CENSORSHIP! Would Facebook have deleted Luther’s Ninety-five Theses?
While the discussion about privacy, data breaches, cambridge analytics and other problems in the digital world are entertaining, but more or less useless since we don’t wan’t to discuss the real challenges, we are also starting to ignore the other side of the coin.
We are simply ignoring the fact that there has never been more CENSORSHIP by PRIVATE COMPANIES than ever before!!!!!! Yes, CENSORSHIP. Remember how totaliterian systems loved and love to do that? Remember, remember, remember? Well, maybe not.
Because nowadays TWITTER is deleting accounts (fake AND real once), YOUTUBE is deleting channels (because of the content?), GOOGLE is banning search results and FACEBOOK is deleting hate speech, fake accounts, post and stories. This is all happening for the community. Of course. And because of the “pressure of society”, perhaps.
But why is nobody actually questioning this very very questionable situation? Are we just to confused about how things are currently handled, do we just don’t care or have we not understood the real thread to society yet? But I guess since people like to read 160 symbols instead of 610 pages in a book, the quantity and quality of philosophical important discussion has decreased significant. Or maybe it has just become harder for these discussions to be noticed. But we need them more then ever. Recently I turned on one of the old songs of EMINEM, which contains 18 FUCK’s and 4 SHIT’s and a bunch of KILL YOU’s. Or should I say contained when I was listening to the song back in the 90's.
But instead of listening to:
“I said you don’t wanna fuck with Shady (’cause why?)
’Cause Shady will fucking kill you
I said you don’t wanna fuck with Shady (why?)
’Cause Shady will fucking kill you”
… it sounded more like:
“I said you don’t want Shady, cause Shady will you.” — and all the Fuck’s and Shit’s and Kill you’s were…. gone.
So if Alien’s would ever come and visit our planet and would try to get a first impression by using YOUTUBE, they would than be surprised and confused if the first UBER driver would tell them to “Fuck off”, if they would try to place their long, skinny, naked bodies onto the passenger seat. Because their AI generated dictionary based on Youtube content would have a blank space where “Fuck off” should be found. But hey, they could have just looked into a book, right. The cambridge dictornary for example, which lists over 140,000 words says:
And the book doesn’t give that phrase, that of course is very rude, disrespectful and shouln’t be used, not more attention than any other word in it. Because it’s just a word, well a phrase. But why is it even in there at all? Maybe to not confuse the Aliens, the private companies should start a petition to burn all these books. Worked before. And wouldn’t that be consequent? But is it even the fault of the private companies or is the problems rooted deeper in our current society.
And I am just using the exmaple of Eminem to make a point, just like EMINEM is using his words to make points (and money of course) as an artist. But we seriously need to discuss this.
Why is it ok that Facebook is deleting content? Why do we allow or even require Youtube to filter words out of videos? Why is Twitter allowed to delete accounts? When did we start to allow private companies to decide what should be deleted and what shouldn’t be deleted? Why can they just delete Twitter or Youtube channels of actors and artists, without even responding to the creators? Just because they produce porn or other disturbing art or songs with words some of us don’t want to hear? Don’t they understand, that these people run businesses and pay taxes as well, work 18 hours a day to create content, interact with the customers and sell products for which they find quite some demand.
And JUST TO NOT CONFUSE ANYONE. This is not a discussion about should a “fuck off” be part of anyone’s languague or porn be part of anyone’s playlist. I personally don’t think so, but that’s just an opinion. The real and much harder question (because the first is personal, but the second is important for society) is, do we understand what is currently happening? And do we want this to happen? The internet has changed society. The first generation that has looked into a screen from high school to retirement doesn’t even exist yet and therefore we are sometimes not aware of the current problems in this very complicated hyper-connected world.
