Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Censorship - It's Alive and Well and Living in Washington

Yesterday's news that Alex Jones' Infowars had been banned by Facebook, Apple's iTunes and Google's YouTube surprised some people, however, Democratic Congressman Ted Deutch (D-FL) should not have been surprised in any way given his recent questions posed at the recent House of Representatives Judiciary Committee hearing entitled "Facebook, Google and Twitter: Examining the Content Filtering Practices of Social Media Giants" held on Capitol Hill on July 17th, 2018 as you can see at the 1 hour 47 minute mark on this video:

Here is Mr. Deutch's most direct question to Google/YouTube:

"How are you dealing with all these conspiracy theorists on your platform?"

Apparently, according to the company's representative, Google's goal is "to promote authoritative/trustworthy content".  Further on in this posting, you will see a specific example of how Google handles content from my perspective.

Let's see what two of the respective companies, Google/YouTube and Facebook, had to say about how they are handling their content from the testimonies given by the representatives of each company involved in the hearing:

1.) YouTube - Testimony by Juniper Downs, Director of Public Policy and Government Relations for Google:

"We strive to make information from the web available to all our users, but not all speech is protected. We respect the laws of the nearly 200 countries in which we offer services. Once we are on notice of content that may violate local law, we evaluate it and block it for the relevant jurisdiction. For many issues, such as privacy, defamation, or hate speech, our legal obligations may vary country by country as different jurisdictions have come to different conclusions about how to deal with these complex issues. In the case of all legal removals, we share information about government requests for removal in our ​Transparency Report​.

Where we have developed our own content policies, we enforce them in a politically neutral way. Giving preference to content of one political ideology over another would fundamentally conflict with our goal of providing services that work for everyone.  We are dedicated to access to information and freedom of expression, but it’s not anything goes on YouTube. We’ve developed robust ​Community Guidelines​ to provide clear guidance about what is not allowed on YouTube. For example, we do not allow pornography, incitement to violence, or harassment. We work hard to maintain an environment that benefits creators, advertisers, and viewers alike. Keeping YouTube free from dangerous, illegal, or illicit content not only protects our users, it’s a business imperative...

In addition, we may impose certain restrictions on content, including disabling advertising on videos that don’t comply with our ​Advertiser Friendly Guidelines​, and age-restricting content that may not be appropriate for all audiences. We also provide user controls, like ​Restricted Mode​, an optional setting for users who want to filter out more mature content. Of course videos that are unavailable in Restricted Mode or are not monetized through advertising remain available on the site.

Our policies do not target particular political beliefs. To determine when videos should be removed, demonetized, or age restricted, we look at the context, including whether content is clearly documentary, educational, or satirical. As an example, videos that discuss or depict mature subjects including death and tragedy, highly sexualized content, violence, or excessive profanity, are likely to be unavailable in Restricted Mode..." (my bolds)

I'm not certain that this posting of mine received much traction but here is my personal experience with Google/YouTube and my blog:

"In the past, I have received notice that a posting of mine had violated Google's policies for publishers with this being the latest iteration:

When I went into my Adsense account, this is what I found:

In this case, Google wields a big stick; at their discretion, they can cut off Adsense on any offending pages meaning that I could find myself with my already meagre Adsense income reduced even further.

Let's look at some details about the offending posting.  You will notice that the single posting on former President Jimmy Carter's solution to the ongoing North Korea crisis was deemed offensive because it contains "gore".  In this case, as part of the message that I hoped my readers would take from the information that I provided, I provided links and embedded versions of videos taken during two executions; the execution of Saddam Hussein and the rather violent execution of Muammar Qaddafi at the hands of his fellow Libyans.

The great irony of the notice of offence by Google is that both videos were taken directly from YouTube as you can see here:

For those of you who aren't aware, Google (now Alphabet) purchased YouTube for $1.65 billion in October 2006 and, as such, is hosting videos containing "gore" on its 100 percent owned subsidiary.

Now, that's ironic!  What is even more ironic is that the video of Saddam Hussein's hanging has been viewed 1.967 million times on YouTube and that there are six versions of the same video on YouTube.  One of the videos has been on YouTube since December 30, 2006.  The video showing the execution of Muammar Qaddafi has been viewed 1.892 million times, was taken from ABC News and has been on YouTube since October 21, 2011.  As well, there is at least one additional version taken from ABC News that has been on YouTube since October 20, 2011 and has garnered 1.551 million hits."

