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How corporations can delete your existence Losing a Twitter account for controversial statements is one thing; losing a bank account is quite another

Mess with Big Social at your peril. Credit: Netflix.


October 29, 2020   6 mins

Let’s call her Laura. In September, Laura was out in Leeds City Centre, buying some bits, when her card was declined. Funny, she thought. She definitely wasn’t in the red. But these things happen, so she left the shop, tinting crimson, and dashed towards the nearest cashpoint.

But her card wouldn’t work at the cashpoint either. She tried another one. With the same result.

Laura opened the banking app on her phone. It said only ‘error’, then automatically closed.

She finally abandoned her shopping and went into the nearest branch of Santander. There, the counter assistant seemed just as mystified. After about an hour of waiting, though, Laura was called through into the manager’s office.

“I’m going to read a statement out for you,” the manager said. “But I’m not going to be able to answer any of your questions after that.”

He read out:

“We have locked your bank account. We can’t give you any more information. We might be in touch in future with more information. But we don’t know when that might be.”

Could she have her money? No.

But how was she supposed to get home? After all, she lived eight miles outside of Leeds, and now she had no bus fare. Apparently, this was not the bank’s business.

This low-rent version of The Trial went on for another three weeks. Frequently, Laura would phone up Santander customer services. She’d be put on hold for ages. Then the phone would just go dead. She wrote to Santander to complain. They wrote back: they weren’t interested in her complaint and wouldn’t be taking it any further. Meanwhile, her rent, standing orders and Direct Debits stacked up, the late fees and penalties mushroomed around them, as life tumbled towards chaos.

Nearly a month on, she received a letter from Santander:

Under the terms and conditions
 we can withdraw banking facilities at any time, and in line with company policy we don’t give further details.

The account had been closed. Without apparent irony, the balance had been appended as a cheque.

‘Laura’ could be any of us. But she is also Laura Towler, one of the founders of Patriotic Alternative. Towler is a sort of next-gen BNP type, a net-savvy white identitarian who campaigns against mass-migration, and occasionally winks to her Telegram followers about ‘you know who’ (they know alright: The Jews). It would seem that Towler had been expelled from Santander for her views. But in line with the bank’s conditions, this has not been made clear.

By a strange coincidence, in the same month, the same thing happened to Mark Collett, her Patriotic Alternative co-founder. Only, Collett doesn’t bank with Santander — he is with HSBC. Somehow, the same thing also happened, in different countries, to Europe’s leading young white identitarians: Brittany Pettibone and Martin Sellner.

Coincidence abounds in the modern world. Last year, on the other side of the Atlantic, various alt-ish-Right figures who banked with JP Morgan Chase woke up on the same morning to find that they no longer banked with JP Morgan Chase. They included the chair of the Proud Boys Enrique Tarrio, former InfoWars staffer Joe Biggs, Project Veritas associate Laura Loomer, and Martina Markota, a Trump-supporting performance artist.

Of those four, it’s the other Laura whose case drives home the full capriciousness of corporate power in a networked age. Loomer styles herself as the “most banned woman in the world”. In addition to Chase, she is banned from PayPal, from VenMo, from The Cash App, Airbnb and Instagram, from Lyft, Uber and UberEats, from the blogging monetisation platform WordAds and the t-shirt print-to-order site TeeSpring, from Twitter and Facebook — obviously — and from any one of a half dozen other platforms for digital congress.

Some of these bans are strongly self-inflicted; controversy is her currency. She got booted from Uber in 2017 after ranting about being unable to find a taxi driver who wasn’t Muslim in Manhattan, in the hours after the NYC terror truck attack. Twitter banned her in 2018, after she laid into Ilhan Omar, the Muslim Congresswoman, claiming, scandalously, that Omar was part of a religion in which “homosexuals are oppressed”, and ”women are abused” and “forced to wear the hijab.” Later that month, wearing a gold ‘Juden’ star (Loomer is Jewish) she handcuffed herself to Twitter HQ, to protest the decision.

