis of the nature and magnitude of the jihad threat, but you’re aiding the attempt to deny people a platform based on their political views. This could come back to bite you if your own views ever fall out of favor. Have you ever lived in a totalitarian state, where the powerful determine the parameters of the public discourse and cut off all voice from the powerless? Do you really want to live in one now? You might find, once you get there, that it isn’t as wonderful as you thought it would be.

Pamela Geller, who heads the American Freedom Defense Initiative, posted to her website her response to the ProPublica reporter.

Once you start shutting down people on the claim that they operate “hate groups,” you have made the use of such platforms contingent upon holding certain political opinions. Beware, because in doing so you will be setting a dangerous precedent: one day your own opinions could be out of favor, and you will find yourself cut off.

Geller noted that the email exchange occurred on Saturday.

And sure enough, just hours later, both Jihad Watch and the AFDI reported that their suspicions that the ProPublica reporter was doing political activism masquerading as journalism were proven to be well-founded. Spencer and Geller posted on their respective websites the email they received from PayPal.

“We have recently reviewed your usage of PayPal’s services, as reflected in our records and on your website https://www.jihadwatch.org,” PayPal’s email to Spencer read. “Due to the nature of your activities, we have chosen to discontinue service to you in accordance with PayPal’s User Agreement. As a result, we have placed a permanent limitation on your account.”

Geller shared a screenshot of the email on her Facebook fan page as well as the AFDI Facebook page.

Spencer and Geller asked their supporters to call and email PayPal in response to the ban — and it looks like PayPal got the message.

On Monday, Spencer posted another message he said he received from PayPal notifying him that the group’s account had been “reinstated.”

“Effective 08/21/2017, the limitation applied to your account associated with https://www.jihadwatch.org pursuant to our User Agreement was removed. Your services are being reinstated,” the email to Spencer read. The message added that PayPal’s Acceptable Use Policy “prohibits individuals and groups from using PayPal for activities that promote hate, violence, or racial intolerance.”

The email then went on to seemingly threaten the group.

“If we become aware of a website or organization using our services that may violate our polices, our dedicated team of professionals conducts a thorough review,” the email stated. “Ultimately, a decision is made and communicated to the organization. In this instance, we have made the determination to lift the limitation applied to your account associated with the Acceptable Use Policy.”

Despite having their services reinstated, however, Spencer said he will no longer do business with PayPal.

“I have no intention of restoring the PayPal buttons on Jihad Watch. I know where they stand now, and do not intend to place myself at their mercy again,” Spencer wrote Monday on JihadWatch.org. Regardless, Spencer went on to call PayPal’s reversal as a “victory.”

“Free people still exist in the United States, and the fascists who call themselves anti-fascists will not prevail,” Spencer wrote.

Geller did not specifically indicate online that she plans to cut ties with PayPal, but while the AFDI was still banned from PayPal, Geller did promote an account with Stripe, a similar online payment processing platform, to solicit online donations.

A representative from PayPal did not immediately return a request for comment from TheBlaze on Tuesday.

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