This article was originally published by the Brownstone Institute
PayPal appears unsure whether it should participate in the current crusade against online “disinformation” or not.
First it closed the PayPal accounts of The Daily Sceptic and the Free Speech Union, and even the personal account of their founder Toby Young, and then, two weeks later, it restored them. Then it announced that it would be docking $2,500 from anyone who uses its services in connection with “promoting misinformation” and then, two days later, it again reversed course and announced that this language was never intended to be included in its new Acceptable Use Policy (AUP).
It was not intended to be included? Well, where did it come from then?
Could the EU’s Code of Practice on Disinformation and its Digital Services Act (DSA), about which I wrote in my last Brownstone article, have something to do with PayPal’s skittish forays into “combatting disinformation?” Well, yes, they could, and you may rest assured that EU officials or representatives have already had a word with PayPal about them.
As discussed in my previous article, the Code requires signatories to censor what is deemed by the European Commission to be disinformation on pain of massive fines. The enforcement mechanism, i.e. the fines, has been established under the DSA.
PayPal is not, for the moment, a signatory of the Code. Furthermore, since it is neither a content platform nor a search engine – the potential channels of “disinformation” targeted in the DSA – it is obviously not in a position to censor per se. But the very first commitment in the “strengthened” Code of Practice unveiled by the European Commission last June is dedicated precisely to demonetization.
Unsurprisingly, given the nature of the business models of the most prominent signatories – Twitter, Meta/Facebook and Google/YouTube – this commitment and the six “measures” it comprises are mostly related to advertising practices.
But the “Guidance” that the Commission issued in May 2021, prior to the Code’s drafting, explicitly calls for “broadening” efforts to defund alleged purveyors of disinformation and contains the following highly pertinent recommendation:
Actions to defund disinformation should be broadened by the participation of players active in the online monetisation value chain, such as online e-payment services, e-commerce platforms and relevant crowd-funding/donation systems. (p. 8; emphasis added)
PayPal, the online e-payment service par excellence, was thus already in the Commission’s sights.
Somewhat illogically, given their own emphasis on advertising and the fact that an advertising-based revenue model and a donation or pay model would ordinarily be regarded as alternatives, the signatories of the “strengthened” Code thus pledged to
…exchange best practices and strengthen cooperation with relevant players, expanding to organisations active in the online monetisation value chain, such as online e-payment services, e-commerce platforms and relevant crowd-funding/donation systems…. (Commitment 3)
But the outreach to PayPal has not only occurred via third parties like the Code signatories.
In late May, shortly after the text of the Digital Services Act had been finalized – but before the European Parliament had even had the opportunity to vote on it! – an 8-member delegation from the parliament was dispatched to California to discuss the DSA and the related Digital Markets Act (DMA) with relevant “digital stakeholders.”
In addition to Code signatories Google and Meta, the “host list,” so to say – since the parliamentarians were to be the guests and they were inviting themselves! – also included PayPal. (See the delegation report here.)
Curiously, Twitter was not included among the companies and organizations to be visited, perhaps because of the turmoil unleashed by Elon Musk’s takeover bid. But, as touched upon in my prior article, Thierry Breton, the EU’s Internal Market Commissioner, had already paid a visit to Musk in Austin, Texas earlier in the month to have a word with him about the DSA.
No less than three of the delegation’s eight members – Alexandra Geese, Marion Walsmann and delegation head Andreas Schwab – were German, whereas Germans only account for around 13% of the total members of the parliament. This stark overrepresentation is telling, since Germany has undoubtedly been the prime mover behind the EU’s censorship drive, having already adopted its own online censorship law in 2017 with the express motivation of “combatting criminal fake news in social networks” (p. 1 of the legislative proposal in German here).
The German legislation, commonly known as “NetzDG” or the Network Enforcement Act, threatens platforms with fines of up to €50 million for hosting content that infringes any of a variety of German laws that restrict speech in ways that would be unthinkable and unconstitutional in the United States. It is also the source of the Twitter notices that many Twitter users will have received informing them that their account had been denounced by “a person from Germany.”
As noted above, PayPal is not presently a signatory of the Code of Practice on Disinformation. On July 14, however, just nine days after the passage of the DSA, the Commission issued a “Call for interest to become a Signatory” of the Code. The call is explicitly addressed to, among others, “e-payment services, e-commerce platforms, crowd-funding/donation systems.” The latter are identified as “providers whose services may be used to monetize disinformation.”