But many of those bans are mere cascade effects. TeeSpring works with PayPal. PayPal had already declared Loomer an unperson, and thus they informed TeeSpring that they would have to stop supplying her. Ditto Venmo and The Cash App.

You don’t want to mess with the people who make the widgets that undergird the financial system. In 2018, in response to activist pressure, MasterCard began choking off various far-Right and internet Right figures. That in turn meant their often lucrative Patreon accounts were cancelled: YouTube ‘Classical Liberal’ Carl Benjamin lost $12000 a month. Now, in a post-Covid world, where we’re often being told that cash is no longer acceptable, some are also being told that electronic banking is no longer for them. It’s an interesting crossroads.

The likes of Towler might be distasteful. But if that alone is the bar for the arbitrary exercise of power by, say, the PR department of NatWest, then all kinds of people — from Cat Bin Lady down — stand to be unpersoned.

Right of admission is always reserved — we all know this — and you might say that these examples are just the market at work. Except that some things are so fundamental to our everyday lives that they’re not so much markets as the thing that you need in order to use a market.

In the dying days of Gordon Brown, an attempt was made to guarantee every citizen’s right to a current account. It was quickly shot down by the Big Five banks (after all, it wasn’t as if they owed the government any favours). A decade on, that tide is further out than it has ever been.

In the banking system’s capacity to disable the individual without pro-actively doing them harm, there’s an echo of the elegance of the Chinese government’s social credit. “There was no file, no police warrant, no official advance notification. They just cut me off from the things I was once entitled to. What’s really scary is there’s nothing you can do about it,” was how Liu Hu put it — a Chinese journalist, who ran afoul of social credit in 2019. But perhaps Black Mirror’s ‘Nosedive’ episode would be a more apt comparison. In our hemisphere, that kind of deletion is done more cheerily, coated in the veneer of freedom of choice and association, by PR and HR, not by the grey monolith of The Party’s star council.

Increasingly, we allow our corporations to police the soft boundaries of acceptable speech and thought, from Sainsbury’s rejection of ‘racist’ shoppers to the Yorkshire Tea wars to Tampax’s latest bloodbath.

Ironically enough, the license that companies now take as part of their remit is a perfect mirror image of the Cake Problem: the oft-rehashed libertarian thought experiment, over whether a fundamentalist Christian cake-maker should be forced to bake a cake for a gay wedding. When US Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson was posed the question in 2016, he said that they should — and added that he would equally require a Jewish baker to make a Nazi wedding cake. The underlying principle is one of neutrality. Where two belief systems clash, if they remain polite and cooperative, shouldn’t the public still retain an underlying right of service?

Evidently not.

Another great thought experiment dawned in August of last year, when Laura Loomer stunned the Republican establishment by winning the GOP primary for Florida’s 21st Congressional District. The 21st is West Palm Beach, where Mar-a-Lago lives. Trump himself has already cast his vote for her.

Clearly, Loomer’s campaign has been adversely affected by her various bans. At the time of her deletion, Loomer’s tweets were getting 150 million impressions a month. As she puts it: “They just assume that people can afford TV, and that they’re not going to get all their information through social media.”  She might have wingnut tendencies, but Loomer is also half of the choice for voters in the 21st District.

This year, “in the interests of transparency and fairness”, Twitter has given every single candidate standing in the US election a blue-check verified account. So, when she won her primary, she applied to have her accounts reinstated.

No dice. She can’t get on Big Social, the broadcast networks are ignoring her, and her opponent, Lois Frankel, won’t even say her name, let alone debate her.

Should she win — still a long shot — Loomer has sworn to spend her time on Capitol Hill breaking up the tech giants’ monopoly. So couldn’t it be said that they’re acting to titrate their own legislative environment?

