Steam, Proud Adopters Of Hands Off Games Policy, Very Hands On When Banning All Of TorrentFreak
from the freak-out dept
The calls for internet platforms to actively censor content one group or another doesn’t like has slowly risen to a cacaphony as of late. Even the most well-meaning arguments calling for internet platforms to be more heavy-handed in moderating the sources of content are invariably stupid, showing little understanding of just how hard it is to do this without creating all kinds of collateral damage, how hard it is to properly define for a large subset of humanity what sources are acceptable and what sources aren’t, and a near complete misunderstanding of just how much human error goes into this overall. We have helpfully cited several exmaples of platforms sticking their feet in crap as they try to attempt this.
But the case studies in how badly this always goes keep rolling in. You may recall that we recently discussed how Comcast’s protected browsing options managed to disallow access to TorrentFreak, a news site. Well, Comcast doesn’t exactly have a reputation for being hands-off when it comes to managing its network. Unlike, say, Valve’s Steam platform, which just made a bunch of news with a new games policy championing its hands-off approach. How Steam handles links shared on its platform are obviously in a different timezone compared with the games its allows, but it’s still a bit odd to see that Steam is apparently very much hands on when it comes to blocking TorrentFreak as well.
Here at TorrentFreak we’re used to censorship. Every few months we’re contacted by readers trying to access our news articles on public WiFi, only to find that the site is blocked alongside various warnings, none of which are true. It’s almost as if the word ‘torrent’ in our URL has been blindly blacklisted for some reason.
Sadly, this week we’ve discovered that Steam, the popular digital game distribution and social networking platform, has jumped on the “let’s censor TorrentFreak” bandwaggon. A tip from a TF reader and Steam user highlighted the problems he’d experienced when trying to read TF articles via Steam’s chat interface.
As has often been the case in the past, the likely culprit in all of this is a combination of an overly aggressive filtering and blacklisting system combined with the simple fact that TorrentFreak’s name has the word “torrent” in it. Still, as non-nefarious as that explanation is, assuming it’s even true, that almost perfectly highlights just how terrible even large internet platforms are when it comes to correctly censoring undesirable content.
Just to make this clear, nothing about TorrentFreak makes it a valid target for censorship of this kind. It’s purely a news site, covering topics related to digital marketplaces, piracy, and filesharing. And, yet, the site is depressingly used to finding itself on all kinds of blacklists. In this case, however, users are being told that TorrentFreak is something it absolutely is not.
Steam has banned our entire platform and put up a warning that’s not only completely false but also damaging to our reputation.
“https://torrentfreak.com has been flagged as being potentially malicious. For your safety, Steam will not open this URL in your web browser. The site could contain malicious content or be known for stealing user credentials,” the warning reads.
Of course, on its own platform Steam is fully entitled to block resources that it believes can harm its users. Some might even argue that it has a duty of care to do so, in order to keep its community safe. However, making blatantly false statements while blocking access to accurate news reporting shouldn’t ever be part of that.
It’s an obvious point, but one that needs to be repeated to every person out there shouting for websites to do more site and source blocking. Because going down that road is always going to lead to this kind of collateral damage, particularly for larger platforms that need to do this kind of censorship in an automated fashion. Perhaps for some, blocking valid news organizations is worth the larger outcome of blocking content they don’t like.
For us, however, it’s quite obvious how horrible a deal that is for free and open speech on the internet.