Friday, March 09, 2012

Chatter? WTFery from PayPal

So, PayPal has finally responded to the uproar (which it describes as "chatter") over its decision to censor certain forms of erotic fiction. The post, which appears on PayPal's blog, is so ridiculously condescending that I had to reproduce it here... with commentary.

PayPal’s acceptable use policy on sale of certain “erotica”

Yo, dude, what's with the quotes? It's erotica, not "erotica." It's not almost erotica. That would be the formulaic genre of fiction known as erotic romance. That's where some authors and vendors who want big sales from the explicit sex wrapped in a socially-acceptable relationship target their sales. You're not off to a very solid start. And why even include the word certain? I think you need one of those filters called an editor.

March 8, 2012
There’s been some chatter {You're just being cutesy, aren't you? Like how the Brits say the pond when referencing the Atlantic?} about PayPal’s decision to not allow the sale of certain “erotica” {Again with the quotes.} content using our service. Specifically, PayPal doesn’t allow our service to be used to sell content relating to rape, incest and bestiality. We’d like to set the record straight.

Here are the facts. Unlike many other online payment providers, PayPal does allow its service to be used for the sale of erotic books. {Exactly what other online payment providers disallow the sale of erotic books? I can't think of ANY, much less many.} PayPal is a strong and consistent supporter of openness on the Internet, freedom of expression, independent publishing and eBook marketplaces. {*cough* Bullshit. *cough* PayPal is, and always has been, a big bully. It freezes accounts and stonewalls dispute resolution. It passes judgment on what LEGAL content its customers can buy or sell.}  We believe that the Internet empowers authors in a way that is positive and points to an even brighter future for writers, artists and creators the world over, but we draw the line at certain adult content that is extreme or potentially illegal. {Excuse me? Potentially illegal? What happened to innocent until proven guilty, and precisely when did PayPal become a legal authority? If laws are being broken, the responsible thing to do is to report them to the authorities, not to take the law into your own hands.}

An important factor in our decision not to allow our payments service to be used to purchase material focused on rape, incest or bestiality is that this category of eBooks often includes images. {Your information is inaccurate, especially the use of the word often, and you would know this if you'd bothered to examine a fair sample of the work in question rather than using a nuclear warhead to kill a flea.} This type of content also sometimes intentionally blurs the line between fiction and non-fiction. {And you know this how? You're inside the author's head? You're equating first person point-of-view (a literary device, incidentally) with non-fiction? Are you trying to sound like an idiot?} Both these factors are problematic from a legal and risk perspective. {How? Seriously. How? Exactly what part of selling ebooks do you think is going to land PayPal in trouble with the legitimate legal authorities? Has James Patterson yet been arrested for murder? Was Heinlein ever charged for his incestuous fiction? Stephanie Meyer for pedophilia? Suzanne Collins for child abuse? Were ANY of the vendors or payment processors who enabled the sales of these books ever at risk of prosecution?}

So the business risk {Pffft!} associated with this content forms the basis for our policy, which has been in place for many years. Some feedback {Feedback. Is that the same as chatter?} we’re getting is a belief that PayPal is forcing its moral beliefs on others and restricting people’s right to free speech. {Free speech is a government construct. You're restricting people's choice, and you're insulting them in the process.} We can tell you with 100 percent conviction that this is not our intention. While we understand that people don’t always agree with our policies, this decision has nothing to do with our personal views on the content or any desire to limit free-speech rights. It has everything to do with running a sound business and complying with our legal responsibilities. {You have yet to detail precisely what laws are potentially being broken. It's fiction. Do you not understand the definition of the word?}

PayPal is a payments company. {And as such, it should not insert itself between buyer and seller. It should simply process the LEGAL transaction and get the hell out of the way.} The right to use PayPal’s service is not the same as the right to speak.

We have not shut down the e-book publishers {No, you've just cut off their supply of oxygen and caused massive loss of income and productivity over the last couple weeks as they scramble to adapt to draconian, inconsistent, and illogical policies.} and are working with the small number of affected merchants to come to a mutually agreeable solution that allows maximum freedom of expression, while protecting PayPal from the brand, regulatory and compliance risk associated with this type of content. {What risk? What regulation? Compliance with what? Laws and rules are typically written. So, show me.}

We hope that our customers enjoy the services and features that we work so hard to get right and understand that our policies are simply a way to conduct business in a fast-paced world.

We always welcome your feedback {Which is why you've censored all comments, eh? Yeah, that's welcoming. Hypocrite!} – but please know that we’ll continue to keep this policy in place as long as it protects our interests as a business.

–Anuj Nayar, Director of Communications, PayPal

Yes, it IS censorship!