F.A. Hayek, and his prophet on earth Margaret Thatcher, saw the market as the best bulwark against tyrannical state power — that by pulling lots of little levers every day with our cash, we’d effectively be voting, in a constant dialogue of mini-democracy. It was only towards the end of their regime that the Thatcherites began to realise that some things — from trains down — remain public utilities in spirit, no matter who runs them.

As the Hunter Biden story still freezes the New York Post’s Twitter feed, it seems the power of the corporate lever-pullers to mould the outer edges of democracy is as strong as it has ever been. We can vote with our wallets, sure. But what if the scope extends way beyond a single product line, into an entire kind of product, or the social architecture that makes products possible? What if the lever-pullers are our wallets?


Gavin Haynes is a journalist and former editor-at-large at Vice.

@gavhaynes

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Stephen Crossley
Stephen Crossley
3 years ago

The article significantly underestimates this phenomenon by implying it will only affect bigots and loonies at an unspecified date somewhere in the distant future.

This week saw the most valuable public listing of shares in history namely the $34 billion offering of around 10% of the shares of Ant Group on the Hongkong and Shanghai exchanges. It values the group founded by Chinese billionaire Jack Ma of Alibaba fame at slightly over $300 billion. Its flagship product is Alipay, the dominant payment system in China which last year processed over $17 trillion in transactions for nearly 1 billion customers.

Many Chinese companies are required by law to share their customer information with the Chinese Communist Party but that is not even the main issue here.

The near future will see the vast majority of the payments we make processed by Alipay, Paypal, ApplePay and their clones as cash is phased out. They will have a history of every transaction we make including which magazines we read, our political leanings, every product we have ever bought, whether we are behind on our mortgage, our salaries (or lack thereof) with virtually no effective regulation of how that information is used or sold.

The result for many ordinary people will not be just the inconvenience of switching bank accounts as described in the article. Those deemed either financially or ideologically “risky” will be surprised to learn that their applications for a mortgage, life insurance, bank account, credit card or even employment will be rejected without any reason given and with no legal recourse.

While our politicians and media are easily distracted by such trivia as pronoun usage I would encourage constituents to lobby their MP’s on the incredibly important issue raised by the article before it is too late.

M Spahn
M Spahn
3 years ago

Exactly right. I had no idea this kind of deplatforming was taking place. It is completely appalling, regardless of who it is directed against. Giant international banks enforcing Wokeness against the rest of us is truly a dystopian nightmare, and yet we see it coming into view.

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
3 years ago

First they came for the alt right cranks, and I did not speak out, because I was not an alt right crank.

Andy Jackson
Andy Jackson
3 years ago
Reply to  Drahcir Nevarc

Exactly. I’ve got no time for Laura Towler’s views, but I’ll defend her right to hold them and express them to the death, as the cliché goes.

Sean L
Sean L
3 years ago
Reply to  Andy Jackson

They are resisting ethnic minority status in their own land, which is imminent. Their proposal of assisted voluntary repatriation of immigrants and their descendants was Conservative government policy in the ’60s and ’70s. Were Africans being displaced in their native lands by Europeans at anything like the same rate, to say nothing of the crime and violence, “anti-racists” or “the left” would be defending their right to national self-determination. Why is it wrong for Europeans not to be ethnic minorities in their ancestral homelands but right for everyone else? As the great truth-teller of our time Rene Girard put it: ‘Not only is the revolt against ethnocentrism an invention of the West, it cannot be found outside the West’.

Sean L
Sean L
3 years ago
Reply to  Drahcir Nevarc

‘Alt-right cranks’? Assisted voluntary repatriation of immigrants and their descendants was Conservative government policy under Ted Heath and Margaret Thatcher when the numbers were a fraction of what they are now. ‘Minority’ births will be a majority before 2030; British schoolchildren a minority in British schools by 2035. Ethnic minority status and eventual dissolution of natives is mathematically guaranteed by fertility rates alone, never mind further influx. David Hume author of a monumental History of England and very based on race must be turning in his grave to see his people being outnumbered by Asians and Africans. If the roles were reversed and Africans in their lands were being displaced by Europeans, the same ‘refugees welcome’ ‘anti-racists’ would be defending the Africans’ in the name of “self-determination”.

