Internet censorship and whither shall we go?
This article is well ahead of what I think is the curve, but I think it gives people fair warning of what’s coming at them, and perhaps some time to start digging in before it arrives. Take it or leave it, as you wish, but you’ve been warned.
As a lone blogger who writes to a very defined objective and on the usual bloated skeptic budget courtesy of Big Oil, I’m obliged to do my own PR to get my content out into the wider world by placing links in various distribution mediums. Facebook is one of my output mediums like Twitter or Reddit that automatically get a link when anything is published here, but quite frankly as far as I could see it never brought in much in the way of new readers.
If anything, the reverse seemed to be true. People read something here and put a link to it on their Facebook account by clicking the Facebook share button at the end of the article.
I am going to sever the connection to my Pointman Facebook account, and I’d like to explain to you my reasons for doing so.
The most immediate reason is my account there was suddenly frozen a while back, announced by the arrival of a coercive and rather threatening email demanding my real name and copies of my driver’s license, state-issued ID cards, passports, military cards, photo IDs and whatever else they could think of short of a DNA swab, retina scan and finger prints.
There are a number of very compelling reasons not to comply with such an outrageous demand, and I’ll run through some of them.
The first and arguably the most important, is that type of information is an identity thief’s wet dream, and you’d be supplying it to an organisation which has a history of security breaches. By some accounts, it also has a history of not admitting such breaches have occurred unless it gets absolutely chronic. Nobody should ever under any circumstances put personal information of that type onto the internet, never mind on a horse’s ass of a social media site.
Just this week, the details of 100 million users, yes that’s 100 million users, of the Russian equivalent of Facebook went up for sale on a market in the darknet. Bear in mind, Russians, being by nature and upbringing totally paranoid about security, are miles ahead of a bunch of Californian wannabe techno-hippies running around in Jesus boots and T-shirts with the details of nearly a billion people slopping around in their ill-guarded systems.
In short, I have no faith in their security expertise.
The second reason, and a personal one, is that I simply don’t trust that organisation with knowing my real name. I stopped commenting under that many years ago in response to cyber and real threats to me and my loved ones. In a sense, that decision to soldier on anonymously lifted my game. My thoughts and commentary here have to stand or fall on their own merits, without the prop of any personal authority I might have.
Putting it bluntly, I don’t trust them or one of their minions not to leak my name.
That is a very strong statement and needs some justification but the old rules of life apply; when there’s a doubt, you act like there’s no doubt. Of late, some evidence of long-suspected things have surfaced about Facebook which strongly indicate that an unacceptable and disingenuous level of political censorship is occurring in the human element of moderation and the selection of what’s trending by Facebook.
As always, when dealing with a secretive corporation which has an oppressive attitude to employees reluctant to go with the office flow, hard evidence is difficult to come by, but it’s starting to come out, both from former employees and some external testing of the moderation process.
What’s more worrying, is that it appears the bias is being fully supported by a systemic corporate culture, right up until the point where it becomes so outrageous, a grudging retraction has to be done, but that doesn’t appear to prevent exactly the same type of abuse happening the following day.
What is actually trending is carefully disappeared if it doesn’t happen to fit a liberal agenda, and what isn’t trending but should be, is magically made to be trending. It’s information manipulation of the worst sort. The censorship aspect with the attendant intimidation, is even more blatant. Take the case of Carlos who made what I’d consider a fair point and in a polite civilised manner. He got his account suspended for 24 hours but compounded his problems on reinstatement by mentioning it’d happened – that got him an additional three-day suspension.
If you’re a sciency type who knows the difference been theoretical and experimental coneheads, you’ll appreciate the next experiment done on Facebook. Two accounts were set up. One was anti-Palestinian and the other anti-Zionist. The posts and comments on both sites were gradually escalated up the hate speech scale. Very soon the anti-Palestinian site was knocked offline with the rationale that it broke Facebook terms and conditions.
Just to rub home the point, the experimenters had a good whinge to Facebook about why a page that exhorted Arabs to hate Israelis should stay up. Didn’t contravene terms and conditions was the smug reply. I’m not a Jew, but by Christ, if such rampant anti-Semitism is the new form of the liberal left these days, gimme a gun Abbie my friend; I’ll be right behind the barrier with you ready to do my fair share of shooting.
This is all really censorship not moderation, which is why I’ve chosen to use that word all the way through this article.
The fact that I’m severing any connection with Facebook from this end obviously doesn’t preclude you sharing or linking to a piece here, and in all honesty I’m bound to say I’m always grateful to people for circulating an article because most of what I write is mission oriented, but you should be aware that by doing so you could be running the risk of running foul of their censorship regime.
