Saturday, March 3, 2012

Censorship rears its ugly head on the internet

PayPal has notified a number of online booksellers that it will no longer do business with them unless they remove certain kinds of material from their sites.   Given that PayPal seems to have a virtual monopoly in processing online transactions for many individuals and businesses, this will have a dramatic effect on online sales of many other things.  One of the ebook distributors given this ultimatum by PayPal is Smashwords that distributes Born a Refugee and Refugee Without Refuge in formats for ereaders other than Kindle.  I receive my royalties through PayPal, and I use PayPal to buy books and other things online, including concert tickets for local events.

Paypal is insisting that material including descriptions of rape, incest (and “pseudo-incest,” whatever that is) and bestiality be removed.  I’m a prude.  I admit it.  Although my novels use the words “desire” and “rape,” I never describe either.  I prefer the reader’s imagination to fill in as many or as few details as suits the individual taste.  The fact that I don’t read or recommend erotica does not mean I think their work should be censored.  Censorship of any kind is unconscionable and abhorrent.

Would Sophocles’ Oedipus be denied because it contains incest?  Wasn’t rape central to Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men?  Is our society regressing to the point of book burning?  What is happening to our individual freedom that we tout so highly as we condemn countries that deny such freedoms?  Yet this censorship is being ignored by the mainstream media.

 “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it,” a saying often attributed to Voltaire, but first said by Evelyn Beatrice Hall when describing Voltaire’s beliefs, also describes my beliefs about what is happening today.  No, I probably would not really defend it to the death, but I think the word should be spread and that every thinking person should lend support to the right to sell legal material using common methods of monetary transactions.  Every book distributor I have dealt with explicitly asks if the books contain adult content, and such books are clearly labeled.  They are not illegal.

Do not think that this is a fight to keep erotica in print—censorship, once started, is far more insidious.   

This act of censorship does not affect my books—yet.  However, I firmly believe that censorship is a slippery slope.  If this can go unchecked, what might be next?  Censorship of books that do not agree with politicians’ views?   Might my own books be banned in the future because they paint a sympathetic portrait of people who disagree with United States foreign policy?  The idea is not as far-fetched as you might imagine. 

The NCAC (National Coalition Against Censorship) website ( has a section on News.  There are many articles about instances of censorship, including one headlined “MECA Outmaneuvers MOCHA, Shows Palestinian Youth Art Across From Original Gallery” describing the September 2011 instance where the Museum of Children’s Art (MOCHA) cancelled an exhibit of Palestinian children’s art entitled “A Child’s View From Gaza.”  The article tells how the Middle East Children’s Alliance managed to find another venue and attract an audience of thousands to view the exhibit.  If an institution like MOCHA yields to pressure and cancels Palestinian children’s art, how different is that from removing books from library shelves, or asking book distributors to remove them from their websites?

The ABFFE (American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression) website,, has some eye-opening articles about children’s books that have been banned in Tucson as part of the state’s ban on Mexican American Studies.  The ABFFE home page has a link to a petition to return the books to the students.  It also gives more information about the PayPal Ban.

A letter sent jointly by NCAC and ABFFE that was sent to eBay Inc. and PayPal USA at shows the email addresses of those who should hear the voices of people crying out against censorship.

Make your voice heard.


  1. Just like dogs have been associated with the human civilization since the beginning of time, censorship has, and will be, also. There's never been true freedom of speech, even in America. The real issue is who are the censors and what are they censoring?

  2. On March 14, 2012 I received a triumphant email from Mark Coker, founder of Smashwords saying that PayPal has reversed its stand on censosrhip. Here is a short quote:
    Smashwords authors, publishers and customers mobilized. You made telephone calls, wrote emails and letters, started and signed petitions, blogged, tweeted, Facebooked and drove the conversation. You made the difference. Without you, no one would have paid attention.

    This is a big, bold move by PayPal. It represents a watershed decision that protects the rights of writers to write, publish and distribute legal fiction. It also protects the rights of readers to purchase and enjoy all fiction in the privacy of their own imagination. It clarifies and rationalizes the role of financial services providers and pulls them out of the business of censoring legal fiction.

    This is a bright day for indie publishing. In the old world, traditional publishers were the arbiters of literary merit. Today, thanks to the rise of indie ebooks, the world is moving toward a broader, more inclusive definition of literary merit. Smashwords gives writers the power and freedom to publish. Merit is decided by your readers. Just as it should be.