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
3 years ago
Reply to  Sean L

The UK’s recent history of unprecedented demographic growth has seriously adverse consequences: an entrenched and deepening housing crisis, overwhelmed public services, squeezed C2DE wages etc. In the circumstances, advocacy of immigration control is a matter of ethically-informed common sense, not alt-right crankery.

Jos Haynes
Jos Haynes
3 years ago
Reply to  Sean L

Well, you’re right. One has only to do the numbers to see that in parts of the country the indigenous people will be in the minority within a generation. It’s the deathwish of the liberal Establishment who somehow think they will be above it all, or that the cultures will merge to become one large happy diverse community. A bit like Lebanon, or Burundi

Colin Macdonald
Colin Macdonald
3 years ago
Reply to  Sean L

Funny how those who advocate open borders mainly believe colonialism was an evil project. A bit contradictory surely, if you think it was a bad thing to live under British rule in Africa, why is it a human right to live under it here?

Muscleguy
Muscleguy
3 years ago
Reply to  Drahcir Nevarc

Indeed. I’m a Scottish Independence campaigner. As part of that I’m a member of the insurgent Independence for Scotland Party (ISP) but a bit more than that, on the national policy committee and local branch Treasurer. In advance of setting up the Branch bank account this has given me pause.

The governing SNP do not like us even though we won’t be taking seats of them and we are Yes too. The Unionist parties don’t like us because we WILL be taking seats off them.

Separating us from our money and ability to fundraise could easily stifle us. Yet we are nothing if not absolute democrats. We have good internal party democracy, unlike the modern SNP for eg.

I agree, if they use this to go after the racist right now, where will it end?

Did I mention we are very much in favour of Women’s Rights and against Self ID? See where I’m going here?

Mark M
Mark M
3 years ago

On another point, is it really scandalous to say that Islam is a religion in which “homosexuals are oppressed”, and “women are abused” and “forced to wear the hijab.”?

The countries in the world where homosexuality is a capital offence are:- Brunei, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Sudan, Mauritania and parts of Nigeria and Somalia. Spot the common factor.

And surely there is good reason to suggest that women are not totally free and equal in Islamic counties – even though they are now allowed to drive a car in Saudi Arabia.

Derek M
Derek M
3 years ago
Reply to  Mark M

I’d presumed he was being sarcastic when he said that, perhaps I’m wrong

Swiveleyed Loon
Swiveleyed Loon
3 years ago

Every time I read about something like this I try and work out how to fight it.

Banks have to be licensed. It would be easy to make it a condition of holding a banking license that exclusion of a new or existing customer must be subject to a right of appeal by that customer, and that appeal must be subject to the ordinary rules of jurisprudence. For example, the bank would have to explain why the customer has been excluded and disclose the evidence on which the decision was based, and I think such hearings would have to be open but with the customer’s identity protected. A customer who has behaved unlawfully or unreasonably would lose their appeal. Clearly any reasons for exclusion which contravene existing legislation, including the laws relating to discrimination, rehabilitation of offenders, etc. would be ineffective. It might also be necessary to restrict banks from excluding customers because of anything they have said or written unless those statements contravene an existing law, for example the laws against incitement.

That might deal satisfactorily with the banks. What about social media? At the moment platforms like Twitter, Facebook, Google in all its various guises, but particularly Youtube, etc., do not have to be licensed. I see no reason why this should continue to be the case.

It might be possible to draft a general law that prevents any organisation, public or private, from excluding anyone who complies with their ordinary (and reasonable) terms of business, without providing an appeals procedure of the kind I have outlined.

