The Threat of Social Censorship

posted by on 20th January 2016, at 7:42pm

The impact of Google, Facebook, and Twitter on the technology landscape has been nothing but widespread and world altering. While the pioneers are still relevant (Microsoft, Apple, etc.), they don’t that these three corporations ultimately have. Overall we feel the impact of Google, Facebook, and Twitter much more than we do of Microsoft or Apple.

Google is relied upon by millions to get quick answers to questions without too much effort. Google also provides a mostly hassle free and easy to use email service that has streamlined workflows tremendously. Their operating system also powers a majority of smartphones that are currently activated. Even if one tries to avoid Google it’s very likely that they will wind up loading a Google advert or a piece of Google Analytics tracking code.

Facebook’s main purpose is to be the address book of the 21st century. An address book that allows one to keep tabs on what their friends are up to as well as provide an instant way to contact them. Facebook also allows you to network with those who may share similar interests with you by way of its group mechanic. Facebook also has initiatives in place for bringing cheap and open internet to places of the world where it does not already exist. At its core, Facebook is about connecting people in the 21st century, Facebook even wants to make the phone number obsolete.

Twitter also aims to provide a means to connect with people. The difference is that you may not know who you are connecting with on Twitter whereas you probably know who you are connecting with on Facebook. Twitter is excellent for allowing the average individual to receive direct updates from their favourite actor or musician. Twitter also works well in the other direction in providing content creators a way to connect with their fans. Prior to Twitter the best both sides could hope for was following closely on a website or watching/reading interviews in conventional media.

At the end of the day it should be abundantly clear to everyone that Google, Facebook, and Twitter are three important pillars of communication in the 21st century. If one of these companies were to disappear we would see a major disruption in the way we communicate with one another. At the core it must be believed that each of Google, Facebook, and Twitter are benevolent and have no outright negative motives. By way of pure momentum we rely on each of these internet giants to allow us to communicate without barrier and without prejudice. It is when communication is truly free and open, without barrier and without prejudice that movements can take place. As the 21st century moves on it should be heavily apparent that these giants need to be the leaders that stand up for rights such as free speech and freedom of expression.

As of right now to my knowledge Google and Twitter have not outright censored anyone, we’ll come back to Facebook in a moment. What Google is guilty of is making it harder to find dissenting view points. Google has plans to sort websites based upon truthfulness and penalize websites deemed not to be truthful. While there are outright facts such as the chemical composition of water or the speed of light, the question needs to be asked, what makes something truthful? This has not been outlined by Google nor has the policy of enforcement on developing stories (breaking news, politics, scientific discoveries, etc.) If a page is removed from the first page of Google results it doesn’t exist on the internet. This is downright destructive to businesses and livelihoods; Google owes the world an answer as to how their truthfulness policy will be implemented.

Twitter has not outright censored anyone aside from those posting explicitly breaking the terms of service agreement. Recently, however, Twitter removed the blue verified check-mark from Milo Yiannopoulos’ (Breitbart Tech Editor) Twitter feed. No reasons for the removal were given, his account wasn’t compromised, and ownership was not transferred. You can read more about the events that transpired here. While he was previously suspended in December for a few moments and unsuspended after his followers rallied against Twitter it does set a dangerous precedent. It tells us what Twitter is willing to do to someone who doesn’t fit within the narrative of their business parameters. We must logically assume that the removal of the verified check-mark is deemed an acceptable action rather than outright silencing of the account. As with Google’s policy on truthful search, there is no outline as to grounds of termination or removal of Twitter’s verified status.

Finally we come to Facebook, whose position on censorship and free speech could not be more clear. On Monday Facebook began a Europe-wide campaign to “thwart extremist posts”. On first glance one would assume that this means they’re going to be cracking down on posts from groups like ISIS and other home grown extremists. Further on, we learn that this is actually a crackdown on “racist and xenophobic posts”. I do not condone racism or xenophobia but what is more frightening is that this directive initially was proposed by the German government. The German justice ministry has even gone so far as to set up a “task force” with Facebook and others. Facebook’s bias goes even further when earlier this month two identical pages were set up, one inciting violence towards Jews and another towards Muslims. Facebook only removed the post inciting violence towards Muslims. In reality, both should have been removed.

I think Google, Twitter, and Facebook are an important part of the world we live in today. Their power for finding information, driving messaging, and connecting with those we know is immense. The internet has made the world truly global, no longer is it unfeasible to talk with friends in New Zealand or conduct business with China all within the same day. Google, Twitter, and Facebook need to be A+ citizens of the internet. This means that they should be focused on values that we know to be instrumental to that of a successful society, freedom in terms of freedom of speech and freedom of expression. Regardless of how disgusting or wrong someones viewpoint is we should not have to worry about that individual not being able to share their viewpoint. Sadly going into 2016 these three internet giants have provided more reasons to be concerned rather than optimistic about the power of the internet.

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