Evidently not satisfied merely with “deplatforming,” the Commission has thus made clear that the next frontier in its combat against “disinformation” is attempting to defund dissenters who, despite their discrimination by or banishment from the major online platforms, have managed to preserve a place in the online discussion thanks to platforms of their own.
PayPal, moreover, will know that the “exclusive” – in effect, dictatorial – powers that the DSA confers on the European Commission include the power to designate the “very large” online platforms that are susceptible to incurring the massive DSA fines of up to 6% of global turnover. PayPal will easily satisfy the “very large” size criterion of having at least 45 million users in the EU, but it is obviously not a content platform.
Nonetheless, this appears not to be so obvious to the European Commission. For the Commission press release on the call for signatories treats it precisely…as a content platform! Thus, the press release refers to “providers of e-payment services, e-commerce platforms, crowd-funding/donation systems, which may be used to spread disinformation.” Huh?
In the meanwhile, on September 1, the EU has opened a specially-dedicated office or “embassy” in San Francisco to conduct what it itself describes as “digital diplomacy” with US tech firms. The “ambassador,” Commission official Gerard de Graaf, is reportedly one of the drafters of the DSA. Perhaps he will be able to explain the intricacies of the DSA to PayPal – or even already has. PayPal headquarters are, after all, just a stone’s throw away in Palo Alto.
In any case, PayPal has been put on notice, and, with it, so too have dissident websites that depend on user support for their survival. Ignore the EU at your peril.
Witnessing the Media’s Covid Coverage from the Inside
From the Brownstone Institute
If right-leaning outlets wanted my words and left-leaning ones did not, my Occam’s razor landed on ideology as the explanatory factor. So-called progressive media had a story to uphold and rejected any plot twist that threatened the cohesion of its narrative.
In the movie An Education, the main character gets sidetracked from her studies by a smooth-talking art dealer who turns out to be a criminal—and married. Our protagonist learns more from that experience than from all the medieval literature books she cracked open before. I have similar feelings about my own education. While I’ve been earning my living as a writer for the past 29 years, it’s only during the Covid era that I learned what the writing business is really about.
I wear two hats in my professional life: medical writer, creating materials for doctors and the healthcare industry, and feature-article journalist for consumer magazines. It wasn’t until Covid that I began pitching essays and op-eds for publication.
I started with a piece called “A Tale of Two Pandemic Cities,” which grew out of my short trip to Amsterdam and Stockholm in the summer of 2020, when the European Union opened its doors to “well-behaved” countries like Canada. The Covid hysteria in my country had made me desperate to visit more balanced parts of the world, and my trip didn’t disappoint. The article found a home at a Canadian outlet called Healthy Debate, though the editor asked me to temper my enthusiasm for the Swedish strategy with an acknowledgement of its risks. Happy to find a legit publisher for my first Covid piece, I capitulated, sort of. (You can judge for yourself.)
Thus began a feverish outpouring of essays, each one motivated by the same bewildered questions: What the hell is happening to the world, and why? Has everyone else gone mad, or is it me? I had written a few controversial articles throughout my career, but never before had I held a “dissenting view” about an issue that affected the whole world—or felt such an urgent need to express it.
The Great Divide
I quickly learned that certain news outlets were less open to my pieces than others. Salon, fuggedaboutit. Spiked Online, bull’s eye on the first try. Washington Post, not a chance. Wall Street Journal, a couple of “close, but no cigar” efforts and then finally a yes. It boiled down to this: the further left a publication leaned, the less likely it would publish my pieces (or even respond to my inquiries). I’m sure a statistician could write an equation to capture the trend.
So why the radio silence from left-wing publications? I doubted I was tripping their “Covid disinformation” radars, as my pieces had less to do with scientific facts than with social philosophy: the balance between safety and freedom, the perils of top-down collectivism, the abuse of the precautionary principle, that sort of thing. If right-leaning outlets wanted my words and left-leaning ones did not, my Occam’s razor landed on ideology as the explanatory factor. So-called progressive media had a story to uphold and rejected any plot twist that threatened the cohesion of its narrative. (Not that right-wing media behaved much differently. Such is the age of advocacy journalism.)
Most nerve-wracking of all were the publishers who accepted my articles but, like that first Healthy Debate editor, insisted I make substantive changes. Should I concede or push back? I did a bit of both. The most important thing, I told myself, was to make people reflect on the topsy-turvy policies that had freeze-framed the world. If I had to soften a few sentences to get the word out, so be it. I have the utmost respect for writers who refuse to yield on such matters, but 29 years of paying the bills from my writing have tipped my internal compass toward pragmatism.
