Paypal, Internet banker, as content censor?

Paypal is having a discussion with our friends over at Smashwords.com.  It sounds like a civil conversation about what kind of content crosses the line from being harmless fiction to being socially-damaging advocacy of criminal behaviour.

http://www.smashwords.com/press/release/27

The odd thing about this discussion is why  an innovative ebook publishing platform, is having the conversation with its bankers at all.

The world has come to an odd place that we are entrusting our bankers to defend society from the dangers of advocating thoughts or behaviours that might harm us.  In most advanced democracies we leave it to our politicians and Judges to have public debates on the pros and cons of where we, as a society, chose to draw these lines.

I can see where Paypal might have to tell Smashwords that they, Paypal, will have to inform “the authorities” of content Smashwords’ authors might be trying to sell - if that content advocates blowing things up, or advocates dangerous behaviors, or otherwise contravenes publicly debated and adopted laws of the land.

The authorities can chose, or not, to level criminal charges and then we’d have an investigation, a trial, and a public ruling.   All open to debate, comment, and appeal.   The way our open system of democratic government is supposed to work.

But that is not what Paypal are doing.   They are privately telling Smashwords what the standards are.   Smashwords is then required to police what their authors and readers do on their site against rules that Paypal has set.  Rules that are not open to public debate, discussion, or appeal.  If Smashwords does not enforce Paypal’s rules Paypal will then punish Smashwords by withdrawing an important service their authors and readers rely on to transact private business.

Paypal’s rules may be good ones, that is besides the point.   The point is: what the hell is Paypal, and the nice bankers who run Paypal, thinking - allowing themselves to play the role of community censor?   That isn’t their job.  They are bankers.

For more on this issue:

+ http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/industry-news/publisher-news/article/50946-smashwords-books-threatened-by-paypal.html

+ http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/bernard-oleary/paypal-banned-books-the-books-banned-by-paypa_b_1314953.html

+ http://selenakitt.com/blog/index.php/2012/02/19/slippery-slope-erotica-censorship/