Is the Internet Losing Freedom of Speech?

By Denyse O'Leary Published on February 3, 2016

Policy analyst Kaleev Leetaru laments,

Over the last two months I have written extensively on the many ways in which the evolving and globalizing world of the Internet is shifting away from being the flag bearer of free-for-all freedom of speech and towards a moderated commercial enterprise that must mediate among conflicting global standards on acceptable speech and online conduct. What does this mean for the future of the Internet?

He offers decade-old Twitter as an example with its new rules against giving offense — rules, one might add, that can only be enforced selectively and unfairly in a global world.

Leetaru adds,

The question of parody is often a thorny one. Apple made headlines in 2009-2010 when it rejected a Pulitzer-prize winning political cartoonist’s iPhone app from its App Store for violating its terms of use, which included at the time any content that “may be found objectionable, for example, materials that may be considered obscene, pornographic or defamatory.” Only after the cartoonist won the Pulitzer a few months later and openly discussed the Apple ban did the company reverse course. If an American political cartoonist can be banned by a US company for violating terms of objectionable speech, it raises critical questions of how companies like Twitter will evolve in their approach to satire and parody, even within the U.S. More.

Private companies he warns, become a government and court system, policing an ever varying and changing morality, with no protections of due process, only a legal contract between user and platform.

It’s as if your telephone company, fifty years ago, were your judge and jury, not the court system, based on what you said on the phone.

Canadian tech columnist Mike Gwilliam observes that Facebook CEO has decided to try to use the social media giant to shape views according to his own beliefs:

Zuckerberg has previously stated his support for amnesty and illegal immigrants. It’s not some secret that’s he’s a left-wing globalist.

But what’s worrying is that he has the power to influence change and manipulate how we receive information. As Facebook grows, so too does his reach over the uninformed.

Opinions abound on these issues. But again, going back fifty years, what if the phone company allowed your calls through or not, based on your agreement with the CEO’s views on various controversies?

And now this story from the Washington Post, on how Facebook went to war against bullfighting in Spain:

For Facebook and other platforms like it, incidents such as the bullfighting kerfuffle betray a larger, existential difficulty: How can you possibly impose a single moral framework on a vast and varying patchwork of global communities?

One thing Facebook isn’t in these matters is an open book:

Facebook has modified its standards several times in response to pressure from advocacy groups — although the site has deliberately obscured those edits, and the process by which Facebook determines its guidelines remains stubbornly obtuse. On top of that, at least some of the low-level contract workers who enforce Facebook’s rules are embedded in the region — or at least the time zone — whose content they moderate. The social network staffs its moderation team in 24 languages, 24 hours a day.

It’s as if, eighty years ago, the operator wouldn’t allow your calls to your fishing buddies through because she herself was a vegan.

We need a more competitive internet, just like we once needed a more competitive telephone industry.

Only we need it way more. And sooner.

See also: Could Google sway an election? If so, how? American psychologist Robert Epstein explains how search engine rankings can be manipulated.

Twitter vs. religious conservatives? Enforcing rules against hate speech selectively is worse than not enforcing them at all.

and

Decision time for Facebook: Censor or no? But on whose behalf does the social media giant censor?

 

Denyse O’Leary is a Canadian journalist, author, and blogger.

Copyright 2016 Mercatornet

 

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