The Rise Of Censor-Washing

In an unholy alliance with Big Tech, American civil society is giving cover to a new regime of censorship in America.

Late last month, it was announced that online financial behemoth PayPal had formed a partnership with the Anti-Defamation League to “fight extremism and protect marginalized communities” on PayPal’s platform. The announcement described it as “the latest effort by PayPal in combating racism, hate and extremism across its platforms and the industry.” The initiative, which will be run through the ADL’s Center on Extremism, will “focus on actors and networks spreading and profiting from all forms of hate and bigotry against any community.”

The news was predictably met with a firestorm of controversy. In America’s post-Trump environment, vague and ill-defined references to “extremism” and “hate” have become all too common tools for stigmatizing vast swaths of the political spectrum and stifling what many consider to be legitimate forms of political speech and activity. And for many, the initiative sounded too much like a decisive step toward the dystopic, authoritarian idea of a “social credit score” in which citizens’ access to basic consumer and financial services would be based on evaluations of their private behavior or beliefs. And it was also just another example in what has now become a familiar and chilling series of censorious actions taken by America’s largest and most powerful tech platforms toward individuals and groups found to be expressing ideas that sit outside of the mainstream consensus, whether it’s YouTube’s routine removal of videos found to be deviating from whatever happens to be the current (and always shifting) scientific consensus or Amazon’s newly-adopted policy of banning of books that deviate from progressive beliefs about transgenderism or anything found to be promoting “hate speech.”

But this latest PayPal initiative is also part of a broader and unmistakeable pattern that’s been developing over the past few years. It’s one where Big Tech companies have sought to deal with the public’s concern over their massive, unprecedented, and unaccountable power over Americans’ speech and the country’s flow of news and information by entering into partnerships with America’s elite, highly influential civil society sector of media, academic, non-profit, policy, and advocacy organizations.

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