Gab’s PayPal and Stripe De-Platforming Highlights a Key Use Case for Bitcoin
Social network Gab’s banishment yesterday from payment networks PayPal and Stripe has highlighted a key danger in trusting the mainstream digital economy — its ability to lock individuals and businesses out of the system for expressing (or permitting) dissident opinions. Gab, which claims no political stance of its own but refuses to censor its users’ posts, now finds itself on the financial fringe and must now look for more open alternatives.
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Gab Banned From Financial and Internet Services for Users’ Posts
Gab announced the bans on its own Twitter-like short posting platform, and on Twitter itself.
— Gab.com🍂 (@getongab) October 27, 2018
PayPal did not give a reason for banning Gab, though its decision came just hours after media revealed that Tree of Life synagogue shooter Robert Bowes is a Gab account holder, and used the platform to post both anti-Trump and anti-semitic views. Gab also found itself blocked by alternative payment network Stripe, and cloud services platform Joyent.
Today https://t.co/J3Rfto6fi3 spent all day working with law enforcement to ensure that justice is served.
In a matter of hours. This is direct collusion between big tech giants. @realDonaldTrump ACT!
— Gab.com🍂 (@getongab) October 28, 2018
The tactic of internet services “de-platforming” individuals or whole companies for their political views has accelerated in 2017 and 2018. Under the guise of objections to publishing “hate speech” or “misinformation”, major social networks like Facebook and Twitter have banned popular accounts like Alex Jones’ Infowars and several other individuals — mostly for expressing views on the political right.
In August 2017, DDoS protection service Cloudflare and several hosting companies denied services to neo-nazi blog The Daily Stormer. PayPal and major credit card companies have also banned sites like Wikileaks and Backpage over legal and moral objections to their content.
Gab, according to a Medium post published after the synagogue shooting which left 11 dead, said it “unequivocally disavows and condemns all acts of terrorism and violence”. CEO Andrew Torba has claimed the platform he founded is politically neutral, but simply refuses to ban users for expressing their own opinions. This freedom-of-speech stance bucks recent technology industry trends towards censorship, and has also seen Gab’s mobile app banned from Apple’s App Store and Google Play.
Internet Censorship’s Slippery Slope
Whether or not you agree with the bans, or even the spectrum of political stances these sites represent, denying service to individuals or companies is a worrying trend. It reduces their ability to communicate with fans and receive the payments they need to continue functioning — and, more worryingly, is broadening to cover any content deemed unacceptable to mainstream invested interests. Who knows what those in power will decide to clamp down on next? Thanks to tech companies’ compliance, it has the potential to be anything.
It runs counter to the libertarian, “free market of ideas” principles that have defined the public internet since its origins. Those principles have determined that social networks are not responsible for content their users post, and that “objectionable” views should be countered with rational argument rather than censorship.
To readers of cryptocurrency news sites like Bitsonline, Gab’s financial alternatives are obvious — take payments in bitcoin or another cryptocurrency. CEO Torba himself is a long-time bitcoin fan and has been a regular contributor to online crypto-media providers like CoinDesk.
However, as long as internet users still need to raise funds from the non-crypto-using general public and pay bills in fiat currencies, they’re subject to the same kind of financial de-platforming from centralized and regulated exchanges. Coinbase, which is essentially PayPal with cryptocurrencies, also shuttered Gab’s account in August 2018.
Censorship Resistance – How Much Is Possible?
Proponents often claim bitcoin is “censorship-resistant” due to its decentralized structure and thus its ability to create a global digital economy outside the one controlled by governments and large corporations. But that’s only true in a world where everyone accepts it as money — until then, it cannot truly circumvent the system.
On a larger scale, cryptocurrencies also provide an opportunity for whole countries to dodge international economic sanctions. Without similarly large-scale conversion mechanisms, though, that scenario remains hypothetical.
As well as mass acceptance of bitcoin and cryptocurrencies, decentralized platforms that allow payments and on-chain third-party token swaps without passing through regulated channels are necessary.
Censorship is something most people never think about, until it happens to them. By giving mainstream media and traditional finance a toolbox of methods to shame and silence any platform that counters their official worldview, technology companies have created a new form of the internet of the future — and it’s one that requires non-mainstream alternatives, if it’s to avoid being yet another forum for approved voices only.
Can anything be done (or should it) to curb online censorship? Let’s hear your thoughts in the comments.
Images via Gab, Pixabay