With the ever-rising tide of bigotry, Muslims—and those perceived to be Muslim—are faced with Islamophobia in school, in the workplace, and on the street.
Now, thanks to Venmo's opaque policies, U.S. Muslims, Iranians, and others have to worry about being criminalized for something as simple as paying a friend back for a meal.
Venmo, a subsidiary of PayPal, Inc., has been flagging transactions containing the word "Persia" or "Persian." Some users have also reported issues with terms associated with Islam. At the same time, Venmo is not flagging words associated with white nationalism and hate violence.1
We understand that, due to U.S. sanctions on countries around the world, Venmo is legally required to observe certain regulations.
But there's no justification for a blanket ban on words like "Persian," which is an ethnicity, a language, and a culture that has existed for millennia. And if Venmo is flagging transactions with words commonly used by millions of Muslims every day? That would be Islamophobia, plain and simple.
We tested other word variations, to see if they would set off Venmo's internal filters. We were shocked to find that terms including "KKK" and "cocaine" did not result in a single flag—even though they clearly violate PayPal's user agreements (the platform "may not be used to promote hate, violence, or illegal activity").
It's clear that Venmo's policies are being applied unevenly, in a way that's impacting Muslims and folks from Muslim-majority countries like Iran.
But what isn't clear is the internal policies and algorithms that are causing this impact. That's why we're calling on Venmo to commit to a public audit of their algorithms and filtering policies, with input from impacted community groups.
Ayisha Irfan, Jon Mansoori, and Monna Sabouri
via MPower Change
1. "Venmo Flags Payments for 'Persian' Restaurants, Other Terms Related to Iran Due to Sanctions," Newsweek, Feb 21, 2019