The payments app was developed in 1998 to give people more authority. It now serves as a pillar of our developing social credit system. This is how PayPal and the social credit system are related.
As they go about their business, one by one, they discover a perplexing notice from their payments app notifying them: “You can no longer do business with PayPal.”
There are little or no explanations. They have somehow insulted someone deep within the bureaucracy’s sensibilities.
They are merely informed via email from PayPal’s Risk and Compliance Department that “we decided to permanently limit your account as there was a change in your business model or your business model was considered risky” following an internal examination.
In case there is any doubt, the email adds: “You’ll not be able to conduct any further business using PayPal.”
Then, toward the bottom: “If you have funds in your PayPal balance, we’ll hold it for up to 180 days. After that period, we’ll email you with information on how to access your funds.”
If you are among the fortunate ones and your account has just been suspended, you can contact customer service, explain your position, and pray that someone will respond. In order to obtain the internal PayPal records and find out why you were banned, you will need legal representation if you have been banned. (Good luck removing the prohibition.)
These are the same people PayPal was created to empower: business owners, authors, educators, and activists. PayPal’s mission statement is “democratizing financial services.”
PayPal would not reveal how many of them have been suspended or blacklisted. The Electronic Frontier Foundation and other civil-liberties organizations wrote to PayPal (read below) and Venmo in June 2021, urging them to open up. So far, they haven’t, according to Aaron Terr, the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression’s director of public advocacy.
PayPal’s founders, known as the PayPal Mafia, include Peter Thiel, Elon Musk, David Sacks, and Max Levchin. They are all supporters of free speech. They have all expressed surprise and concern about what is happening to the company they founded.
“If the online forms of your money are frozen, that’s like destroying people economically, limiting their ability to exercise their political voice,” Thiel stated. “There’s something about destroying people economically that seems like a far more totalitarian thing.”
When the founders of PayPal started the service in December 1998, they envisaged themselves linking people to the global economy by avoiding the high fees charged by credit card firms and the inflationary policies of badly run governments. PayPal users in the early days used Palm Pilots to send money to anyone having an email address. It was notably well-liked by eBay users.
“PayPal will give citizens worldwide more direct control over their currencies than they ever had before,” Thiel said at a company meeting, in late 1999. “It will be nearly impossible for corrupt governments to steal wealth from their people through their old means, because if they try the people will switch to dollars or pounds or yen, in effect, dumping the worthless local currency for something more secure.”
Since those heady early days, there are 429 million active accounts on PayPal. PayPal is used by 58% of Americans, and there were 19.3 billion PayPal transactions in 2021. It is currently valued at $84 billion on the market.
However, the business that was intended to free countless people is evolving into something else.
It is evolving into a police officer more frequently. It involves making moral judgments about who deserves to be heard and who should be silenced. It involves keeping those individuals or companies out of the financial system who have strayed beyond the bounds of permissible speech and pose a threat to the gatekeepers’ consensus. The agreement is difficult to describe since it lacks distinct ideological contours. The tenets of that consensus, however, are unmistakable: the Covid lockdown was appropriate; the conflict in Ukraine is honorable; and an unrestricted exchange of ideas and opinions is an intolerable threat to all of the aforementioned.
How this transpired was the question at hand.
How had PayPal, which was created in the old Silicon Valley of web 1.0’s fertile crescent of innovation, become this? How did this business, whose sole focus had been on emancipating the individual, end up being a cornerstone of our developing social-credit system?
Eric Jackson, who served as interim vice president of US marketing in the beginning, stated: “PayPal’s founding vision was to empower people and give them more control and freedom. The company today is so far afield from that founding vision. It’s clear that it views its role as moderating what people can think, say and do. It is completely at odds with the vision that Peter Thiel and Max Levchin created for the company. As a part of the old PayPal team, it makes me really sad. Because we were trying to build something that enhanced freedom and protected people. Now, we’re seeing people act in a diametrically opposed manner to that.”
Yes, PayPal’s vision was “informed by libertarianism,” according to Jimmy Soni, author of The Founders: The Story of PayPal and the Entrepreneurs Who Shaped Silicon Valley, but during the early 2000s, amidst the implosion of the dot-com bubble, “the goal was simply to keep it alive, especially as so many other start-ups were going under in ‘00 and ‘01.”
The first tipping point, according to the old guard, was September 11, 2001, and the federal government’s response to the terrorist attacks, which included the passage of the Patriot Act.
The Patriot Act established strict restrictions on the movement of money into and out of the United States, among other things. “It would obviously make sense to ensure that Osama bin Laden shouldn’t be allowed to open a PayPal account,” Jackson said.
