Over the weekend, PayPal, the online payments giant, tested a Chinese Communist Party-style “social credit” system. The blowback had the Silicon Valley company backpedaling furiously in less than 48 hours, but the episode stands as a prime example of where our society is headed unless conservatives speak out and stop it.
On Friday, PayPal announced a new policy that would allow the company to fine users who spread “misinformation” or presented a risk to others’ “well-being” — as much as $2,500 per offense. Decisions on guilt and innocence were to be made at the “sole discretion” of PayPal, which could unilaterally extract the fines from the funds users deposited into their PayPal accounts.
On Saturday, after the Daily Wire broke the story, the term “BoycottPayPal” started trending on Twitter, and droves of influential conservatives like Candace Owens began canceling their accounts. The company quickly rescinded the policy, saying the notice “went out in error” and “included incorrect information.”
“PayPal isn’t sorry, they’re just mad they got caught,” tweeted “Hercules” actor Kevin Sorbo, just one voice in a chorus of online backlash that included PayPal’s previous president, David Marcus, and Tesla top executive and Twitter buyout suitor Elon Musk.
On Monday, Google searches for “how to cancel PayPal” and “delete PayPal account” were still trending, and the company’s stock fell 6.3%. The public pressure campaign worked — for now.
The truth is that many Silicon Valley companies would love to adopt China’s social credit system here in the U.S. — as a way to control who gets to speak in the public square.
Last year, Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leaders began rolling out a system that ranks all Chinese citizens, companies and government organizations based on their value and loyalty to the regime. A 2015 CCP document describes the social credit system as “an important component part of the Socialist market economy system and the social governance system,” designed to reinforce the idea that “keeping trust is glorious and breaking trust is disgraceful.”
Infractions in the social credit system include such offenses as failing to repay a loan, buying too many video games — and spreading “misinformation” online. If one’s ranking is too low, an individual can be banned from air and train travel or prohibited from buying property, taking out a loan or enrolling in higher education. The regime can even throttle the internet connection speeds of offenders.
“Naming and public shaming are other tactics,” the Business Insider wrote last year on the system’s rollout. “A 2016 government notice encourages companies to consult the blacklist before hiring people or giving them contracts.”
An individual’s ranking is determined by China’s National Development and Reform Commission, the People’s Bank of China and the Chinese court system, according to the South China Morning Post. Private companies such as Ant Financial’s Zhima Credit deploy their own systems. As of yet, there is no single, nationally coordinated system, but give the CCP some time. Someday soon, it is hoped, businesses will be given a “unified social credit code” and citizens an identity number, all linked to a permanent record.
You say — well, that’s communist China. Such a social credit system could never work here. And yet here we are, with Silicon Valley working hand in glove with the federal government to determine who is worthy of its services and who needs to be cut off.
PayPal has already canceled accounts linked to Toby Young, who runs Free Speech Union, a nonprofit that has defended those “canceled” by woke mobs. It has also sanctioned Gays Against Groomers, an organization whose mission is to safeguard children from sexual abuse. Is the group’s online content provocative? Yes, but no more so than the movement it opposes, which advocates for the transitioning and medicalization of minors, and promotes “drag queen story hours” in libraries and the teaching of gender theory in the classroom.
“PayPal’s policy is not to allow our services to be used for activities that promote hate, violence or discriminatory intolerance,” a company spokesperson told the Advocate of its canceling of Gays Against Groomers account. “We base our reviews of accounts on these parameters, taking action when we deem that individuals or organizations have violated this policy.”
Earlier this year, the online fundraising site GoFundMe banned U.S. donations from being sent to truckers peacefully protesting COVID-19 lockdowns and restrictions in Canada, arguing it could halt any fundraisers that violated its terms of service, including campaigns that condone violence.
And just this week, The Washington Times reported more than “50 government officials across 13 agencies ‘threatened, cajoled and colluded’ with social media companies to silence online speech about topics the Biden administration disliked, such as election integrity, the origins of the novel coronavirus and COVID-19 restrictions.”
Conservatives won the PayPal battle. The war to defend free speech continues.
• Kelly Sadler is the commentary editor at The Washington Times.