Is there a barrister on here who would be willing to discuss this?

Kiran Grimm
Kiran Grimm
3 years ago

Could be a job for the Free Speech Union.
In case you haven’t seen their site here’s a link:
https://freespeechunion.org

Jos Haynes
Jos Haynes
3 years ago

It is not up to the banks or any commercial organisation to be judge and jury on whether a customer has broken any law unrelated to its operations. I agree about using the banking licence to control the activities of a bank and limit its ability to damage a citizen’s life. But is a modern Government/civil service capable of withstanding the power of the huge financial corporations, especially when their own inclinations are to clamp down on “awkward customers”?

lucyferr1984
lucyferr1984
3 years ago

Extremely well expressed & I’m almost 100% in agreement with you except for 1 slight err whereby I’d have to disagree with them being classed as platforms when they clearly use & abuse their ability to take editorial roles in which case they are quite literally PUBLISHERS & should be treated as such.

Mark M
Mark M
3 years ago

In 2004 Barclays Bank did the same thing to the BNP. As a UK political party needs a UK bank account for practical reasons (and possibly as a legal requirement?) this could give the banks the power who is allowed to stand in elections. Expect more of this sort of thing now that far-left activists realise this is a strategy that works pretty much every time i.e. don’t bother with any of this tedious debate business, just punish the individual for holding views they regard as unacceptable to them. Banks, corporations, public bodies, universities will always cave in.

Brian Dorsley
Brian Dorsley
3 years ago
Reply to  Mark M

They’re not caving in. They’re spear-heading this. The far-left are just their useful idiots.

bob alob
bob alob
3 years ago

“Right of admission is always reserved ” we all know this ” and you might say that these examples are just the market at work”, Not really true though in these cases, pressure was brought to bear on all these institutions by activists to have these people cancelled, the Companies concerned would not have taken any action like this until pressured to do so, having now done so though they have accepted it as their responsibility to prop up the cultural left and must now continue to do so with minimal effort on the part of those activists, an extremely sinister development.

Paul Marks
Paul Marks
3 years ago

Mr Haynes you started with someone who, you claim, hates Jews – but then you went on to other people who I know do NOT hate Jews (indeed some of whom actually are Jewish) and you called them all “Alt Right”. Do you have a definition for this term or does it just mean “people I disagree with”? For example, Carl Benjamin (“Sargon”) spent much of his time in fierce arguments AGAINST racists (he even turned their own terms of abuse against them – calling white Nazis the “N word” and arguing that the white Nazis behaved as they claimed his ancestors did, the grandfather of Mr Benjamin being black).

However, your basic point is correct, If banks and other “Woke” Corporations can discriminate against people on the basis of their political opinions then freedom becomes a “legal fiction” – one is, essentially “free to starve” denied employment or even payment services. In the “Cashless Society” pushed by Agenda 21 Agenda 2030 (and the general “Build Back Better” dominance of the economy by a handful of “Woke” Corporations, with all small business being destroyed by government regulations) dissenters would indeed face the situation that people in China do when the “Social Credit” system decides it does not like them. Cash allows people to trade without knowing the political or cultural opinions of the people they are trading with – the system supported by the World Economic Forum (and other such) would destroy liberty by destroying its economic basis.

Would I allow freedom to people who hate me? Yes I would – even if they think I should be gassed (as my father’s cousins were gassed), For it is violating actions, not opinions, that should be punished.

Matt Sylvestre
Matt Sylvestre
3 years ago

Horrifying – We don’t need government to bring on dystopia, we can do quite nicely ourselves.

md616
md616
3 years ago

Excellent article , thanks for highlighting.

Jos Haynes
Jos Haynes
3 years ago

I am sure everyone who makes a comment on this or any other forum understands that it will become part of the database on everyone’s proclivities (consumption, sexual, political etc). If one really wants to hide from the prying eyes of our commercial and political masters then one will never make a comment, a purchase or anything else which leaves a footprint. And browsing will be via a VPN only. For most of us, that is nigh on impossible these days. It is only a matter of time before “our” information is used against us.

