Paypal censors Books containing the Word „Iranian“ in their Title

Dass Paypal gerne die Zusammenarbeit mit BitTorrent-Sites und VPN-Providern verweigert, ist bekannt. Dass sie allerdings Blacklists führen, aufgrund derer man keine Bücher verkaufen kann, die im Titel das Wort „Iranian“ enthalten, ist mir neu und anscheinend eine neue Dimension von Paypals automatisierter Zensur.

Der Verlag Fabrica hat einen Fotoband namens Iranian Living Room im Selbstverlag herausgegeben, ein Projekt, in dem 15 Fotografen aus dem Iran das Wohnzimmer ihrer Heimat interpretieren. Das haben sie selbst produziert und wollten den Bestellvorgang per Paypal einrichten, als sie feststellten, dass es beim Bestellprozess eine nicht näher definierte Fehlermeldung gab. Dann stellte sich heraus, dass Paypal das Wort „Iranian“ blockiert und es kam allen Ernstes der Vorschlag, sie sollten doch einfach den Titel ändern und der (irische) Support-Mitarbeiter von Paypal „said that he could tell by my accent that I was American and I would understand the issue“. Kulturelle Homogenisierung durch automatisierte Zensur-Algorithmen. Brave new world.

I was told that their shopping cart code was blocking the order because the book had the word "Iranian" in the title. And that word is on a "blacklist" (their word, not mine) as PayPal is based in the USA. And that was that. Our PayPal account manager on the phone in Dublin—who was vaguely helpful and evasive in equal measure—said that he could tell by my accent that I was American and I would understand the issue. Leaving aside the fact that I am in fact English, and generally sound like it, I find the broader point extraordinary in so many ways I barely know where to start.

PayPal are currently looking into whether they can hard code our book's title into a "white list" (again, their words) of phrases that their filters will not block. (This is not exactly the solution I had in mind.) In the meantime, they suggested we change the name of the book in our shopping cart. Leaving aside the fact that of course we don't want to change the name of our book in the shopping cart, I find this politically-motivated censorship, willingly if not actively carried out by a corporation, absolutely despicable. I have no idea if the US government actually enforces this on PayPal; the PayPal representative could not confirm or deny.

If a person judged a book not even by its cover, but by its title—or rather, by one word in its title—and judged it to the extent that they actively tried to restrict its distribution, without examining the actual book for a nanosecond, you would think them a moron at worst, if not a moron with worryingly totalitarian instincts.

Journal: PayPal, and the word "Iranian" (via The New Aesthetics)