Reality is that a few platforms dominate the digital environemnt. At least in the western world Google, Facebook, Instagram, Youtube and Twitter facilitate the channels for what we find online, who we are connected to, who’s pictures we see, what videos we watch and who’s comments we read. And for this discussion it doesn’t even matter if they are monopolies or not, the question we need to discuss is more complicated. Should they be the ones that decide what we can find and what not, who’s post we can and who’s posts we can’t read, which videos are fine for us to watch, which videos are not and who’s comments are ok, but who’s comments are “against their guidelines”.
Let me give you a few examples. If you google “Eminem newest album download” you will find a comment at the bottom of the search results that says:
In response to multiple complaints we received under the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act, we have removed 4 results from this page. If you wish, you may read the DMCA complaints that caused the removals at LumenDatabase.org: Complaint, Complaint.
If you then click on complaint, you can see that one private company (BPI (British Recorded Music Industry) Ltd on behalf of BPI LTD MEMBER COMPANIES) told another private company (Google LLC) to remove certain content. So far so good. We know this happens because the artist and the producer don’t wan’t you to download the music without paying for it. Totally understandable, but reality is that Google is filtering your search results based on the input of a private company. If you scroll down, which takes quite some time, you’ll find 500 copyright claims only from that one single company. The page has 18.175 words or 408.702 characters, which is like a short book. So think about the amount of data that is filtered, banned and deleted only on Google. They do that for everything, not just for music and videos. But we are not judging. Yet.
Second example: Very recently Facebook flaged and removed a post that quoted parts of the U.S. Declaration of Independence as hate speech. A small community newspaper in Texas was posting a series of historical literacy and one of the posts, Nr. 10 was filted and deleted, probably by their AI filtering based on the words included in the text or by a poor guy in the Philipinies who was just doing his job. Either way, do you want a private company and their tools or employees to decide for you that you shouldn’t see or read the Declaration of Indepence?
Now to make the problem very clear. What if the AI or the poor guy deletes a text from someone that — maybe not from today’s point of view but in 150 years — might be as important and revolutionary as the Declaration today. Would the AI have deleted Luther’s Theses? Luther (also) posted the Theses on the door of All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg and started the Reformation and maybe today he would have postet them on Facebook. What if the AI on all platforms would constantly delete this or similar contents. (Just so you understand, these filtering mechanisms sometimes come from third parties as Software as a Service that are sold to all the platforms and therefore would do the same “filtering-mistakes” everywhere.)
But lets take a more extreme example. What if someone posts that “He will kill all the kids in school? Tomorrow! First thing in the morning” on Facebook or Twitter and the AI deletes the posts immediately? Now human’s didn’t have a chance to see it and nobody was able to react to this clear call of help or attention. (if you don’t believe kids need a channel to call for help and if you haven’t seen 13 Reasons Why, watch it! and also watch the Ted Talk of Sue Klebold, the mother of Dylan Klebold, one of the two shooters who committed the Columbine High School massacre, murdering 12 students and a teacher.) So what if nobody had a change to react, the outcome is not something that the AI would care about. Yet. And if you are now going to tell me that the AI would have called the police and informed the authorities if such a post went online, what if the individual actually was more creative and postet something like “Today I come, tomorrow I run, in the building of hope, to take it for good.” Now what? Would the AI of today understand? But would the friends of the poster have understood? I could go on.
I know this is an extreme example, it’s a very real one. Strong emotions and strong expressions of opinions are often the only way we have a chance to notice that something is wrong somewhere in the system, in the office, in school, in a country? We know that it takes a long time for people to raise their voice and we know from the collapse of the former Soviet Union how important it is to allow it to happen. Democracy, if it want’s to survive the 21st century needs to tolerate criticism, hard truths and maybe even extreme content. This is a fundamental basic element of our society and the internet has complicated things. And that’s why we need to discuss this problem now and not before even this text is deleted because of the “Fuck you’s” and the “Kill you’s” above.
