Chase Bank’s motto “What Matters Most” took on a menacing meaning this week after Michael Flynn claimed that the bank canceled his account and the credit card due to the “possible reputational risk to our company.” If true, the report is a chilling expansion of the role of private companies to isolate and harass those with controversial views in our society. As shown with censorship, such private enforcement of speech controls has proven far more dangerous and effective than the traditional government programs. Indeed, the move would show how a type of Chinese “social scoring” could easily take hold in the United States.
While I was highly critical of the handling of his prosecution, I have also been highly critical of former national security Michael Flynn and his reckless rhetoric in the wake of the 2020 election. However, it is precisely his unpopularity that is allegedly the reason for Chase taking action against him.
This remains only an allegation by Flynn since there is no confirmation from Chase or additional supporting material. Some have noted issues with the postings to suggest that the notice may not be directed at Flynn. However, neither Flynn nor Chase have publicly denied the account.
On Sunday, Flynn posted a message from Chase informing him that it is severing its banking ties with him “because continuing the relationship creates possible reputational risk to our company.” The partially redacted letter, dated Aug. 20, stated that the bank’s action would be effective on Sept. 18.
Chase bank has refused to respond to media inquiries on the matter.
Such an action would be chilling for free speech. In China, a “social credit system” was announced in 2014, is “an important component part of the Socialist market economy system and the social governance system.” According to a 2015 government document, the program was designed to reinforce for citizens that “keeping trust is glorious and breaking trust is disgraceful.”
In the last few years, we have seen an increasing call for private censorship from Democratic politicians and liberal commentators. Faculty and editors are now actively supporting modern versions of book-burning with blacklists and bans for those with opposing political views. Columbia Journalism School Dean Steve Coll has denounced the “weaponization” of free speech, which appears to be the use of free speech by those on the right. So the dean of one of the premier journalism schools now supports censorship.Free speech advocates are facing a generational shift that is now being reflected in our law schools, where free speech principles were once a touchstone of the rule of law. As millions of students are taught that free speech is a threat and that “China is right” about censorship, these figures are shaping a new society in their own intolerant images.
The most chilling aspect of this story is how many on left applaud such censorship. A new poll shows roughly half of the public supporting not just corporate censorship but government censorship of anything deemed “misinformation.” Perhaps the same citizens and academics will embrace the Chinese model on social scoring and praise actions that the reported move by Chase bank.
If Chase has taken this step, it could increase pressure on other companies in our “cancel culture” to refuse to do business with others deemed personas non grata. Dissidents and controversial figures would face greater and greater isolation — a deterrent for others who consider voicing unpopular views.
We have already seen the social media companies seek to effectively disappear those who challenge corporate or government viewpoints on subjects ranging from climate change to election fraud to Covid-19. Corporate banishment would ratchet up this pressure by making it difficult for people to travel and function in society. A thousand “Little Brothers” have already been found to be more dangerous than one “Big Brother” in terms of free speech. This could easily make the Chinese social scoring look tame in comparison if the cancel culture starts to target banks and other essential areas for unpopular figures like Flynn.