After thereafter, Ebay bought PayPal in 2002 for $1.5 billion.
PayPal declared on the day of the acquisition, July 8, that it would no longer process payments for sports betting sites. In addition, none of the founders were retained by the company. The message was clear: we are breaking with tradition. We are going to be a different company in the future.
Wikileaks became the next flashpoint in December 2010.
The activist group that leaked millions of confidential documents—with details concerning, among other things, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, CIA monitoring, and the Democratic National Committee—was harassed by American officials, and PayPal ultimately suspended the group’s account. Former engineer Thom Bradford from PayPal’s Berlin headquarters said: “I was naive enough when I worked there to believe that the Wikileaks thing was just a bizarre, isolated incident that they did because they were being pressured by the government, and they didn’t want to be subjected to heavy-handed regulation. But now it seems as though they take pleasure in it.”
The outline of the new governing authority did not become clear until the summer of 2020—the summer of Covid lockdowns, Black Lives Matter protests, burning cities, and the presidential election.
There was no conspiracy. The CEOs of Fortune 500 firms, the owners of venerable newspapers and TV networks, studio heads, and university presidents were not conspiring with Democratic leaders. It is that in a matter of months, maybe a year, they had all adopted the same leftwing identitarianism, the same slogans, hashtags, and pronouns, as well as the same facts and talking points. They reinforced one another, making it incredibly challenging for anybody to oppose the new orthodoxy.
The social credit system, which was not a formal structure or network but rather a loosely knit network of important businesses, organizations, and institutions, penalized those who did not represent the unofficial party line and rewarded those who applauded the loudest. It carries a familial resemblance to China’s far more defined social-credit system, which was an extension of the country’s financial credit system and was intended to evaluate businesses’ and individuals’ “trustworthiness,” which sounded sensible when discussing facts versus misinformation, but less so when discussing opinions—politics.
Kara Frederick, who formerly oversaw Facebook’s Global Counterterrorism Analysis Program, said the following in reference to the Chinese Communist Party: “I started noticing discomfiting similarities in what the consolidated centralized power of the CCP was visiting on its internal population, and what this combination and symbiosis of corporate power in the form of big tech and the federal government is, frankly, seeking to turn on specific American citizens.”
Frederick recalled the new PayPal-ADL alliance being praised, for instance, by Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance, Jr. Or President Joe Biden’s press secretary at the time, Jen Psaki, declaring on July 15, 2021, that the White House had discovered “problematic” Facebook posts that disseminated “misinformation” and that it expected the social media site to remove them.
If you challenged the wisdom of exposing children to drag shows if you were a trucker in Ottawa in early 2022 agitated about the nation’s vaccine regulations if you were against trying to defund the police if you were against critical race theory trickling into your six-year-old’s classroom, if you believed in everyone’s right to argue openly about all of the above, you were in a suspect class. You were increasingly in danger of getting de-platformed and debunked.
“What happens is these companies create the machinery of account de-platforming, suspensions, moderation, and it starts being used for legitimate reasons, but then what happens is it gets hijacked for political reasons,” David Sacks told me.
This was, without a doubt, Eric Finman’s experience.
He realized that the brand of Freedom Phone did not align with the current corporate thinking. Its laissez-faire attitude and commitment to “freedom” were at odds with the canceling ethic and the pro-equity, pro-lockdown, and pro-Ukraine politics. But even so. He identified as a “moderate Democrat.” He disagreed with dictating what individuals may say, read, or download. “If you ban the Chapo Trap House people on the left, they end up moving into their own group chats,” he said. “If you ban the Q people on the right, they end up moving into their group chats. Both go unchallenged. We need to be able to talk to each other and go up against each other.”
Free the People’s president, Matt Kibbe, who creates libertarian-leaning documentaries and podcasts, continued: “The way these social-credit systems work, they don’t happen overnight—they happen drip by drip.”
The revolution against the machine has begun, but it is mostly a grass-roots movement.
Toby Young from London called PayPal’s Customer Support after being suspended to contest the decision. After learning that his appeal would not be successful, he drafted a letter to British politicians urging them to pass laws that would forbid banks and payment companies from targeting customers who have ideas they find objectionable. 42 members of the House of Commons and the House of Lords signed on to support the letter.
“Why is it that these large corporations based overseas think they can effectively intervene in public debates in the United Kingdom?” Young said.
All three of Young’s PayPal accounts were reinstated soon after the letter was published.
However, if there is to be a real uprising, it is more likely to originate within the technocracy, from those with the resources and influence to compel a fundamental redesign of a system that appears to be intended to keep the vast, undulating mass of users divided and distracted.