The Silencing by Social Media

Freedom of expression and freedom of speech aren’t really important unless they’re heard. The freedom of hearing is as important as the freedom of speakingTom Smothers

Social Media is one of my guilty pleasures. I spend far too much time on it, even outside of promoting and tweeting blogs from this site. I love the ability to dip in and out of conversations and discussions with people from all walks of life, sometimes in different countries and with vastly different outlooks politically and socially.

The ability to search the keyword of a breaking news story on Twitter and join limitless numbers of people discussing it within seconds is a great thing. So too is the way I can search videos from any number of sources on YouTube offering wholly different narratives on current events.

Blogs, Vlogs, alt news sites (left, right or otherwise), Tweets, YouTube videos, Facebook posts. I love the ability of them all to achieve a simple thing. That is to get one ordinary persons viewpoint or opinion on a subject out to none, tens, thousands or potentially millions of people.

Sometimes that viewpoint is interesting or engaging, sometimes I agree with it, sometimes I don’t. There are times they make me laugh, and yes, times that they enrage me and offend.

Regardless, I love the fact that they are able to be there, out there for anyone that wishes to engage back. Because that is what social media is ultimately all about – making engagement easy.

The way in which social media has given a platform to people to so many different causes and beliefs is something that should be celebrated. Yet, that ability for many is now being restricted based on a number of things, but mainly what the social media networks deem to be “acceptable content”.

I’m not talking here about the posting of graphic or obscene material,  nor am I talking about vile death threats, or violent intimidation. I’m talking about the likes of Google, YouTube, Twitter and Facebook deciding the what use of language is acceptable, and more concerning, what seems to be preconceived idea of what are acceptable thoughts or ideas.

Lots of talk these days are about how social media companies can clamp down on “Fake News”. The idea they try to paint in your head being that there are apparently tonnes of bloggers, Vloggers and other such content producers, funded by spurious governments and organisations, waiting in the wings, publishing articles that depict made up stories as if they are genuine news reports, which mislead a gullible public and lead to wispy haired presidents being elected.

Honestly, I spend a lot of time on the web, read a tonne of different political and alt-news sites and I can probably count on one hand the number of websites that deliberately publish “News” that is false, on a regular basis.

What I do see a lot of the time are websites like this one, that offer their own opinions on current events. Opinion pieces are just that. You wouldn’t tell someone in real life that they were not allowed to share their opinion as it was “Fake news”, and yet, by proxy in many cases this is exactly what is happening.

There are a number of Youtube channels I follow that are essentially social commentators. People that talk about current news events, and give their take on those events. Their thoughts, feelings and opinions. The majority have 100,000s of followers and do it as a full-time job. They gain the ad revenue shared with them by Google on the Youtube adverts as payment for their content.

In an alarming number of cases these content producers are having content flagged by Google as “not suitable for advertisers”, and have the videos de-monetised and receive no payment for adverts in the video. Google still run adverts in the videos though and keep all the money for themselves…so clearly not that unsuitable.

The content creators get no specifics as to why the revenue for their content is being withheld, it just is. But it is all to do with the crack down on what is considered “Fake News”. This of course puts pressure on these content creators to change the narrative of their social commentary in future, or just not publish videos at all. Effectively this is a form of censorship by Google on topics they don’t agree with.

Twitter has joined the fray by a reaction to what they call “Low quality tweets”. Essentially this appears to be anything they deem as unacceptable in the form of bad language or “harassment”, but seems to be for a number of things. For each infraction that breeches the “rules” they essentially give you 12 hours on the social media naughty step, where only your followers can see any of your Tweets. Massively limiting the viability and reach of your posts.

I say “rules” as, part of the problem is the rules are not very clear. Some 12 hour bans seem to be pretty clear cut, but some people have been infracted for using bad language, others for having a moan at politicians, others there seems to be no real reason at all. They send you an email informing you of the visibility restriction and ask you to look at the Twitter rules for clarity, but there is no clarity, take this section for example:

tweetrules

So taking the above as an example, is it ok for me to promote violence against someone because I don’t like their political affiliation? Their avatar? Their homepage colour? Why is inciting violence against the above groups exclusively a problem and not just inciting violence. Surely just enticing violence should be it?

Facebook runs a similar scheme to combat “false news”. For example some of my blog articles that I have posted to Facebook are refused when I try to promote them via Facebooks promotional tools – although I give them slightly more respect for this as at least they turn down my, admittedly small, marketing budget – it serves the same purpose, it restricts the reach of my opinions and the resulting discussion. Other blogs arguing the opposite side of the coin in some cases are allowed to continue promotion – why?

There may be an element in some of the above of safeguarding and protection, but essentially what all of this leads to is, the only real choices for social media dictating what thoughts and opinions are acceptable or not.

Where does this all end? Are blogging sites like Tremr (where this will be sub posted) eventually going to be told by Twitter and Google that blogs like mine cant be carried or they will block Tremrs promotion? Will sites like The Canary be told their left wing narrative is fake news and that they can no longer promote their posts? Will we eventually only be allowed to see Tweets from the Guardian, Daily Mail and The Financial Times? Who wants that?

Is this really a route we want to go down? A social media landscape and by extension internet where its just a void of empty agreeing platitudes. A vast never ending echo chamber of rubber stamped thoughts and feelings as approved by the powers that be? It all sounds a bit 1984 to me to be honest.

There is of course a limit to what should deemed acceptable. You wouldn’t sit round a discussion table and suddenly slam a picture of a severed head on the table, or walk up to a person sat opposite and threaten to punch their lights out or rape them…. the discussion there would stop very quickly and there would be repercussions, and so should be no different online.

But stifling peoples opinions and thoughts, stopping the ability for people to speak freely about subjects even if those opinions are in the minority….and yes to a degree, stopping people engaging in angry spats is a worrying thing. Treat people like grown ups, let them decide what content they want to engage with and stop deciding for them.

First they came for the right wing blog and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t right wing, Then they came for the communist site and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist…….then all that was left were pictures of peoples dinner, selfies and shit memes, and there was no ability for anyone to speak out for me.

 

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