The Difference Between Censorship And Content Moderation Has Consequences

Huh. Republicans think that content moderation is censorship.

There is a huge ongoing debate about censorship online. Conservatives and Republicans are making spurious claims about the apparent liberal bias in social media. They say that it was wrong for Twitter and Facebook to pounce on a recent New York Post story about Hunter Biden. They say that story should get equal time as any other news on social media. They say that when Twitter and Facebook sought to squelch that story, the social media giants were engaged in censorship.

I will admit that there may be a liberal bias in social media. I haven’t seen it myself though. I am aware that the owners of social media giants tend to be liberal, as well as their management. I am also aware that conservatives in social media were so unhappy that they created an alternative to Twitter called Parler. But I also know that Parler went through the same learning curve that Twitter had to go through. Parler did in 5 days what Twitter spent years learning: how to keep the real crap out of social media. That’s called “content moderation”. In this debate, conservatives are confusing content moderation with censorship.

I also think there is a distinction to be made between content moderation and censorship. This is a distinction that I have yet to see being made by conservatives anywhere. Censorship is what the government does when they control the media. Content moderation is what private websites — not just social media companies — do in order to keep their properties enjoyable.

Take note that the Trump Administration has been scrubbing terms like “global warming” and “climate change” from US government web properties. In my view, that’s censorship because the government is doing it.

Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and even TikTok, all have a department dedicated to content moderation. They look at the social media content to make sure it’s acceptable for most people. They’re filtering out the most odious violence, sex, abuse, and some really mind-altering content that most of us would not enjoy looking at. I’ve read reports that the people who do those jobs can develop a severe psychological illness with exposure for too long to some of the garbage that some people are willing to post anywhere.

No one here is saying that removing videos that promote vandalism, terrorism, child abuse, violence or of people pooping is censorship. No one wants to see that stuff. But we know that it’s out there and content moderation is about cleaning that stuff up and reporting it if necessary.

We also know that social media companies are fact-checking the content. They are placing notices of disinformation next to Qanon posts. They are offering contradictory information. And sometimes, they are removing posts. But in all of these cases, they are performing content moderation as a private company, and that is not censorship.

Censorship is what the government does. They do that in China, Russia, Myanmar, Vietnam, and a few other places with very strict government control over the internet. Censorship is where the government stifles criticism of the government. Censorship is where the authors of dissent messages are prosecuted, thrown in jail and tortured. None of that is happening here on our social media networks. That’s happening to Julian Assange, but for the most part, people in America are generally free to say what they want to say without fear of harassment or retribution.

Another aspect of this debate is the government intervention on the part of the Trump administration into social media companies. Trump ran his campaign on free markets and the economy, yet on numerous occasions, Trump has intervened in whatever way possible to modify the behavior of social media networks. Twitter, Facebook and recently, TikTok have all been in the crosshairs of President Trump. Executive orders, presidential actions, and other methods of market interference have all been brought to bear on the social media companies just to get them to behave in a manner that Trump would prefer.

I note for the record that those oh so smart conservatives are not running the social media companies. they are not using the tools of technology to make social media better. They are not making superior social media networks that people want to use.

Isn’t it interesting that conservatives, who claim to be originalists, are so unwilling to change? I’d say that attitude has had a bearing on their desire and capacity to build a popular social media network that they can call their own. Hasn’t happened. Even the politicians who went to Parler in protest of Twitter came back to Twitter.

I also note how involved Trump has gotten into TikTok. TikTok is a private company with ownership in China. They are still working in a free market, despite alleged control or ties with the Chinese Communist Party. I see Trump trying to block TikTok. I see Trump trying to force the company to split and to squirrel some of that split into American hands. I see Trump seeking revenge on a bunch of kids who disrupted sales of tickets to a rally early this year. Poor Donald Trump.

I call BS on Trump and his supposed desire for a free market. Trump has been intervening in the supposedly free market with both of his small hands since he first started talking about censorship in social media. He has been intent on shaping social media to his liking, only to find that it’s not as malleable as traditional media.

Trump has sown confusion about censorship and content moderation. He doens’t talk about content moderation, he only talks about bias and censorship. Trump doesn’t mention that he’s promoting government interference in the way that private companies operate while spouting platitudes about the free market. That’s an awfully familiar theme in Republican politics. They talk the talk without walking the walk because they’re too busy rigging the market for their rich friends and families.

This is what I’m thinking about when I see Trump going after social media networks. I see a president who does not do what he promotes. I see a president who is intent on gagging his opposition while allowing his supporters to roam free with guns. I see a president who only cares about the First Amendment so long as it suits his desires and whims. I see a president who is a major irritant to the next two generations of voters, and I hope that those voters see right through his hypocrisy. I am hopeful that those kids will consider the way this president has been acting before they drop their ballots off in the mail.

Write on.

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Husband, father, worker, philosopher, and observer. Plumbing the depths of consciousness to find the spring of happiness. Write on.

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