Patrick West

What the PayPal saga tells us about free speech

Credit: Getty images

The veteran comedian Jack Dee has been applauded and condemned for announcing that he is cancelling his PayPal account. As he tweeted yesterday: ‘Big Tech companies that feel they can bully people for questioning mainstream groupthink don’t deserve anyone’s business.’

PayPal has been in the news for cancelling the account of the Free Speech Union, who it says violated its ‘Acceptable Use Policy’, although it has not explained on what exact charge. The Free Speech Union has in recent years defended those who have been censured, or lost their job, for expressing unfashionable opinions, whether they be on lockdown or the trans issue, so it could be on many contentious topic.

The union’s founder, Toby Young, has been politely bemused. Many members of the public have been less restrained, also vowing to close their PayPal account. But Jack Dee’s intervention has been the first of its kind by a celebrity.

Predictably, Twitter went beserk, with many up in arms, accusing Dee – without a hint of irony – of being a fascist in siding with the Free Speech Union. Oh yes, the fascists, those well-known martyrs to free speech.

This situation represents a grim truth of our times: that untrammelled free speech is now the preserve of the rich

While it’s tempting to view Dee’s public stance in a positive light – as evidence that he has reached that stage of life where he doesn’t care what the mob thinks – it represents a grim truth of our times: that untrammelled free speech is now the preserve of the rich.

Like J. K. Rowling or Ricky Gervais, Jack Dee has got to that stage of financial security where fear of being cancelled or publicly shamed doesn’t matter. Sure, like Rowling, he may lose some work.

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