PayPal recently made news for implementing a policy denying its payment processing services to publications including obscene content. There are several things objectionable about this policy, including the lack of any clear way of delineating what content would qualify as “obscene,” and its overall censorious impact.
But I’m not entirely sure that PayPal is necessarily the appropriate target for criticism of this policy. It may be, to the extent that it is a truly discretionary policy PayPal has voluntarily chosen to pursue. If it could just as easily chosen not to pursue it it can be fairly criticized for the choice it did make. For this policy is not as simple as banning certain objectively horrible content 100% of all people would agree should be stricken from the face of the earth. After all, there *is* no objectively horrible content 100% of all people would agree is objectionable. Instead this policy has the effect of denying market opportunities to all sorts of writers producing all sorts of valid content, even if some people may not happen to like it. And it does this not just by denying particular publications access to its services but by forcing electronic publishers to overcensor all the works they publish lest PayPal services be shut off to their entire businesses.