I did stand my ground with an article on the mask wars. My thesis was that the endless and pointless disputes on social media—masks work, no they don’t, yes they do, no they don’t—had less to do with science than with worldview: irrespective of the data, social collectivists would find a way to defend masks, while my freedom-first compatriots would never countenance a perma-masked world.
One editor agreed to publish the piece if I mentioned that some studies favor masking, but I argued that quoting studies would undercut my central argument: that the forces powering the mask wars have little to do with how well they block viruses. He wouldn’t budge, so we parted ways and I found a more congenial home for the piece at the Ottawa Citizen.
The process of pitching counternarrative essays, while arduous at times, led me to a smorgasbord of lesser-known, high-quality publications I never would have discovered otherwise. Topping the list was the glorious UnHerd, a UK news and opinion website with such daring thinkers as Mary Harrington and Kathleen Stock on its roster of contributors. The US-based Tablet magazine offered consistently fresh takes on Covid and never took the easy road in its analyses. In its pages I found one of the most powerful Covid essays I have ever read. The author, Ann Bauer (no relation), teased out the common threads between the “settled science” about the virus and the litany of quack theories about autism, which fed into her son’s death by suicide.
Then there was Quillette, whose contempt for the sacred cows of wokeism gave me a special thrill. True confession: I blew my chances with Quillette and it’s my own damned fault. Like many working writers, I sometimes pitch a piece to more than one outlet at the same time, a practice known as simultaneous submissions. This goes against protocol—we’re supposed to wait until an editor declines our pitch before approaching the next one—but the reality is that many editors never respond. With the deck thus stacked against us, we writers sometimes push the envelope, figuring the odds of getting multiple acceptances (and thus pissing off editors) are low enough to take the risk.
On this particular occasion, I submitted an article called “Lessons from my Half-Vaxxed Daughter” to three publications. Medpage Today responded right away, and I accepted their offer to publish it. (This was while Marty Makary, the dissident-lite physician who called out people’s distorted perception of Covid risk in mainstream media, led the editorial team.) A few hours later, Quillette’s Canadian editor sent me a slightly reworked version of my piece and told me when he planned to run it. I had no choice but to proffer a red-faced apology and admit I had already placed the article elsewhere. He never responded to my email or to a follow-up mea culpa a few weeks later—and has ignored everything I’ve submitted since then. I guess I’ll have to wait until he retires.
Earlier this year, Brownstone Institute published my book Blindsight Is 2020, which critiques the pandemic response through the lens of 46 dissident thinkers. By all standards a moderate book, it stays clear of any “conspiratorial” speculations about the origins of the pandemic or the political response to it. Instead, it focuses on the philosophical and ethical issues that kept me awake at night during the peak Covid years—the same themes I explore in my essays, but in greater depth. I wrote the book not just for “my team,” but for those who vehemently opposed my views—perhaps especially for them. I didn’t expect to change their minds as much as to help them understand why some of us objected so strenuously to the policies they cheered on.
After the book came out, a few podcasters invited me to their shows. I appeared on a Libertarian Institute podcast in which the host puffed on his hand-rolled cigarettes while we talked. I spoke to an amiable ex-con podcaster who made it his mission to share Ayn Rand’s ideas with the world. I bonded with Rupa Subramanya—a brilliant Canadian conservative journalist and podcaster featured in my book—over the Freedom Convoy we had both supported.
All told I’ve appeared on 22 podcasts to date, each of them hosted by a right-leaning or libertarian host. Crickets from the left. Not one to accept defeat, I’ve begun reaching out to left-leaning podcasters on my own. Perhaps one day I’ll hear back from them.
Covid media, like so much else in modern life, has become hopelessly fractured: the tall, left-facing trees dominate the landscape, telling the story of a deadly virus that we “did the best we could” to manage. Below the tree canopy lies the tangle of weeds that sway in the wind, whispering songs of freedom and warning against the totalitarian impulses that all too readily emerge during crises. While I’ll continue to throw my essays at those unyielding trees, the messy underbrush is where I’ve found my journalistic home.
Why So Many Countries Followed China’s Lockdown Example
From the Brownstone Institute
The answer to why countries followed China’s lockdowns is simple. They were told to do so by the World Health Organization (WHO). Why did the WHO tell them to do that? You might want to ask Dr. Bruce Aylward
A novel coronavirus that was 10 times deadlier than the flu had gripped the world in 2019. Without a compass to navigate the Covid-19 pandemic, all lessons learned from previous viral pandemics were thrown out the window. The World Health Organization was adamant, “This is not the flu.” Tony Fauci terrified the US House of Representatives with forecasts of disaster. Global populations were defenseless without a vaccine for the novel coronavirus that no one had ever seen before. The only viable defense at the time was to shut down the world.
