The Power Of Intermediaries To Silence Speech Online

from the forget-big-brother,-look-out-for-the-corporations dept

While plenty of people worry about the possibility of government censorship online, some are noticing that the real issue isn’t with government censorship but the fact that various intermediaries, in the form of service and application providers have the power to make content disappear online — and they are often being pressured to do so, even if it’s perfectly legal. This means that various hosting companies or other services, such as MySpace and Facebook often have tremendous power to hide content that it dislikes (or that someone else convinces them they should take down).

While the really egregious examples of taking down content are often brought to light by people complaining, it is a reminder that you might not really control all the content you think you control. This can be true even if you think you “control” your own domain. If the content is hosted by a service provider, often it can be convinced to pull down your content. While this should lead to more companies who promise not to get involved, there really are only a few who promote themselves that way (and it often gets even more difficult with laws that require “notice and takedown” such as the DMCA in the US). While this might not be a huge problem for most people, it is worth remembering how much power these various intermediaries may have over what you consider to be “your” content.

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Comments on “The Power Of Intermediaries To Silence Speech Online”

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pineapplefish56 (user link) says:

Google Does It!

Google will assess a website for “Content” and ignore it, on searches, for that exact same content, if the content is not “approved” by Google as being politically incorrect.
Such as My web site:
Common Sense Poly Ticks – A Conservative Political Opinion site.

Defending GOD and Country.
Defending the Boy Scouts.
Defending the Right, …Against Abortion Wrongs.
Defending the Right, …Against Gay Wrongs.
Why Do Liberals Love Islam?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Google Does It!

I agree that Google should be politically neutral in its indexing, but in this case I don’t believe thats the problem. The site doesn’t have its own domain (or even subdomain), it has insane amounts of text on each page with little to no organization, there is no real real reason to stay at the site outside of just reading (there aren’t newsposts or blogs with updated content, for instance). On top of that, doing a search for sites that link to your site yields no results.

pineapplefish56 (user link) says:

Re: Re: Google Does It!

Anonymous Coward: I appreciate your commentary, and totally agree with the fact that there is an “insane amounts of text on each page with little to no organization”. However it is a sub-domain and “doing a search for sites that link to your site yields no results” is a MAJOR part of the PROBLEM with Google. There are at least 30 to 50 links TO the website, primarily from forums like this one.
Also I have a BLOGGER site dedicated to the PolyTicks site. BTW Don’t you log-in to Blogger with your Google password? Yet your Google web-search found no results?
As ‘Alice’ would say Curiouser and Curiouser! ???

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Google Does It!

Hey, guess what? Politics (even your raving nutter type) is quite a popular topic on the internet. For instance, a Google search for ‘poly ticks’ returns over half a million results. You ain’t going to be top. Also, if Google are able to detect when bloggers spam forums just for links and discount those as a measure of relevance, good for them. Incidentally, including pineapplefish56 to the search gets you #1 place.

Can I suggest you try Google Webmaster Tools to see where your issues lie (if indeed they’re not in your paranoid little mind)?

Tony (user link) says:

Re: Re: Re: Google Does It!

Don’t get pissed at Google just because you don’t know how to get your website listed.

And get over your nutcase conspiracy theories. Your site isn’t indexed because there are better ones out there. Google is anti-conservative? Check out what they show for scragged or newsbusters.

BTW, your site is crap. Learn something about building a website before you start going off about Google’s shortcomings.

Kiba (user link) says:

Re: Re: Re: Google Does It!

I am sure the Right also do name calling and fear-mongering. You are no different than the liberals.

As a matter of fact, I think both side of political spectrum are loonies. Destroying civil liberties, war-mongering, setting up vast inefficient social welfare system, and providing monopolies are all the work of a government inhabited by these so called liberals and conservatives.

Good intentions? Yes. Good results? No.

Let me know when the government decided to move to small government, reviews and created a uniform system of law, and do other really good political reforms.(And no, election funding reforms doesn’t count.)

Joe says:

free speech

I would sure like to meet the people who agreed that posting a photograph on a website somehow constituted free speech. I would like to meet the people who agreed that “expression” is equal to speech.
The United States Constitution has been twisted, deformed, mangled, and misquoted for so long now that most Americans have no idea what the bill of rights says anymore.
We can all thank the ACLU for protecting rights that don’t exist by convincing the courts that they do. We can thank the ACLU for not fighting for the rights of those in the minority and only going after high profile cases.
Posting a photograph is NOT FREE SPEECH! It’s POSTING A PHOTOGRAPH!
Please stop adding things to the bill of rights! Stop changing the definitions! But most of all, stop the damn crying because someone didn’t like your stupid ass picture.
Grow the hell up ya damn sissy!!! (free SPEECH in action)

Vince says:

free speech

Thank you for a wonderful article. The danger to free speech from intermediaries is quite significant. But this is not limited to online intermediaries. Any employer can limit your speech, by claiming that it embarasses the company. Many people havebeen fired fro their jobs because they made controversial comments. Political activists often pressure employers to take action against offending employees, and employers almost never resist, but take the easy way out. In effect, you have freedom of speech in this country, only if you are independently wealthy or unemployed. That is the American way!

My opinion is that speech should be protected absolutely. Anything short of that will be abused. Speech almost never hurts people, unless it is an immediate and direct endangerment or threat, and even then if there is an opportunity to counter it, it should be protected. That includes hate speech. That includes illegal pornography. And yes, it includes violent images. As long as they are not forced upon you, and you can block them, and refuse to look at and listen to them, they should be allowed.

Jennifer says:

blurry lines

Basically this article is talking about freedom of speech issues and those questions have always seemed to be one big blurry line. I say that because other than national security and maybe threats to people in general shouldn’t everything be allowed? But then what if you get into something like pornographic language, obscenities, or extremist political views? Should those be monitored on sites such as facebook or Xanga? What about if the site or service provider addresses their rules and regulations in a terms of agreement that the user unsuspectingly accepted? Even though there are all these issues of what is acceptable content for the internet and how to monitor such situations there are always the people’s rights. First amendment to the constitution guarantees freedom to assemble, freedom of religion, freedom of press, right to petition and most importantly – in this case – freedom of speech (and it is not exclusive to verbal speech). I’m just glad I don’t call the shots…

The Esoteric Tiger (user link) says:

They all do it and it all has to do with the bucks involved...

And I’m not talking the type looking for a doe either to run through a meadow either. 😉

With affiliate programs such as Google AdSense or even a “smaller” program driving the vision of creating a direct a stream of income available to all willing participants, pages generated by algorithms, spreadsheets or whatever else people use to divert pay-per-click traffic their way do not have a place on the Internet…

except to serve up a whole slew of clutter designed to divert portions of pennies, nickles, dimes or whatever in such a flat manner that anyone wanting to enforce the policies involved with maintaining a fair Pay Per Click Profit Program…

IF these affiliate programs truly want to keep intact their credibility with the advertisers in the first place…

And IF these various search engines want end-users to keep turning to their portals to perform searches…

They are obligated by their own desire to raise their corporate value to keep their servers “clean.”

And whether or not there are algorithms grading political dissention via recording systems even TechDirt employs to ensure its not being used to abuse the masses, there are too many people jacking the stakes up higher and higher with the stuff that has nothing to do with political tension.

There are so many intermediaries because everyone wants to catch a penny or two being thrown into this particular fountain of funds while doing the least amount of work to maintain the flow of such a stream.

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