Social Media: The gatekeepers of speech

Ever since the dawn of the internet - and Usenet in particular - robots have been patrolling the bytes, trying to prevent spam and possible abuse, false flagging innocent domains, emails and users in the process. The process has evolved along with the new media we find ourselves using, and stories now emerging about blocklists on twitter,

In Beware of the blocklists, Slate writer David Auerbach argues that much like poorly thought out spam filters, they are imperfect tools for filtering out harassment online, but also that they can be just as troublesome as the problem they purport to fix. Since we all are addicted to Twitter, most people will keep their accounts anyway, even if they're blocked from reading the news because someone put them on a Blocktogether list with thousands of other random users. Fun fact: @Adland is on ISIS blocklist. You can check if you are too here and if you're on other lists here.

This week, Twitter suspended API access for twitter-bots that kept politicians honest by monitoring for deleted tweets, and publishing those on other websites. Last week they suspended API access to the US version, and now they suspended access for Diplotwoops and all remaining Politwoops sites in 30 countries.

Twitter said that its decision to suspend access to Politwoops followed a ‘thoughtful internal deliberation and close consideration of a number of factors’ and that it doesn’t distinguish between users. Twitter wrote: ‘Imagine how nerve-racking – terrifying, even – tweeting would be if it was immutable and irrevocable? No one user is more deserving of that ability than another. Indeed, deleting a tweet is an expression of the user’s voice.’

But aren't politicians supposed to be held accountable for their official words? If the deleted tweets are merely typos, who cares, but Politwoops which was created during a hackathon had become a treasure trove for journalists looking for goofs.

Meanwhile on facebook, the US Center for Immigration Studies found that four of their report links were banned from being shared on facebook. When a Facebook user attempted to post or message these reports, a message appears stating, "Your message could not be sent because it includes content that other people on Facebook have reported as abusive." The ban, which stated that the report links were "reported as abusive", has been lifted now a facebook spokesperson has explained it as an error: "An error in our system that helps block bad links on Facebook incorrectly marked some URLs as malicious or inappropriate. We've resolved the issue and apologize for the inconvenience this caused."

There are many errors in filters that aim to keep spam and abuse out, the more bots trawl the web to boost numbers of views and followers, the more tightly wound the bots attempting to curb this will be. Whenever you leave your inbox in favour for the glossy apps on your phone, you might be blocked or simply miss out on sharing news as these services use poor tools to police their little shiny online malls. Just like malls, they're private property, where the owner can decide what type of speech they care to tolerate. Just like malls, the flashy advertising and signs to alert you to buy things are loud and in your face. Your built in "freedom of speech" exists in the public town square, not in the mall.

With news sites removing the ability to comment, CNN being the most recent, we are entering a new era of the internet. It's not quite as free as it used to be.

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Anonymous Adgrunt's picture
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kidsleepy's picture

As I said earlier on Twitter-- content isn't king. Controlling access to content is.

Tom Megginson's picture

Amen to that.