We live in interesting times. Case in point: The Ku Klux Klan has a PayPal account. 

At least it had a PayPal account, until activists noticed and called out PayPal on Twitter, and PayPal suspended it.

But there's a little more to the story.  

And there's a lesson in it for anyone who runs a business aimed at the general public -- only to find out that the general public includes elements that you want nothing to do with.

Before we dive deep: This isn't an article where we beat up on PayPal for letting the KKK onto its system.  

For one thing, PayPal has a pretty clear acceptable use policy. Right near the top it says PayPal can't be used for "the promotion of hate, violence, racial or other forms of intolerance."

And, it's not as if the the Klan signed up for PayPal with an email address like "KKK_H8@gmail.com" or something.

Instead, as Nandini Jammi of Sleeping Giants discovered, a website associated with a group called the Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan was listing a PayPal account and soliciting donations.

The KKK-linked site is rife with grammatical errors, and they do the stupid thing the Klan does with K-words. It reads like a bad joke.

I don't want to inadvertently spread their racist messages, but I think it's important to acknowledge that this kind of evil group still exists in 2019. So, here's a short passage:

[P]eople say they support the Klan but ... [w]hen we march in the streets are you there? When we hold a Rally and cross lighting ceremony did [sic] you participate [sic] on the building materials? 

...

Where is your support for the Ku Klux Klan in its time of need? ... As a Ku Klux Kontributor you can still play an important role ...

Oh. I tried, but the KKK could not be reached for "komment."

Not long after Jammi pointed out the account to PayPal, PayPal shut it down.

But PayPal spokeswoman Kim Eichorn said PayPal had already made the connection between the email address associated with the account and the KKK, but held off on closing it for strategic reasons.

"We were aware, and actively reviewing this individual's account. There are times when we may not immediately close an account. This may be done to allow us to identify other affiliated accounts," Eichorn told me in an email. "After an extensive review, we took action and banned the account."

In any event, I guess the KKK is back to holding bake sales, since at least this account is no longer active on PayPal.

"Obviously, we take these types of hate speech related accounts very seriously as you've likely seen in the coverage in recent years," PayPal's Eichorn said. "We've taken action on numerous accounts who were in violation of our terms, such as the Proud Boys, Laura Loomer and Tommy Robinson."

So, what are the lessons for anyone else in business?

Clear terms of service.

PayPal has clear terms of service; you need that too. You don't want to have to decide after the fact what kinds of customers you won't deal with. It's easy say no to a racist group like the KKK, but the harder cases are the closer ones. Better to set up parameters first.

Decisive action.

PayPal is a $125 billion company with nearly 300 million accounts. It can argue that it needs to act strategically, perhaps not shutting down offending accounts immediately, so that it can identify other associates. But if you're running a smaller company, you probably need to act faster.

A quick communications strategy.

Again, PayPal has a PR team ready to explain its actions. If your company is smaller, at least be able to explain quickly Customer X was not a good fit for your service. Because somebody -- Customer X's friends on social media, or your other customers, or pesky writers like me -- will probably ask.

Correction: An earlier version of this column misspelled the last name of PayPal spokeswoman Kim Eichorn.

Published on: Sep 4, 2019
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