Don't Force Web Platforms To Silence Innocent People

from the censorship-is-a-powerful-tool dept

The U.S. House Judiciary Committee held a hearing last week to discuss the spread of white nationalism, online and offline. The hearing tackled hard questions about how online platforms respond to extremism online and what role, if any, lawmakers should play. The desire for more aggressive moderation policies in the face of horrifying crimes is understandable, particularly in the wake of the recent massacre in New Zealand. But unfortunately, looking to Silicon Valley to be the speech police may do more harm than good.

When considering measures to discourage or filter out unwanted activity, platforms must consider how those mechanisms might be abused by bad actors. Similarly, when Congress considers regulating speech on online platforms, it must consider both the First Amendment implications and how its regulations might unintentionally encourage platforms to silence innocent people.

Again and again, we?ve seen attempts to more aggressively stamp out hate and extremism online backfire in colossal ways. We?ve seen state actors abuse flagging systems in order to silence their political enemies. We?ve seen platforms inadvertently censor the work of journalists and activists attempting to document human rights atrocities.

But there?s a lot platforms can do right now, starting with more transparency and visibility into platforms? moderation policies. Platforms ought to tell the public what types of unwanted content they are attempting to screen, how they do that screening, and what safeguards are in place to make sure that innocent people?especially those trying to document or respond to violence?aren?t also censored. Rep. Pramila Jayapal urged the witnesses from Google and Facebook to share not just better reports of content removals, but also internal policies and training materials for moderators.

Better transparency is not only crucial for helping to minimize the number of people silenced unintentionally; it?s also essential for those working to study and fight hate groups. As the Anti-Defamation League?s Eileen Hershenov noted:

To the tech companies, I would say that there is no definition of methodologies and measures and the impact. [?] We don?t have enough information and they don?t share the data [we need] to go against this radicalization and to counter it.

Along with the American Civil Liberties Union, the Center for Democracy and Technology, and several other organizations and experts, EFF endorses the Santa Clara Principles, a simple set of guidelines to help align platform moderation practices to human rights and civil liberties principles. The Principles ask platforms

  • to be honest with the public about how many posts and accounts they remove,
  • to give notice to users who?ve had something removed about what was removed, and under what rule, and
  • to give those users a meaningful opportunity to appeal the decision.

Hershenov also cautioned lawmakers about the dangers of heavy-handed platform moderation, pointing out that social media offers a useful view for civil society and the public into how and where hate groups organize: ?We do have to be careful about whether in taking stuff off of the web where we can find it, we push things underground where neither law enforcement nor civil society can prevent and deradicalize.?

Before they try to pass laws to remove hate speech from the Internet, members of Congress should tread carefully. Such laws risk pushing platforms toward a more highly filtered Internet, silencing far more people than was intended. As Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in Matel v. Tam (PDF) in 2017, ?A law that can be directed against speech found offensive to some portion of the public can be turned against minority and dissenting views to the detriment of all.?

Republished from the EFF’s Deeplinks blog.

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Comments on “Don't Force Web Platforms To Silence Innocent People”

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Zof says:

Something interesting I've noticed

So, I set up a Dissenter account as that’s rapidly replacing Disqus as the "goto" chat option on lots of sites, especially for sites that censor their comments sections. Unfortunately that required setting up a "" account. Which I was reticent to do because of all the negative things I’d heard about the platform. But you say to yourself "I just won’t participate. I’ll only use Dissenter". Yeah. You get sucked in anyway. And you notice….. gab doesn’t appear to have any of these problems that facebook or google plus or twitter has. Why is that? Why is it that that community is having none of these issues at all. Very puzzling right? cough It’s almost as if this isn’t a moderation issue, and it’s more a ministry of truth kinda thing. Because they aren’t using these "tools" to police their platforms. They are using them to control the narrative.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Something interesting I've noticed

"Yeah. You get sucked in anyway. And you notice….. gab doesn’t appear to have any of these problems that facebook or google plus or twitter has."

Which problems do you think that the mainstream platforms have that don’t apply to the defacto white supremacist platform, and why are they more notable?

Bamboo Harvester (profile) says:

I don't see why...

…a platform should be held to any different standard of "hate speech" than individuals are.

So long as you don’t incite violence or support violence against any "protected group", you should be able to post any damned foolishness you want.