So, I guess we can see just how rigorous and effective Google/YouTube's "censorship" algorithms really are and how the company is little more than a content bully.

2.) Facebook: Monika Bickert, Vice President for Global Policy Management for Facebook:

Freedom of expression is one of our core values, and we believe that the Facebook community is richer and stronger when a broad range of viewpoints is represented. We are committed to encouraging dialogue and the free flow of ideas by designing our products to give people a voice and by implementing standards to ensure fair and transparent processes for removing content that doesn’t belong on Facebook…

We know that there have been a number of high-profile content removal incidents affecting individuals across the political spectrum, and we are taking a variety of steps to respond to the concerns raised by this Committee and others. Among other things, we have engaged an outside advisor, former Senator Jon Kyl (Republican), to advise the company on potential bias against conservative voices. Laura Murphy, a national civil liberties and civil rights leader also is getting feedback directly from civil rights groups to help advise Facebook on the best path forward. We already partner with over 100 groups across the political spectrum, and we believe this external feedback will help us improve over time and ensure we can most effectively serve our diverse community. And we are continuing to expand our list of outside partner organizations to ensure we receive feedback on our content policies from a diverse set of viewpoints.

We also are instituting additional controls and oversight around our content review team, including robust escalation procedures and updated reviewer training materials, and have launched an appeals process to enable people to contest content decisions with which they disagree. In addition, we constantly work to refine and enhance the quality of our machine learning, which is a first line of defense for content assessment on our platform. We hope that these improvements and safeguards will help ensure that Facebook remains a platform for a wide range of ideas and enables the broadest spectrum of free expression possible...

We have partnered with third-party fact checking organizations to limit the reach of false news and to let people know when they are sharing news stories (excluding opinion and satire) that have been disputed or debunked. Third-party fact-checkers on Facebook are signatories to the non-partisan International Fact-Checking Network Code of Principles. In the United States, Facebook’s third-party fact-checking is conducted by the Associated Press, Factcheck.org, PolitiFact, Snopes, and the Weekly Standard Fact Check.

We recognize that some people may ask whether, in today’s world, is it possible to have a set of fact-checkers that are widely recognized as objective. While we work with the International Fact-Checking Network to make sure all our partners have high standards of accuracy, fairness, and transparency, we know that this is still not a perfect process… " 

With all of that in mind, let's look at what Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) tweeted on August 6, 2018:

I'm not quite certain what Infowars had to do with threatening the state of democracy in the United States, however, it appears that Infowars is to blame in Mr. Murphy's narrative.  I hate to tell Mr. Murphy but the United States was already well on the road to becoming the Untied States long before his political party and their presidential candidate lost the 2016 election.

I think that gives you a sense of how the concentration of power in the "hands" of a very small number of highly influential America-based social media networks and a few hundred members of Congress is working in favour of censorship.  While I must admit that I am no fan of Alex Jones and his conspiracy theories, like me, he is allowed to have and share his opinions on the state of the American Empire.  There is no need for Google, Facebook, Twitter, Apple and other members of the social media oligopoly to act as gatekeepers for us all.  The vast majority of us really do have the capacity to think for ourselves.  After all, no matter what social media networks and Congress may say, truth is in the eye of the beholder and no website is going to convince us of something that we don't already believe, conspiracy or not.  The biggest question is:

Where do we draw the line between truth and propaganda?

Should politicians that deliberately lie to their constituents be banned from social media platforms the same as these platforms are banning things that don't fit into the commonly (and not always correctly) believed narrative?  Perhaps if there were less secrecy in government, we would all be able to trust those that we put into positions of power and the "need" for fact-checking would decrease.

1 comment:

  1. Oh, the irony of it all as mainstream media and politicians rush to blame social media for our cultural woes. Currently, Facebook faces multiple investigations to find out just how far over the line they went in abusing the trust of those with accounts and information posted on Facebook.

    Just as unsettling is the alliances companies like Amazon have made with the government and the big contract their cloud division, Amazon Web Services, has with the CIA. In the case of Amazon the fact its CEO also owns the Washington Post, America's most influential newspaper, should send shivers down the back of those believing in freedom and limited government.

    Governments, corrupt politicians, the media, fools and clowns, all vying for our attention. The source of much of the polarization we face may, in fact, flow from the same mainstream media that is almost giddy over the problems Facebook has created by playing fast and loose with data from its followers. More on this subject below.