Last week, PayPal announced a partnership with the left-wing Southern Poverty Law Center to “investigate” the role of “white supremacists” and propagators of “anti-government” rhetoric, subjective labels that potentially could impact a large number of groups or people using their service. PayPal says the collected information will be shared with other financial firms and politicians. Facebook is taking similar measures, recently introducing messages that ask users to snitch on their potentially “extremist” friends, which considering the platform’s bias seems mainly to target the political right. At the same time, Facebook and Microsoft are working with several other web giants and the United Nations on a database to block potential extremist content.
The actions of these major companies may seem logical in an internet riddled with scams and crime. After all, nobody will defend far-right militias or white supremacist groups using these platforms for their odious goals. However, the same issue with government censorship exists with corporate censorship: If there is a line, who draws it? Will the distinction between mundane politics and extremism be a “I’ll know it when I see it” scenario, as former Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart described obscenity? If so, will there be individuals able to unilaterally remove people’s effective ability to use the internet? Could a Facebook employee equate Ben Shapiro with David Duke, and remove his account?
The implications of these crackdown efforts will be significantly more broad than just prohibiting Donald Trump from tweeting at 3 a.m. Young people cannot effectively function in society if blocked from using Facebook, Twitter, Gmail, Uber, Amazon, PayPal, Venmo and other financial transaction systems. Some banking platforms already have announced a ban on certain legal purchases, such as firearms. The growth of such restrictions, which will only accelerate with support from (usually) left-wing politicians, could create a system in which individuals who do not hold certain political views could be blocked from polite society and left unable to make a living.