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3 May, 2022 18:42

PayPal seizes alternative media site’s money

The account of Consortium News has been ‘permanently limited’ for unspecified violations
PayPal seizes alternative media site’s money

Payment processor PayPal has frozen alternative media powerhouse Consortium News’ (CN) donation page without warning, confiscating the site’s $9,348.14 balance with no explanation beyond the claim that “an investigation and review” of the site’s “history” found “some potential risk associated with this account.

CN was informed via email on Sunday that it couldn't use PayPal anymore and told “we noticed activity in your account that’s inconsistent with our User Agreement and we [can] no longer offer you PayPal services.” Absent any further explanation beyond the desire to limit “potential risk exposure,” the site was informed that the nearly $10,000 sitting in its account would be effectively confiscated for “up to 180 days,” after which point, “if applicable, we’ll email you with information on how to withdraw any remaining money.

The seizure came at a particularly damaging time for the reader-funded site, which had just begun a spring fundraising drive. Contacted by CN employees, a PayPal customer service representative confirmed on Sunday that no specific reason had been given by the “back office” for “permanently limiting” the account other than the aforementioned “potential risk.” 

I don’t see any existing case” of a complaint having been filed by “any agency, government or private, or any individual,” they told CN, promising to ask PayPal’s back office to explain its behavior to the website.

More ominously, the PayPal representative informed CN that “if there was a violation,” it was “possible” the $9,348.14 balance in its account would be kept by PayPal as “damages.” According to PayPal’s own documentation, violations include providing “false, inaccurate or misleading information” to PayPal, its customers, or “third parties.” 

In a blog post discussing the suspension, CN editor-in-chief Joe Lauria suggested the site had been targeted due to its coverage of the conflict in Ukraine, noting that MintPress News – another well-known alt-media website with similar political views regarding the US and NATO's foreign adventures – had its own account frozen by PayPal last week. PayPal’s definition of “violations,” Lauria implied, could easily be stretched to include the Orwellian crime du jour of “fake news,” an especially egregious offense during wartime.

Last week, former RT America correspondent Caleb Maupin also had his PayPal account frozen without warning or explanation, as did MintPress employees Alan MacLeod and Mnar Adley. Many on social media have speculated that the payment processor is deliberately targeting those with dissident views on the conflict in Ukraine and US foreign policy in general – “thoughtcrimes” hundreds of other prominent commentators have been deplatformed for in the past.

Consortium News was founded in 1995 by the late journalist Robert Parry, whose claims to fame included exposing the Iran-Contra scandal, in opposition to what the site’s own biography describes as “a crisis building in the US news media.”  

Skewering the “pattern of groupthink on issue after issue, often ignoring important factual information because it didn’t fit with what all the Important People knew to be true,”

PayPal was sued in a class-action lawsuit in January, accused of violating racketeering laws, including breach of contract and unjust enrichment, for refusing to explain the reasoning behind its decision to freeze several customer accounts.

Famed poker professional Chris Moneymaker was to be the lead plaintiff after having $12,000 of his money confiscated by the website, but after publicity began to build around the lawsuit, PayPal refunded his earnings. Nevertheless, several other plaintiffs stepped in to replace him, including fellow poker professional Lena Evans, who alleged the payment processor had first frozen and then stolen $26,984 from her account.

PayPal’s terms of service prohibit customers from using the platform for “illegal activities,” including covering gambling expenses, but the lawsuit argues the payment processor cannot simply confiscate funds from customers who violate those terms.