I wrote an article of the Huffington Post earlier this week about PayPal's crackdown on online bookstores selling "edgy" erotica. What's a bank doing telling its merchants which books they can and can't sell? Good question.
Most of the stuff on Smashwords is porn," Jonathan Bloom, whose ebook Hell Is Above Us is available on Smashwords, tweeted recently. "I feel like someone trying to sell a homemade quilt on the street next to a line of high-end hookers."
On Saturday, February 18, PayPal contacted Smashwords with an ultimatum: Remove the "edgy" erotica [books featuring topics such as bestiality, incest, and other deviant/illegal sexual practices], or face deactivation of their PayPal account. Since PayPal is integrated into the Smashwords website, Smashwords had no choice but to comply.
"What I find chilling is that the money exchanger, not the merchant, can make such a decision," commenter L.K. Rigel wrote on a Dear Author blog post, where news of PayPal's actions were reported on Friday. "PayPal is, after all, basically a bank. So now a bank gets to decide what customers can buy or merchants can sell? The decision is only palatable because they're cutting off stuff people mostly find abhorrent."
While some of the acts targeted by PayPal are illegal, so too is murder (and PayPal has made no attempts to encroach upon the free speech of thriller writers). Some of the activity they are targeting even occurs between consenting adults and is not illegal: A PayPal rep told at least one author that her BDSM ebooks were also considered "too edgy" for PayPal. What sex acts will they target next? It's a slippery slope! (Euphemism intentional.)
Author Stephanie Draven wrote in a comment on Nina Pierce's blog:
I do not write or read any of the material covered (at this point) by the policies in question. That does not matter to me. And it should not matter to me. There are a great many ideas that I would condemn that I would never suppress.
Paypal may have a right to do this (arguments can be made about their uniquely monopolistic position within the industry, but ultimately they are not a government actor). However, just because it is their right to do something, doesn’t make their behavior ok.
Censorship is not always illegal and it’s not always wrong. For example, we censor people from falsely crying fire in a crowded theatre because it could endanger people’s lives. But let’s not pretend that this is not censorship. It is absolutely censorship.