November 14, 2014

"What counts as 'censorship' on a platform like Twitter?"

"Magazines and blogs are typically free to reject articles—and, for that matter, to delete offensive reader comments—without being accused of censorship."

That statement — by The New Yorker's Kelefa Sanneh in "Censoring Twitter" — gets a big huh? from me. You get accused of censorship all the time when you delete comments on a blog. I lob such accusations myself. Even if "blogs are typically free" to delete what the commenters post, everyone is also free to make accusations about the nature of the deletions and to use the word "censorship" if they want.

Perhaps Sanneh means to say that it's not "censorship" and that he defines the word "censorship" to refer only to the acts of government because we only have a constitutional free-speech right against what the government does. I don't accept that limitation of the word. But I do delete comments sometimes, according to my standards. I own up to censorship, and I defend my standards.

But I do understand something Sanneh might be trying to say, something I agree with: Blogs are different from websites like Twitter and Facebook which are larger frameworks designed to accommodate the individual expression of others. My blog is on Google's Blogger, and if Google tried to control what I could say it would be quite different from my deleting comments that cross whatever line I've decided to defend.

19 comments:

rehajm said...

Blogs are different from websites like Twitter and Facebook

I believe you have it here. I know from listening to Twitter execs they view the platform not as an online forum but as a content provider like a television network, or a website like Yahoo. Twitter is unique only in that posters provide the (free) content.

mgarbowski said...

There's also a distinction between saying "you can't say that at all" and "you can't say that here in the forum I provide and control." Many bloggers, magazines and papers do the latter, and also impose no further consequences for the offending speech: not only is there no government compulsion but no boycott, no petition to cost the speaker his or her job, no fines, etc. I think it is fair to consider that form of restriction as less than censorship, although I also understand that folks who have their comments deleted believe otherwise.

Unknown said...

needs a "meta" tag. Blogging on the art of internet communication is bad enough without blogging on restricting the art.

John Lynch said...

Need to start a blog called CENSOREDblog.blogspot.com

Then I won't post anything there.

David said...

A New Yorker article where it's not clear what the writer is trying to say? Oh, horrors. What is happening to America?

chillblaine said...

I've always appreciated the relatively high tolerance for speech on this blog.

I accessed a site on Blogger the other day that I would characterize as anti-Islamist. Before letting me in, I had to click past a message from Google informing me that the blog would not be censored, but that someone had complained about its viewpoint.

Tibore said...

People treat Twitter in the same way we treat the phone system: The phone company doesn't host the content as much as they merely provide the stage for people to connect to each other. Because the technical details can be debated to an absurd degree and distract from the point, I won't say this is truly accurate in technical terms. Rather, I merely state that this is how a lot of Twitter users view the platform. And given that, the real comparison is not to a magazine rejecting a story due to content, it's of a phone company rejecting a call for the very same reason.

Comparing Twitter to online mags and blogs won't fly among the Twitterati. You'll have to compare equivalents, and no one would approve of a phone company rejecting phone calls due to content.

richard mcenroe said...

Keep your eyes open, Ann. TheoSpark(.net) had to quit Blogspot precisely because they tried to restrict his content. And when Google kills your website you will NEVER get an explanation...

Writ Small said...

There shouldn't be a language issue when it comes to the word "censorship." You can modify it with words like "government" or "private" or "corporate" to clarify meaning.

It's trickier when you talk about "free-speech". Althouse and Bob Wright exchanged reams of indignant emails over the difficulty in modifying that phrase.

Tibore said...

I do want to add this, though: I don't think the author (Sanneh) was actually trying to advocate for this point of view as much as note that it exists already anyway, and that even with good intentions it can have negative consequences. His last paragraph ends with a warning about how censorship is never ideologically neutral, and I can agree with that point. People who advocate for removing things from various internet platforms can turn around and be bitten by the vary same thing. And even when censorship doesn't happen - such as in his next to last example with Artie Lang - the lack of action has the potential to be controversial.

I think that column exists far less as an apology for censoring content, and far more as a warning about the trend. Which is a fair statement to make.

Mark O said...

Right. It's not "censorship" censorship.

Anonymous said...

Only govt. censors.

Those who are "censored" by Twitter can always create their own forum. Their free speech rights do not censor Twitter's rights not to associate with said speech.

Lem said...

Twitter has some nifty tools like muting and blocking undesirable twitters.

I don't think Ill ever use it against anybody, I don't even know how it works, but I like knowing is there. Call me prochoice on that.

Unknown said...

"I landed a rocket on an asteroid and all I got was this lousy shirt comment"

tim in vermont said...

I suppose what they want is a Wikipedia type outcome, where lefties have all the time to sit work through it and provide the left approved interpretation of every subject of any controversy at all.

rhhardin said...

Friend Fran Woods emailed Imus this morning not to use the word douche for a new segment "Who's the bigger douche?"

There was a discussion of a better word. The forever innocent Warner Wolf chimed up "How about scumbag?"

Scumbag got censored on the home WABC stream but not on the affiliate feeds. I don't know about Fox.

There are censors all over.

MadisonMan said...

Twitter is a company trying to build value, and they are free to alter/delete comment as they see fit in that pursuit. If they delete my comments and I don't like it, I can either conform to their wishes, or start my own company.

A local bakery could allow me stand in front of their store and exhort people to buy their delicious chocolates. (Chocolaterian -- I'm available!) But if I start doing something that reflects poorly on them, they'd be perfectly in the right to muzzle me. Or try to drown me with delicious Parisian Hot Chocolate.

Censorship is something that the Government does that's bad. Controlling speech in the workplace/marketplace is essential for the marketplace.

Wilbur said...

Tim in Vermont, I enjoy using Wikipedia, but the slant is definitely left. Here's what they had to say about the recent midterms:

"Unlike certain other elections, the 2014 election lacked a "dominant national theme", with no one issue standing above the others.[5] Some of the major issues of the election included income inequality,[6] the effects of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (commonly referred to as "Obamacare"),[7] and immigration.[5]

Although it generated much debate in early 2014, the Keystone Pipeline ultimately received little attention in the election, with environmentalists instead focused on fighting global warming and supporting the EPA's proposed regulations on greenhouse gas emissions.[8][9] Another potentially important issue, net neutrality, received little attention during the campaign.[10]

According to political commentator Stuart Rothenberg prior to the election, foreign policy crises in the Middle East, Ukraine, and Russia were likely to hurt the Democratic Party's chances in 2014.[11]

The environment was touted as a key issue in the elections, but the results did not show the majority of voters were influenced by environmental concerns. In one example, environmental philanthropist Tom Steyer spent $57 million of his personal fortune supporting campaigns for various Democratic candidates. Of the seven candidates his organization supported, only three won their races."

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