The free speech absolutist can save this company as well
Last week, online payment processor PayPal responded to withering criticism by withdrawing a policy that would have fined users $2,500 for spreading “misinformation”. PayPal, which already had an acceptable use policy prohibiting intolerance, was reacting to criticism from the likes of its former president David Marcus as well as billionaire Elon Musk, who founded one of the companies that eventually became PayPal.
Both Musk and Marcus took issue with what the latter called the “insanity” of a company taking money off users who “say something they disagree with”. Conservative commentator Candace Owens, meanwhile, chose to seize on this opportunity to promote a financial technology company named GLORIFI. “It will overtake Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Chase & #Paypal very quickly,” she tweeted.
An examination of GLORIFI’s website suggests that such an “overtaking” might be somewhat far off, should it happen at all. GLORIFI, the site’s terms and conditions tell us, is “a financial technology company, not a bank” and its banking services and accompanying debit card were “provided by TransPecos Banks, SSB.” The site also touted forthcoming insurance services, though these were not yet available. To its credit, the site, while cluttered, was relatively easy to navigate and all of the pages opened — no guarantee given the basic technological challenges some of these service providers have failed to overcome.
If this sounds like faint praise, that is only because products and services endeavouring to do what Candace Owens describes — creating an alternative Right-wing economy — have a poor track record. Services ranging from crypto-anarchist Cody Wilson’s Hatreon creator subscription service to social media platforms such as Gab and Parler have all faltered or failed to some extent. Elon Musk, who now appears to be going forward with his acquisition of Twitter, used a recent Financial Times interview to describe Donald Trump’s Truth Social platform as a “Right-wing echo chamber” that “might as well be called Trumpet.”
In that same interview, Musk — who refers to himself as a free-speech absolutist — also argued that “it’s important that people have a maximally trusted means of exchanging ideas and that it should be as trusted and transparent as possible.” Whether one likes Musk or not, this claim, as well as his position on the PayPal controversy, does point to a more manageable way forward: working within the confines of the marketplace as it exists, and applying financial leverage to influence the behaviours of its corporate participants.
Although their long-term effectiveness remains to be seen, several recent examples appear likely to have more long-term impact than the creation of an alternative Right-wing economy or the complete sequestration of Right-wing economic activity on the blockchain. In response to what some have criticised as “woke” investment principles, Texas ordered all of the state’s public entities to divest from BlackRock’s investment funds. Treasury secretaries in Louisiana, Utah, Arkansas, and West Virginia have pulled close to a billion dollars as well, though not their states’ pension funds. Meanwhile, a number of expensive Hollywood productions, saturated in the progressive discourse that online film critic Will Jordan refers to as “the message,” have significantly underperformed at the box office and in the ratings in 2022.
Is this enough to make a lasting difference in corporate behaviour, or merely a rearguard action against a future in which corporations exercise ever greater power over their own customers? That remains to be seen. Although PayPal noted that its AUP language about promoting misinformation was “never intended to be inserted in our policy” — how did it get there, one wonders? — it did not walk back what appeared to be an extension of the number of “protected groups” that are covered by its current AUP prohibiting intolerance. Even so, PayPal’s hasty retraction serves as a sign that consumer outrage can drive corporate compliance in ways that a shadow economy consisting of GLORIFI, MyPillow, Black Rifle Coffee Company, RedCon1, and other Right-wing oriented companies simply cannot.