It's just not government censorship. No, this is free market censorship. Y'know the free market? It's that handy capitalistic tool that conservative forces trot out as gospel when it suits their purposes. Yup. That's the one being stomped on with this PayPal bullshit. There is a substantial legal demand. There is a robust legal supply. PayPal and other payment processors are inserting themselves between supply and demand like some arbiter of morality.

Before I go any further, I would like to tell those who glibly advise "Just use a different payment processor." that I've spent the last two weeks attempting to find one. Sure, they exist. They, too, are refusing to transact sales of transgressive/taboo erotica, even those who typically handle the extremes of the adult industry.

Ergo, this is bigger than PayPal. Next up the chain of control are the credit card companies and banks. That alone should scare the shit out of anyone who values liberty, and those who have responded with a shrug and a "So what?" are only fueling the oppression. (Rather easy to do if you're sitting on a pedestal looking down at the struggling masses, too.) If you think that oppression is going to stop with hardcore erotica that you, personally, may find offensive, then you are naive in the extreme. Add something meaningful to the dialog or shut the fuck up.

As Selena Kitt (who is far more influential than I when it comes to negotiating with both vendors and payment processors) notes in the comments on Joe Konrath's blog:
If you're honest with the processor about what you're selling, THERE ISN'T ONE.

That's right, there's no viable alternative. And I've not been sitting on my ass doing nothing, trust me.

I have had, literally, dozens of conversations with CC processors in the past two weeks and I have a colleague who has talked to at least that many herself and we have both run into the same thing from every single one – NO CC processor will allow anything related to incest, pseudo incest, bestiality or rape for titillation. Period. Including all those processors that normally take extreme adult material like CCBill and Verotel. (Those places that normally process "porn" payments...)

My recent foray into high risk and adult merchant processors (including those offshore - the ones that process the really, really, REALLY hardcore porn stuff) has proven even further that this is the CC processors and not just PP who is behind this, that this is a new mandate, and it's being enforced and will continue to be enforced across the board.

I was referred, through several channels, to a guy who could get an account for *anyone.* He told me personally that his company dealt with some of the most “fringe” and risky Internet businesses out there.

He turned my application in to his underwriter who came back with an immediate NO due to “illegal activity.”.
So, where does that leave us?  We are at a critical juncture. We either bend over and take it, or we fight back. I'm fighting back. I recommend you do so as well. Here's how:
  1. Use cash whenever possible. Credit card companies make money on every transaction they process. Each cash transaction chips away at their power.
  2. If cash is not an option, use checks or your bank's bill pay service instead of credit cards.
  3. Use your bank's EFT (electronic funds transfer) service for online transactions if a vendor offers it as an option. I realize most people prefer not to enter their banking info online, so I would recommend setting up a separate checking account just for this purpose. Then, if your information is ever compromised, it mitigates the potential damage.
  4. Move your accounts from for-profit banks to a credit union. Credit unions are member-owned and not for profit business with similar federally-insured protections as banks. (Sound like part of the #occupy movement? Uh huh. There's a good reason: the issues are related.)
Each of the above can be implemented without coming out of the "erotica closet" as either a writer or a reader. Further:
  1. Write to PayPal (and its parent company, eBay) to express your outrage/concern that it is filtering your selection of reading material. You're an adult. You can decide for yourself what you wish to read.
  2. Write to Visa, MasterCard, American Express, and Discover and let them know that you do not approve of their interference. Suppression of the free market is not economically responsible behavior for any company, much less one in the financial services industry.
  3. Sign the online petition. (I don't put much stock in these, but it's sure as hell not going to hurt.)
  4. Use your blog, Facebook, and Twitter to spread the word. The more noise that is made, the more likely the issue will be subject of discussion in board rooms and shareholder meetings. Social media and our voting wallets are the most powerful tools in our possession.
Additional steps for authors:
  1. Let your readers know that their access to your work may be being filtered by vendors and payment processors, and give them information on how & where to voice their concerns about this oversight.
  2. Include an author's note in all of your books that contains (at minimum) a link to a page containing a complete list of your publications.
  3. Vendors need your books in order to... vend. You are as much their customer as are readers. You are the supply being demanded. Let vendors know that you expect them to go to bat for you, or you will opt to publish even your non-taboo work only with vendors who will and do fight for their authors.
  4. Do not attempt to publish your work with niche vendors unless your work fits that niche. It makes some Romance readers, writers, bloggers, and vendors behave in unseemly and hypocritical ways. It also takes the righteousness out of your indignation.
For more of my ranting on this subject, please check out my appearance as a guest on Eden Connor's blog.

peace & passion,

~ Alessia