PayPal said it mistakenly informed Consortium News that its account could be restored, saying instead it was shut forever, without ever giving any reasons for it, reports Joe Lauria.
By Joe Lauria
Special to Consortium News
A PayPal customer service agent on Thursday told Consortium News that an email sent to CN on Tuesday saying steps could be taken to restore the account was a “mistake” and that CN is indeed permanently banned from using its services.
The email on Tuesday said: “Access to your account will remain limited until you perform the steps required to lift the limitation.” The steps needed to be taken were never specified. Now PayPal says that information was sent in error and there is nothing Consortium News can do to restore its account. CN is unlikely to want to restore the account after its experience with PayPal. But an attempt to take the steps to reopen it would have yielded the reasons why Consortium News was banned in the first place. PayPal has never given any reasons for its actions.
An agent from PayPal’s “escalation department” then said she could not provide any information about why the account was blocked because Robert Parry, the CN founder whose name is on the account, is deceased. She said they could only speak with him. PayPal is refusing to change the name to the current editor-in-chief because the account was permanently banned (even though days ago he submitted the documents necessary for a name change). The “escalation” agent also said she could not discuss details because she was worried about her “employment.”
MintPress News, whose account was also shut down, received the exact email as CN did, saying the funds would be released and that it could take steps to the lift the ban. The name on MintPress News‘ PayPal account is Mnar Adley, MintPress executive director, who is still very much alive. But PayPal would not tell Adley why MintPress‘ account was closed either, Adley told Consortium News. She said that a statement had been prepared to be read out to her saying no further information would be made available. So the excuse about only being able to speak to Parry was untrue. PayPal will speak to no one dead or alive about why accounts were shut in these cases.
CN told the “escalation” agent that the only reasonable conclusion is that the ban was imposed because of a violation against providing “false, inaccurate or misleading information” which appears in PayPal’s user agreement. CN told the agent it’s likely PayPal would have provided the reasons for shutting down CN if the reasons were uncontroversial and that PayPal is probably remaining silent to avoid the embarrassment of revealing its attempt to defund a media organization because it disagrees with its news coverage, which would be a thoroughly “un-American” act.
If seen in the context of critics of U.S. policy in Ukraine being kicked off platforms like Twitter, including three Consortium News writers, the conclusion to be drawn is that CN‘s critical coverage of Washington’s Ukraine policy is the reason behind PayPal’s action.
PayPal may have been working on the advice of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). In July 2021, the ADL and PayPal announced a “partnership initiative to fight extremism and hate through the financial industry …” It would be an extraordinary stretch to conclude that Consortium News was engaging in “extremism” or “hate” because of its Ukraine coverage. However, CN has reported extensively, since Parry first did in 2014, about the influential role of neo-Nazism in Ukraine’s military. In a speech to the U.N. Security Council on Thursday, British ambassador Barbara Woodward said, “We are deeply concerned that Russia’s war is accompanied by a propaganda campaign, including in this Council, designed to dehumanise and demonise Ukrainians by labelling them as neo-Nazis. This hate speech is extremely dangerous.”
Reuters reported that PayPal transactions would be researched by the ADL’s Center on Extremism to also combat “anti-government organizations.” Reuters said: “The information collected through the initiatives will be shared with other firms in the financial industry, law enforcement and policymakers, PayPal said.”
This raises the specter that government and law enforcement may have been involved in PayPal’s decision on Consortium News. While the Biden administration’s new Disinformation Governance Board does not have police powers on its own, it is part of the Department of Homeland Security, which does.
The State Department also runs a Global Engagement Center, whose core mission is, “To direct, lead, synchronize, integrate, and coordinate efforts of the Federal Government to recognize, understand, expose, and counter foreign state and non-state propaganda and disinformation efforts aimed at undermining or influencing the policies, security, or stability of the United States, its allies, and partner nations.”
CN has emailed the media departments at DHS, the State Department and the ADL for responses and will update this story if it receives any.
The “mistaken” email did say something true: that Consortium News‘ and MintPress funds, which had been frozen, were released. CN immediately transferred them out of the account. PayPal had initially said it would hold the funds in CN‘s and MintPress‘ accounts for up to 180 days, after which it would decide whether to release or keep them for “damages” if PayPal suffered any liability.
The New York Post, the oldest U.S. newspaper, wrote an editorial on Wednesday condemning PayPal’s actions against CN and MintPress:
From the Left: PayPal’s Indy-Media Wipeout
“’The online payment platform PayPal without explanation suspended the accounts of a series of individual journalists and media outlets” for a half-year “review,’ claiming vague violations of its user agreement, fumes TK News’ Matt Taibbi. One victim who actually spoke to a PayPal human learned the company plans to keep any payments it has now frozen if it decides there was a violation. The outlets are indeed edgy, but this ‘ups the ante again on the content moderation movement,’ since ‘going after cash is a big jump from simply deleting speech, with a much bigger chilling effect.’ That’s “especially true” for ‘the alternative media world, where money has long been notoriously tight.’ If the issue is PayPal’s ban on providing ‘false, inaccurate or misleading information,’ it’s an ominous echo of Team Biden’s “dystopian ‘Disinformation Governance Board.’
PayPal may well have reacted to the growing media coverage, as well as to the outrage generated on Twitter, with many people saying they were canceling their PayPal accounts.
Joe Lauria is editor-in-chief of Consortium News and a former U.N. correspondent for The Wall Street Journal, Boston Globe, and numerous other newspapers, including The Montreal Gazette and The Star of Johannesburg. He was an investigative reporter for the Sunday Times of London, a financial reporter for Bloomberg News and began his professional work as a 19-year old stringer for The New York Times. He can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @unjoe
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