This week Buzzfeed News reported on a number of mainstream internet payment gateways and fund raising sites that have been banning right-wing extremists from using their services. This has been steadily occurring throughout 2017. Paypal has been using its anti-hate crime policies to shut down or limit the accounts of several high profile alt-right websites and individuals since spring. White supremacist website Occidental Dissent, whose shtick is largely fretting about the birth rate amongst North American Caucasians, had their Paypal account limited on May 1st, kicking a crucial avenue of funding out from underneath them. Paypal followed up by shutting the accounts of two unmitigated arseholes; depressing pick up artist/ rape apologist Roosh V, followed by living meme Based Stickman (aka Kyle Chapman), a high profile Trump supporter who has been trying his best to weaponise meme culture and reintroduce physical violence into politics.
Outside America, there were more casualties. Paypal closed the account of French anti-immigration group Generation Identity, forcing them to return €30,000 in donations that they could no longer access. Anti-Islam website Bare Naked Islam also found it’s money supply suddenly switched off.
Paypal isn’t the only organisation deciding it wants no business from the alt-right. Based Stickman has also found himself barred from GoFundMe. He’s not alone in having that portal closed to him - the site also shut the door on Occidental Dissent, along with a number of other right wing internet ‘personalities’. Other websites have followed suite, with the likes of Patreon and YouCaring closing down accounts and cancelling campaigns left, right and centre (well, just right to be honest –bom tsss). The resulting trail of raging, disenfranchised bigots has been one long LOL-fest as they unleash Dick Dastardly-esque howls across alt-right social media, stamping their feet and shaking their tiny fists at the sky.
PAYPAL: They took $1000 from me and never paid back. Claiming Fraud! Sent by a friend. Perfectly legit! VERY UNFAIR!— Malik Obama (@ObamaMalik) December 21, 2016
There’s plenty to laugh about as these stalwart champions of libertarianism, free market economics and deregulated business get in a tizz about businesses actually taking them up on any of the dogma they love to preach. The same people who argue that a bakery shouldn’t have to bake a cake expressing love between two men are then incensed that a charity fundraising website might equally well not be into funnelling money into projects that are likely to murder refugees. And most delicious irony of all, characters like Based Stickman owe their entire popularity to the internet – but now the mechanics of the internet are proving just as able to hinder as they are to help. Which of his millions of web savvy fans is going to put an actual $5 bill in the actual post?
And this bring us to a very real problem this story highlights that goes far beyond chuckling at the problems of a clutch of wearying trolls. These alt-right websites and personalities are learning a hard lesson early; that there is a very real disconnect between what we expect from the institutions that are crucial to our lives, and what they will actually do. Paypal, like Twitter, like Facebook, like Instagram, Google and Gmail have come to be seen as neutral and necessary to 21st Century living as light and air. These huge corporations have colonised language with such rapid success that we have barely noticed them morphing from nouns – that is, distinct entities that exist entirely outside of our bodies - to verbs, that is, things that we ourselves do. Putting it more explicitly, when Paypal was still just a name for a company, it was clearly separate from us: I put my money into Paypal. Now it has switched to verb state – I’ll paypal you the money – the corporation has become as intimate a part of our agency as announcing I feed myself or I kiss you. We’ve fused. We google, tweet and ‘gram it. We have become cyborg and scarcely noticed the surgery.
Like the horror cliché of a dead man’s hand being transplanted into a new body, there’s a creeping sense of unease about just how well we control these new implants that have so painlessly insinuated themselves into our bodies. As the alt-right are finding out – to their dismay – that unease was correct. We have upgraded our lives with plugins that ultimately lie beyond our control. A whole generation has sewn on the dead man’s hand. The processes of money transference, of searching for knowledge, or presenting ourselves to the world and communicating our desires have been outsourced; not to people we know, not to people we elect, not even to people at all, but to algorithms and corporations –and all the while, tricked by language that centres the individual (shout out to everyone reading this on an iPhone) we have assumed that these processes have actually become part of us, as under our control. We are mistaking the basic institutions around us, the FBs and IGs, for neutral tools; conduits for our wishes. They are not neutral. Approached incautiously they are as capable of being a trap as a tool.
Whilst web technology continues to have greater and greater impact in our lives, the battle ground over who owns these processes of filteration and presentation and remuneration will be bitter and long – and just because it’s morons like Roosh V getting it in the neck today, doesn’t mean it might not be someone more sympathetic tomorrow. It may just be that the alt-right has been forced to recognise that the levers of life being owned by a separate, profit making company is a problem- and all they've really been given is a head start.