PayPal's hate speech definition is a problem for online merchants

October 11, 2022

Payment Processing
Business Environment
Payment Technology

Should PayPal become the arbiter of hate speech?

PayPal’s EULA has taken a decidedly anti-liberty tack for years. In the past, recommending their service was a no-brainer for us. While I could understand their reluctance to support the legal sale of firearms and tobacco, their suppression free speech (they call it ‘hate speech’) leads me to pause, nay, feel compelled to recommend my clients avoid becoming dependent on their services and payment methods. Their services include Braintree and Venmo among others.

Changing payment processors is a big deal and a 30-day notice is minimal for merchants using advanced features like subscriptions, recurring payments, and saved credit cards to implement a change.

Are you a hater and don’t know it?

Their vaguely-defined term ‘hate’ makes me think of some very likely scenarios:

  • A vendor of t-shirts that has a variety of audiences might sell the new Kanye West “White Lives Matter” shirts. Does PayPal consider that hate speech and, if so, will they withdraw their services?
  • What about a company that sells that and “Black Lives Matter” t-shirts?
  • Is a #letsgobrandon coffee mug hate speech?
  • How about a Church that takes offerings via PayPal but also openly opposes transgender transitionining of children?
  • What about a journalist who is suspicious of the actions of certain pharmaceutical companies during the pandemic that sells newsletter subscriptions?

I do not believe it is PayPal’s job to protect my constitutional rights or even acknowledge or support them. Merchants, however, must be leery of doing business with an organization that is willing to not only deny but terminate ongoing service based on as flimsy a notion as ‘hate speech’ (which seems to be defined as not supporting the current official narrative), much less make such a far-reaching policy change on a whim.

Expressions of hate are certainly disgusting and should be condemned.

Hate speech or speech we just don’t like – for now?

PayPal’s initial wording was ‘disinformation.’ They have since retrenched and hidden behind the term ‘hate.’ Expressions of hate are certainly disgusting and should be condemned.

However, even the UN struggles to define the term. According to their website, “Under International Human Rights Law, there is no universal definition of hate speech as the concept is still widely disputed especially in regards to its relation to freedom of opinion and expression, non-discrimination and equality.”

Later in the document, they attempt to clarify the definition as such, “any kind of communication in speech, writing or behaviour, that attacks or uses pejorative or discriminatory language with reference to a person or a group on the basis of who they are.”

there is no universal definition of hate speech as the concept is still widely disputed
– United Nations

I agree that PayPal is a private company and allowed to operate its business on its own terms. However, as one who advises merchants, I have to say that the agreement and the UN’s definition (assuming it is the one they are adopting) are simply too loose for business. I encourage merchants to seek other providers who engage clients in a more objective and business-like manner.

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