China took the lead in lockdowns. Media exported from China showed people dropping dead in the streets. Caskets were piling up. Doors to buildings were sealed to lock in tenants. Throughout the panic, all reasonable alternative assessments of risks from the viral outbreak were ignored, censored, or rejected.
Nevertheless, I wondered whether a video of a person falling down in the street was really representative of the entire population. Were caskets piling up largely due to families fearing to claim them because of contamination with the virus? I noticed that the front doors to my local mall in Ontario, Canada had also been sealed, just like in China apartment buildings, but this was only to control access through a single entrance to the building, not to seal in customers.
My first clue that the emergency response to the outbreak of the coronavirus didn’t seem to make sense was when I heard Fauci tell television audiences that if our response seems to be overreacting, then we are probably doing the right thing. What? Since when is overreacting ever the right thing to do? Do generals win wars by overreacting?
I looked at the numbers that Fauci had presented to the US House of Representatives concerning case and infection fatalities of the coronavirus. They were backwards! His 10-times deadlier prediction was simply a made-up number! This was in March 2020. By May 2020 it was obvious that people were NOT dying at the inflated rate Fauci had predicted.
I published a paper on Fauci’s coronavirus mortality overestimations: Public Health Lessons Learned From Biases in Coronavirus Mortality Overestimation. But when I mentioned all this to my friends, they responded that the lower than predicted deaths just proved the lockdowns were working. Fauci was off the hook. Back to China.
WHO/China Joint Mission on Covid-19
The answer to why countries followed China’s lockdowns is simple. They were told to do so by the World Health Organization (WHO). Why did the WHO tell them to do that? You might want to ask Dr. Bruce Aylward, the Director of the WHO/China Joint Mission on Covid-19 investigating the coronavirus outbreak.
Aylward noticed a precipitous drop in novel coronavirus pneumonia (NCP) in China during February 2020. This was before China adopted WHO’s name of coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19). Upon seeing China’s surveillance data, Aylward announced the spectacular findings to the world and told the world to do what China has done and lock down. But he appeared to make a fundamental epidemiological error by wrongly assuming that the association of China’s lockdowns with lower deaths proved the lockdowns were working (just like my friends had told me).
Soon after in March 2020, China published its latest case definitions for NCP (Covid-19). In a nutshell, the definitions showed that no one could be declared to have died of the disease unless they had viral pneumonia (a severe acute respiratory illness), and only if no other virus normally associated with viral pneumonia was present, except SARS-CoV-2.
Coinfections with the coronavirus were not acceptable criteria, and what should have been a broad surveillance case definition with high sensitivity to monitor the spread of the virus within the population narrowed down considerably into an overly specific diagnostic case definition. That pretty much sealed the deal to declare Covid-19 deaths in only single digits for many months during the pandemic throughout China. This super-low outcome impressed Dr. Bruce Aylward enough in February 2020 to implore the world to lock down. Did we ever!
In the meantime, other countries used case and death definitions that went to the opposite extreme of China’s narrow diagnostic definitions, disseminating overinflated surveillance numbers without adjusting the numbers to remove bias. Even Fauci eventually admitted that reported cases and deaths counted WITH the coronavirus are much higher than cases and deaths counted FROM the coronavirus. Ironically, the WHO had previously published material on the correct use and interpretation of surveillance and diagnostic definitions in infectious disease outbreaks. Aylward didn’t appear to get the memo.
There is more to the story. Was this even really a novel coronavirus, or just a novel genetic sequence of the coronavirus showing greater detail than previously available? China supposedly received updated genetic sequencing technology in late 2019. They had abandoned surveillance of SARS in 2003 for lack of technology.
Now they were back in business again by the end of 2019. The team of virologists that reported the genetic sequence of the virus in Wuhan noted that it would be necessary to investigate the epidemiological evidence to guide infection control responses. Who has time for that? Shut it down!
If the novel coronavirus isn’t really so novel, this would explain why the lockdowns didn’t work. We had already known that lockdowns don’t work in other viral pandemics. Even China eventually gave up its Zero Covid Policy after it was obvious that lockdowns weren’t working. My friends owe me some explanations to justify their lockdown views. Maybe Fauci isn’t off the hook after all.
For more information on biases in Covid-19 case and death definitions, see my peer-reviewed article with cited references: Biases in COVID-19 Case and Death Definitions: Potential Causes and Consequences.
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