Over the past few days, several independent media outlets and journalists have had their PayPal accounts abruptly canceled and their funds frozen by the company for unspecified violations. It also happens that these media have in various ways opposed the official orthodoxy on the war in Ukraine. Since the Russian invasion, a series of extreme, wartime information control policies had already been adopted in the West. The latest news suggests the trend is getting significantly worse.
Consortium news, founded by the late Robert Parry, legend of the 1995 Associated Press investigation as one of the very first reader-funded independent news outlets, reported over the weekend that PayPal had “permanently limited his account, just as he was launching his Spring Fund Conduit. According to editor Joe Lauria, a former longtime United Nations correspondent for the the wall street journal, boston globeand others – the company said it would keep the thousands of dollars accumulated in the POS account for 180 days and reserve the right to seize the money entirely to pay unnamed “damages”.
According to Laurie, Consortium news were neither warned they were at risk of being censored nor given a reason in the initial email from PayPal or in a follow-up call with a customer service representative. PayPal’s back office gave no reason for action, and there were no existing cases against the outlet. Lauria said he was informed of the move by the client agent, who only mentioned that an “investigation and review” revealed “a potential risk associated with this account.” Given the media’s critical coverage of the war in Ukraine and the far-reaching steps already taken in “information warfare” over the conflict, Lauria writes that it is “more than conceivable” that the media outlet is punished for his coverage of Ukraine.
Few days ago, MintPress Newsa Minnesota-based leftist online outlet, had also been informed by PayPal that he was banned from the company after a review allegedly revealed an unspecified “potential risk” with his account. The outlet’s founder and editor, Mnar Adley, said Jacobin that, as with Consortium news, the outlet received no advance warning from PayPal and was told that its existing balance would be held by the company for six months. It is not the first time MintPress was targeted financially, Adley says; GoFundMe has ended two different fundraisers it had been running for years, suddenly claiming they violated the site’s terms of service.
In this case, PayPal’s network went beyond the organization itself and also targeted one of its reporters, senior writer Alan MacLeod having had his personal account canceled at the same time. PayPal told him it had detected “activity on your account that violates our terms of service,” which he calls “obviously absurd” because the last time he used PayPal, it was to buy a £5 Christmas present in December. Both MacLeod and Adley say they thankfully withdrew funds shortly before the cancellations, but the loss will still have lingering effects. MintPress was pulling in about $1,000 a month from readers’ membership payments through the service, Adley says, while MacLeod notes that it could hurt his ability to get paid for future stories.
To like Consortium news, MintPress criticized US policy toward the invasion of Ukraine. In recent days, MacLeod has been posting articles sniffing out new and popular members in the West Kyiv Independentexposed TikTok’s hiring of many NATO and other national security personnel for the highest positions and, ironically, criticized war-related online censorship efforts.
“The sanctions regime’s war is coming back to hit the bank accounts of watchdog journalists,” Adley says.
Regardless of what you might think of the output of either publication – like any publication, a reasonable reader will find things they agree with and disagree with – c is a chilling attack on the freedom of the press. Faceless tech bureaucrats unilaterally cut off two serious independent media outlets from a vital source of funding with no prior warning, no ability to appeal, and no explanation beyond a vague reference to “potential risk,” all at a time when Critical debate about the most dangerous conflict in the lives of most Americans is stifled in a climate of fear and repression.
The seeds for this latest action were sown more than a decade ago, when PayPal, under pressure from the US government, froze the WikiLeaks account. At the time, the whistleblower publisher published a series of data revealing previously undisclosed Western war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan, before releasing a searchable database of 250,000 Department of Defense cables. ‘State.
Commentators warned at the time that the move would set a dangerous precedent and be used against other publishers in the future. Equally worrying is PayPal’s partnership, announced last year, with the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), a historically anti-leftist and pro-Palestinian activist organization, which it attacks under the guise of fighting anti-Semitism. Eight months after announcing that the two would work together to “uncover and disrupt financial pipelines that support extremist and hateful movements”, ADL Chief Executive Jonathan Greenblatt announced that the organization would be devoting “more focused energy to the threat of radical anti-Zionism” and declared, in what appears to be a hardening of his previous official line, that “anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism”. (It’s not.)
On other fronts, the ADL has recently relaxed its anti-extremist vigilance. Just two months ago, the group downplayed the threat from the far-right in Ukraine, saying it was a “very fringe group with no political influence and does not attack Jews”, a claim which is, to say the least, debatable. . PayPal’s actions against left-leaning independent news outlets, coupled with its ongoing partnership with the ADL, are concerning and may well portend increased targeting of independent news outlets and journalists who oppose the right-wing position of the ADL on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
This all comes days later, as the press indulged in its annual courtship with government officials at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner. Host Trevor Noah won widespread applause for his speech, marveling that despite the president’s light roast — a mundane and obligatory feature of the annual event — he was “doing well” and that “in America you have the right to seek the truth and speak the truth, even if it makes those in power uncomfortable. This right, apparently, does not extend to the independent press.
Given the evolving history of tech censorship, it would be surprising if censorship of Consortium news and MintPress News That’s where it ends, especially with PayPal’s stock receiving no reaction, criticism or even notice outside of the independent media. But the mainstream media would be foolish to ignore the problem. Tech censorship may be overwhelmingly focused on indie outlets at the moment, but given recent precedent, it’s only a matter of time before a president — one less friendly to the press — uses the union of tech companies and the power of government to form the crosshairs over them.