If I start a blog with a comments section for People Who Hate Elbonians, monitor the comments for the above "violence", who really cares?

For every white "supremacist" site you can find a similar site for just about any non-white group you can think of.

So what? It comes down to the Nuke the Gay Whales argument. If YOU find something objectionable, what gives YOUR opinion higher status than that of the person who posted the objectionable (to YOU) content?

The narrow minded should be as free to congregate and discuss non-mainstream ideas and ideals as the broader minded.

Hell, the guy who runs the crew I use to paint my apartments between tenants is the most racist person I’ve ever met. He’s black and only hires black laborers because he claims you can’t get any REAL work out of white guys.

I shake my head and pay his invoices because he runs the best small paint crew for miles around. His opinion of white workers doesn’t effect the quality of his work (hell, maybe he’s RIGHT), and doesn’t impact me in any other way.

I don’t base who I rent to on race, religion, or anything other than their ability to pay the rent and they pass both a criminal and a financial background check. Why WOULD I? Pick a group, any group, and explain to me why their money isn’t as good as that of those outside of that group.

Bamboo Harvester (profile) says:

Re: Re: I don't see why...

Hmm… I should go back to school and get a Doctorate in Medicine so I don’t have to "subcontract" my health, Join the Electricians, Plumbers, Carpenters, and Mason’s Unions so I don’t have to subcontract that work either…

I hire the best person for the price. It’s called "commerce".

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: I don't see why...

you don’t see Because it’s not on the agenda for you john.
The reason why you keep getting shit on is Becuase you are a bad faith actor and people know it. You don’t even make any attempt to hide it. And you don’t even live by your own fake creed. So really no one ever believes anything you say, your a politician In it’s foundation really. For itself and it. Not even coexistence with apathy to others, you have a need to get others to believe like you. And that’s why no one cares.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 I don't see why...

John bob whatever number of fake aliases you keep making up in your time on here through the months that you keep changing around. Your like your god Donald if he knew everyone else knew he was full of shit and pretended to be someone else every five days to get people to trust him.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: I don't see why...

"…a platform should be held to any different standard of "hate speech" than individuals are."

Very simple. The individuals are making the speech. The platforms are not.

"I don’t base who I rent to on race, religion, or anything other than their ability to pay the rent and they pass both a criminal and a financial background check. "

Good. Because that would be illegal, and laws are in place precisely because a lot of people would do exactly that if they were allowed to.

Anonymous Coward says:

The big sites already do this now

When you consider what sites like Twitter, Facebook. Youtube and others are already doing to silence people they don’t like, why would you need legislation to force them to silence people.

When you consider the efforts these kinds of organisations are now going to to silence those who are educating Moslems as to the violent, racist, misogynist pedophile that is the character of the Islamic prophet Mohammad, why do you need legislation?

The man that is to be considered the example for all Moslems. A man who traded in black African slaves, a man who called Ethiopians "raisen heads", a man who was so white that you were to be killed for calling him black, a man who consummated his marriage to Aisha when she was 9 years old – a prepubescent girl, a man who advocated death for all apostates, a man who boasted of his sexual prowess, a man who declared that women were only half as intelligent and half as valuable as men, a man who declared that the majority of the occupants of hell would be moslem women, a man who declared that raping of your female slaves was a right for all moslem men. and the list goes on.

All of this found in the Islamic sources, the Quran, the various Haddith collections from Al Bakkari and Sahih Moslem, etc.

To report on these things is a good way to get yourself banned from these platforms. What is interesting is that it appears that most Moslems world wide haven’t a clue what is their sources because they are not being told. There is a growing number who are leaving when it is safe for them to do so when they find this kind of information out. Unfortunately, for many, they cannot do so as it would mean their deaths.

If you don’t want open discussion of any subject, unpleasant or not, then the discussions will go underground and we shall see more violent responses occur. The Australian twit who took it upon himself to kill those people in Christchurch has managed to manipulate and control the government and media responses as he intended. His purpose was not religious but race related and he final intent is all out war between the opposing sides. He got exactly the response that he was trying to get, that of forcing open discussion to not occur.

Bamboo Harvester (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

The Diety is the same in both religions. Basic Thunderer, heavy on the Smite, low on the compassion.

Christians invented an intercessor to compensate for that.

But the post you’re replying to wasn’t about Allah, but Mohammed, His Prophet.

Same as any genocidal Pope from back then – "Kill the Infidel!"