And remember, not just the Declaration, Luther and the cry for help of a young individual can and will be handled wrong by the AI’s of the private companies. There are thousands of examples!! Creators, artists and business owners that loose their Twitter accounts or Youtube channels, political posts that never will be seen because of certain words or videos are deleted because they are “against the guidelines?” And now add the problems created by volume and distrubition of information in the digital age that I wrote about in another post and you will start to understand the size of the problem that most of the information and opinions never will stick out.
Just look at Youtube who deleted 5 million videos in the fourth quarter of 2017 due to violations against their policies. And Twitter deleted 70 million accounts only in May and June which motived the President to ask, if they by any chance could also delete accounts of the New York Times and the Washington Post.
THINK ABOUT THAT!!
The 45th president of the United Staates, who understood the problems with the current system long before the election, what allowed him to use the system to always ensure his topics are on the top of the current wave hitting the beach posted this on his social media account. The good thing about it is that he is very transparent about it, but is this what we want? Should private companies really scan, filter and delete content in the age of infinite information or do we need to find new ways and maybe to keep them so that we not miss them?
There is no one answer to these questions, but it seems like that first of all we need to acknowledge the problem: private companies are deleting information created by humans without a common global understanding if that is what society wants. Than we should try to understand where the pressure to filter and delete comes from to give the private companies a framework they can work with. Because the private companies do filter and delete for a reason. May they just want to do good out of intrinsic motivation of the leaders? Or are they assuming we expect them to filter and delete? Or is it the current legal framework that seems to force them to do it? Or is it simply because maybe the users leave the platform and therefore the business if they didn't? We should always try to understand the incentives, if we want to draw conclussions on certain behavior. Youtube for example lost big advertisment revenues in 2017 when Verizon, AT&T and Johnson & Johnson canceled the advertisments because they were shown before videos promoting ISIS. Should that be a legitimit reason for them to filter and delete or do we need to have access to this content to become aware of the problems we are currently facing in the Middle East?
Second we need to acknowledge that the internet has lead to dramatic changes in our society towards an environment where one single voice can access the global community for free, instantly (sometimes without thinking or fact-checking) and address a certain topic or express a certain opinion that might resonate with the users and therefore starts a movement that maybe can’t even be stopped if the newspapers would report that it is a false or problematic statement, because that most likey could drown in the volume of information. Katy Perry for example is only following 216 people on Twitter, while 109,605,721 are following her. Only 13 out of the 234 countries on Wikipedia’s list have more inhabitants which should give you a slight impression of the power of one individual and social media. And think of what can go wrong for example when Katy Perry’s account was hacked in 2016 an the hacker started posting with her account. The 109.605.721 followers wouldn’t even know.
But while he wasn’t posting serious stuff, the emergency alert pushed to the phones by the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency in early 2018 could have had more dramatic impact on the globe or on any individual. This time nothing serious happened, except that the use of Pornhub dropped 77%. But what happens the next time?
Therefore the third thing and maybe most important thing we need to do is to include these topics into our education. Young and old people need to understand how the internet functions, how information is generated, filtered, deleted, presented and replicated and that a critical thought before acting on them is crucial, sometimes like in the case of Hawai even to the peace in the world.
And last but not least we need to start understanding that we are witnessing a shift away from whats important to the majority to what the individual cares about and that humans seem to create content, that the majority of us doesn’t want to see, otherwise Youtube wouldn’t have to delete all these videos. We therefore need to discuss how we want to handle this content, these opinions and what we want to tolerate as society. Tolerance might be more important than our feelings if we want to keep democracy and if we don’t acknowledge that this content is important to some people, we won’t be able to have a critical discussion about why they create it, what they think their problem is and how possible solutions could look like that could or would prevent them from creating such a content. But it could also prevent us from not wanting to understand why this content is important to them or maybe even to solve the problems they have. Our current society is on its own journey and constantly developing a new understanding of what is true, what is acceptable and what isn’t acceptable. And ignoring the problems described above is an option, but comes with a price tag.
We always have to be careful! History repeating.