I’m not aware of instances of something like that happening, but what I do know is that if it hasn’t already happened, it will – because censorship is a one way street.
It only ever leads to stricter and stricter regulations, with everyone ending up looking nervously over their shoulder worrying if what they were about to say might offend the almighty censor.
An example of that tendency was James Delingpole’s blog at the Daily Telegraph. For a couple of years it was a great forum to discuss and argue over the global warming issue, but then the paper introduced a new comment management system called DISQUS, which not only made any meaningful debate impossible, but also introduced a censorship regime which tore the guts out of the forum.
I’ve seen what that sort of regime looks like, seen it choking out any dissenting opinions, no matter how trivial. Seen the plastered on grimaced smiles of approval by its victims while underneath it all, they absolutely hated its guts and wished it nothing but ill. With great reluctance, I walked away but perhaps it was the final exasperated impetus in the naissance of this blog.
A few years down the line, they finally abolished the blogs. Not long after, they disabled comments on everything else they published. Mr Mordancy is dead, but Mr Bland has now taken up residence in his stead.
The censors now have nothing left to censor there, and any dissenting viewpoint has been extinguished at the Telegraph. In a sense, it was always a traditional paper medium dipping its toe into a soft format and struggled with the novel concept of interacting with a readership. It’s now retreated back to being an output only medium because that’s all it knows and true to its nature, the scorpion will always sting, even though it knows that by doing so it’ll drown in the river.
The Telegraph, like other old media mastodons of its ilk, will eventually be selected out of the gene pool by the newer and more nimble creatures of the internet savannah.
The central problem is where you think the middle point on any contentious issue is. Think of it as an old-fashioned meter with a needle which rests at the mid-point between two measurable extremes. In essence, their mid-point needle is positioned well left of centre, which essentially means that any moderate viewpoint which doesn’t agree with theirs gets lumped together with the neo-Nazis, racists and other assorted fringe nutjobs, and treated accordingly.
The writing is on the wall.
We’re moving into the thermidor phase of that first glorious explosion of freedom of expression on the internet. What you’re allowed to say, what you’re allowed to see; these things are gradually being eroded, gradually coming under control.
To pose Lenin’s classic question, but in an entirely different context, what is to be done?
More fully expressed, what is to be done about this creeping censorship of the internet for all of the best possible reasons? If I can be rolled up with holocaust deniers because I dissent on a point of science, what’re the odds of you being rolled up with anything else simply because you refuse to agree with some official proposition?
How bad is it becoming?
Depressingly, the answer is it’s probably going to get a lot worse. All the major internet players like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Microsoft have just signed up to an anti-hate speech deal with the EU, and the definition of what might constitute hate speech is so vague and wide-ranging as to accommodate any control freak’s wildest dream, and by control freak we’re talking paternalistic government who knows exactly what’s best for you.
Such an agreement plays to both their aims; the government control freaks get a choke lock around the necks of internet users and the obscenely fat cats of the internet age get to abuse a market dominance position with a sly wink from the governing powers for their compliance. Great deal, everybody walks away from the table a big winner, except you.
The mainstream media have had their dissenting teeth pulled; they’re craven whipped curs grovelling at the feet of their masters nowadays, and now the bosses are after the last holdout islands of dissent in the internet badlands.
Best of all, the people who’re going to be making the decision to censor you are those whippy dippy firms, and I’m pretty sure where their mid-point needle will be on any contentious issue. There is, of course, no right of appeal, since the criteria for the decision will have little or nothing in the way of a legal basis. It’s big town hall versus little man you. They’ll disappear you.
Patently, once you sit down at a table to play a rigged game on the house’s terms, you’re going to lose, whatever you do. The only winning strategy in that situation is not to play their game.
Ten years ago I realised a contrary viewpoint would never get a fair hearing in the MSM, never mind a hearing at all. Such viewpoints became not only orphans but non-persons as Eric Blair predicted with a scary prescience that is to this day still unnerving. Not only will your comments disappear, but the fact that you ever made them at all will disappear as well. You’ll disappear.
We’ve done this trip before. The old legacy media sold the gullible the global warming scare, but the resistance to it, being denied any platform in those mainstream organs, retreated into the relatively new space called the internet, the outlaw Badlands, and debunked the science. In a similar sense, being pushed out of the surface web, dissenting opinion will simply retreat into the under web, otherwise known as the darknet.
I’ve already set up a fallback home in the undernet. We did it once, we can do it again, confident that people who’ve once had a taste of red meat will never go back to slurping up their master’s permitted measure of thin gruel, even if that’s coming from the internet nowadays.
They will find their way yet again to the open and free forums which have nobody’s jackboot on their neck.
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