But, in line with the OP, you can’t mention that in Church or "polite company".

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

You show a great lack of understanding the vast differences between the Christian Triune God and of Allah of the Quran.

The Christian God is triune – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – One God in Three Persons. You as a person can have a son/daughter relationship with the Father.

Allah of the Quran is father to no-one. The best relationship you can have is that of slave to master and a capricious master at that. He declares that he is the greatest or best of deceivers, that lying and murder are acceptable, that a moslem man’s reward in paradise (if the man can actually get in) is to have an eternal erection and that he can deflower all of his sex slaves every day for eternity and that those sex slaves will regain their virginity every night.

These things alone say they are not the same.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Islam and how little moslems know their sources

Dear Stephen,

I am not throwing stones at moslems. I am pointing out that most of them have no clue at what is in their sources. It has only been in the last few decades that english translations have become available of the quran and the haddith that have been produce by arab islamic scholars for wide availability. It is using these translations that you can see what is in the sources.

There is a lack of translations of these sources into any other languages. Though there are many moslems who can recite various sections of the quran, they don’t actually know what it means. You can liken it to you learning to recite some of the hindu scriptures without actually learning the language in which it is written.

For me, I find it interesting that you don’t know what is in the Jewish/Christian books either. You refer to which I have found to be less than accurate about any such matters. You may find that site convincing, but I have found it lacking in any sort of scholarship.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Islam and how little moslems know their sources

How many of them can recite the Hebrew or Greek though. That is the comparison you should make, The bible has been and is still being translated into many different languages. The Quran and other sources are available in very few languages. They learn to recite the specific arabic dialect without actually understanding anything that they are saying.

Anonymous Coward says:

What if it stayed up?

It might not be a popular opinion, but what if we didn’t spend a lot of energy trying to take some of this stuff down?

Anyone who has posted something they think will be a hit will also tell you that you can get something else – criticism. What if you let people see how full of it some of these folks can be?

On the flip side, it’s pretty powerful to claim that your message is so threatening to those in power that they feel compelled to take it down. You don’t even have to actually get censored to make the claim, so long as it is pretty well known that stuff gets taken down. Why give people who are up to no good that power?

Anonymous Coward says:

The U.S. House Judiciary Committee held a hearing last week to discuss the spread of white nationalism, online and offline.

The moral panic canard from the idpol left over the boogeyman of identarian right is growing old. Labels have been stretched beyond their breaking point for the convenience of political attack, resulting in widespread false positives — that’s your growth.

This is good for business for non-profits such as SPLC who receive increased donations by stretching labels to sell the idea of this growth.

This is good for business for digital media publications who can increase their ad revenue driving shares and clicks through a steady stream of outrage and emotion laden churnalism.

This is bad for our country for the growing censorship of Exhausted Majority middle of the road figures mislabeled in the for-profit schemes.

Scatterplot of how the 2016 electorate voted based on Economic views and Social/Identity views helps clarify the dynamics at work. Source.

The white nationalist crowd is one with a high social/identity, with right leaning views. That’s reflected in the very empty lower right quadrant of that chart. In 2019 the number of people with right leaning views who want society defined by color of skin is incredibly small population.

Note the tight cluster of blue in the lower left corner. This is the identity politics left today who have moved so far into that corner, many hugging the extreme left edge, that from that vantage [i]everyone else[/i] looks like a white nationalist.

The lower left corner of blue spirals ever tighter in on itself, creating the "circular firing squad" Obama warned against. Traditional Democrat voters are being flung off of this ever tighter spiral of identity politics, very frequently mislabeled white nationalists, and move away. The upper left quadrant reflects this group of traditional Democrats and growing pool on the left turned off by the identity politics escalation.

The upper right quadrant is your standard middle of the road Conservative. Conservatives who are solidly against identarianism and despise ethnicity based politics.

The top two quadrants are your growing Exhausted Majority population as classified by the Hidden Tribes report.

The growing ‘white nationalist’ threat is pointing at the growing Exhausted Majority camp as justification for censorship tools. The definitions have been stretched beyond breaking to make the case to censor good people. That lower right quadrant is tiny, its never been more unpopular to be an indentarian on the right.

The mislabeled censorship blows back and harms everyone of all orientations as false positives continue — those choosing who to censor is really terrible at teasing out who meets the proper classification.

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