Arthur Seagrange
Arthur Seagrange
3 years ago

This is Britain today. First they undermined our faith and family, then they took away our guns, then they took away our freedom of speech, then they re-wrote our history, mocked our culture and traditions, then they used mass immigration to begin to replace us with compliant voters many of whom hate us and our country and promote them above us. Now they are taking away our freedoms. They even turned our vote to be free with Brexit into globalism and are selling our country wholesale to China and the Gulf. Stand behind the Patriot President America! Your last hope. Don’t become an authoritarian police state like Britain. Reject socialism even if it hides behind conservatism.

Paul Booth
Paul Booth
3 years ago

The nerve of them!

ard10027
ard10027
3 years ago

If ever there was an opportunity for the European Union to justify its existence, here it is. Transnational legislation to stop banks and businesses like PayPal refusing services to anyone except for very strict and stated reasons which can be challenged could be passed quickly and brought into force without delay. The reason they’re not is because most MEPs are lefties and approve of harassment and persecution against people who don’t see things their way. The banks have shown themselves to be utter parasites over the last ten years or so. They’ve taken literally billions in taxpayers hard earned to keep themselves afloat and now actually CHARGE customers for the privilege of holding their money and getting even richer off investing it for themselves. Time to start pushing back.

luca.rajna
luca.rajna
3 years ago

Fantastic. A new step to Revelation 13:16-18.

cap0119
cap0119
3 years ago

Yet, in the U.S., Federal law forbids a landlord to refuse to rent to a gay person or a Mormon, or a company to hire a black person. Hmmm.

Derek M
Derek M
3 years ago

Given their support for the repressive policies of the Chinese Communist Party it’s unsurprising that HSBC should be involved

patriciaacanon
patriciaacanon
3 years ago

Good article, but why must you leftists demonize and stereotype people you don’t know and don’t understand? It just never ends with you freaks. Laura Loomer is a Jewish-American journalists, not some “alt-right” bigot. The Proud Boys are a multi-racial group, not at all involved in racism. What they do is go to political rallies to protect normal people from Antifa and BLM (leftists, like yourselves). They protect people from actual racial violence, whereas you smear people for imaginary racism. At least get your facts straight. Here is another fact: the leaders of the alt-right are nothing but Democrat operatives, kinown operatives. Just as Antifa and BLM are Democrat terror organizations. If you click on Antifa.com you will open a Democrat Party website. They fund each other. Brittney Pettibone and Sellner are hardly racists. They are fighting for the preservation of Europe, a lost cause at this point, thanks to leftists like you. European people have a right to exist. This is not racist. They do not want to be conquered by jihadis. Thanks to the incapacity of the left for rational thinking, Europe will probably fall to Islam. American people, too, have a right not to be beaten and killed in the streets by leftist crazies. Opposing that is not racism. The tens of millions of people you would label as “alt-right” includes people from all over the world – Chinese, Vietnamese, Cubans, Mexicans, blacks and whites and others. The ugly name-calling, the slander and mischaracterizations of others needs to stop. You destroy your own credibility in so doing.

davidsimmonds0
davidsimmonds0
3 years ago

“claiming, scandalously, that Omar was part of a religion in which “homosexuals are oppressed”, and “women are abused””

Complete lunacy to suggest anything of the sort. The world knows that Islam is particularly friendly to homosexuals.

Colin Macdonald
Colin Macdonald
3 years ago
Reply to  davidsimmonds0

I’m 99% certain that was irony! I’m not being ironic myself incidentally. I’ve had comments like that deleted from the Guardian, where they are fearless defenders of the ROP!

Colin Macdonald
Colin Macdonald
3 years ago

Ah, natch, just realized you also were being ironic.