PayPal vs. Smashwords

By Joe Moore

In February, PayPal, the global e-commerce payment service notified Smashwords, one of the biggest indie publishers or electronic literature that they had one week to remove all books in their catalogue that dealt with themes of rape, incest, bestiality and underage sex. Failure to do so meant that PayPal would deactivate their services. The pressure to take this action appeared to have come from the credit card companies that partner with PayPal (owned by eBay). Smashwords has over 100k books available online. A quick search of Smashwords showed that there were about 1k titles tagged with the offensive subjects.

Smashwords has been able to negotiate an extension of the deadline in order to come to some compromise with PayPal and its credit card, bank, and credit union partners. In the meantime, as this situation goes on, it raises many questions starting with:

Should a business such as a credit card company be allowed to force its moral beliefs directly or indirectly upon another company?

Before everyone starts pointing out the lack of redeeming literary qualities of the specific books targeted, let’s just move to the bigger topics of censorship and free speech—and who in this example has the right to decide when and how to implement it. Does a middle-man payment company like PayPal have the right to decide what is obscene? If PayPal can tell booksellers what they can and cannot sell, aren’t they also telling readers what they can and cannot read?

What’s your reaction to PayPal’s mandate? Is this just the start of bigger things to come in the censorship arena?

The Latest Political Hot Potato

I’ve been lying low these days, writing on deadline for my next YA book. I tend to burrow into the pages and not come up for air until I write THE END, but I had to stray from my writing to watch a horrible drama unfold on TV and I wanted to talk about it here with people I respect.

With Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords still clinging to life after Jared Lee Loughner attempted to assassinate her, the debate rages on in the media and in Washington DC about who is to blame for stirring up such violence. It’s become a political hot potato.

The tragedy that left 6 dead and 13 others injured has prompted many to examine the political discourse in our country. I think the debate about how we exchange political views is a valid one, but perhaps our discussion should be more than that.

We have 24 hour news coverage that demands every minute be filled, even if the ‘breaking news’ is about who is in and out of rehab, or who is breaking up with whom. And have you noticed how reporters have become the news? They give opinions meant to stir viewers into posting online comments, often focusing on emotional hot button topics, just to see who is watching them. Our society has become more malicious in its criticism, especially given the anonymity of the Internet. If no one knows your name, does that entitle you to say things online that you wouldn’t to someone’s face?

And with the Internet being in the privacy of our own homes, we have access to people, views, and images from all over the world. It has become a powerful tool and in many ways, it has made the world a much smaller, more accessible place. But has this global fishbowl made us more vulnerable, too? And with reality TV shows thriving on the open abuse of contestants and fueling our voyeuristic hunger for cruelty, is it any wonder this can have an impact on our society over the long haul?

Sure whoever pulls the trigger or detonates the bomb is ultimately to blame for that violence, but maybe it’s not always that simple. In this great country of ours, we are blessed with and empowered by our right to free speech, but doesn’t that right come with some responsibility, too? I’d really love to hear your thoughts while I’m grappling with it myself.