Moderation v. Discretion v. Censorship: They're Not The Same

from the some-'splaining dept

Moderation is a platform operator saying “we don’t do that here”. Discretion is you saying “I won’t do that there”. Censorship is someone saying “you can’t do that anywhere” before or after threats of either violence or government intervention.

Regular Techdirt commenters have seen that paragraph show up often in recent months. But what does it really mean? Well, as the person who crafted that bit (and who uses it on a regular basis), I’mma do you an explain.

Moderation

Moderation is a platform operator saying “we don’t do that here”. When I use that phrase, I may cite a column from a blog called Thagomizer. (That column helped me start crafting my bit in the first place.) In the column, writer Aja Hammerly refers to it as a “magic” phrase:

[“We don’t do that here”] is a conversation ender. If you are the newcomer and someone who has been around a long time says “we don’t do that here”, it is hard to argue. This sentence doesn’t push my morality on anyone. If they want to do whatever it is elsewhere, I’m not telling them not to. I’m just cluing them into the local culture and values. If I deliver this sentence well it carries no more emotional weight than saying, “in Japan, people drive on the left.” “We don’t do that here” should be a statement of fact and nothing more. It clearly and concisely sets a boundary, and also makes it easy to disengage with any possible rebuttals.

All moderation decisions on an interactive Web service boil down to “we don’t do that here”. When Twitter punishes a user over a tweet that breaks the rules, the admins have all but said that phrase. Twitter doesn’t care if you do “that” elsewhere. But it doesn’t want you doing “that” on Twitter.

What makes this different from censorship? Moderation lacks the force of law. Twitter can ban a user for breaking the rules, of course. But it can’t stop that user from posting their speech elsewhere. Someone banned from Twitter for saying racial slurs can go to 4chan and still post those slurs. Moderation is a social consequence: A moderator thought someone was acting like an ignorant jerk, and they showed that jerk the door.

Discretion

Discretion is you saying “I won’t do that there”. Some people might think of discretion as self-censorship. But that phrasing focuses on the negative idea of chilled speech. I prefer to think of discretion as an act of personal restraint.

As an example, consider the hypothetical case of Joe Straightdude. Joe doesn’t believe he hates gay people (though he doesn’t “agree with” homosexuality). One night, he sees a pro-LGBT post on a Facebook group that rubs him the wrong way. He writes an angry reply to the post that includes a well-known anti-LGBT slur. But before Joe posts it, he stops himself. He thinks about whether his reply needs that slur. Then he thinks through the possible fallout of posting the whole reply. After a few minutes of thinking, he deletes what he typed without posting it.

What makes discretion different from censorship? In the example above, Joe wouldn’t have faced any legal fallout for his reply if he had posted it. And no one forced him to not post the reply. He made his choice based on whether he wanted to face negative social consequences. Joe took responsibility for his actions and showed restraint all on his own.

Censorship

Censorship is someone saying “you can’t do that anywhere” before or after threats of either violence or government intervention. Lawsuits. Arrests. Fines. Jail time. Threats involving any of those four. Any one of those things suck more than an industrial-strength vacuum cleaner. When they’re attached to speech, they become the tools of censors.

I could come up with hypothetical examples of censorship, sure. But why do that when so many real examples exist?

What sets censorship apart from moderation and discretion? Simply put, censorship has the rule of law behind it. Twitter can’t stop banned users from using the speech that got them banned on another service. But a court that rules to suppress speech puts the weight of the law behind that ruling. It says, “Publish that speech anywhere and we’ll fine you or toss you in jail.” The same goes for police officers who punish people for legal speech that offends others. And people who threaten lawsuits and arrests qualify as wannabe censors at “best”. Such actions can, and often do, result in chilled speech.

And chilled speech, unlike discretion, carries an air of legal consequences. The lawsuits filed by Devin Nunes to identify Twitter user @DevinCow have one real purpose (“unmask that user”). That user feels emboldened to mock Nunes because they remain anonymous. But if Nunes succeeds in his goal, that user would have less reason to keep posting. Nunes would take the choice of discretion out of that user’s hands. (“I don’t want him to sue me again, so why risk it?”) To put it another way: Discretion is when you show restraint; censorship is when the government restrains you.

Censorship can also happen without any actual legal threats. American movie studios will often censor their own films to appease foreign governments, even if those governments don’t threaten legal action. But countries like China can make or break the profitability of a film. The threat is thus implicit: “Censor your movies or they won’t play here.” Studios have a financial incentive, then, to censor their films and “play nice”.

Moderation As “Censorship”

Some people refer to moderation decisions that affect them as “censorship” because they feel they’ve been censored. Maybe they think a platform punished them for holding certain political views. Maybe they think a platform punished them for bigoted reasons. Whatever the reason, those people feel that losing their spot on the platform is censorship. But they’re not angry about losing their right to speak. (Twitter, Facebook, etc. can’t take that away from them, anyway.)

A platform the size of Twitter or Facebook comes with a built-in potential audience of millions. Anyone banned from Twitter loses the ability to reach that audience. For some people, such a loss can feel like censorship???even though it isn’t. No one has the right to an audience. No one has the right to make someone listen. But entitled people think they do have those rights, and any “violation” of those “rights” is “censorship”.

On the other hand, marginalized creators who lose that platform may be dealt a huge blow to the reach of their content. And if they feel like they were punished in some way for bullshit reasons, their feeling “censored” holds far more validity. Just ask LGBTQ YouTubers whose videos were demonetized because the videos contained pro-LGBTQ content.

In the strictest of legal senses, what Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc. do when they moderate speech on their platforms isn’t censorship. But when it comes to morals and ethics?well, everyone has an opinion.

The Last Word…That Isn’t

And in fairness, most of what you read above is an opinion???my own, and nobody else’s. I don’t consider what I’ve said to be the “last word” on the matter. If anything, those three sentences only summarize my opinions on these issues. They don’t get into the morality or ethics of moderation, such as Blizzard’s decision to punish Blitzchung for his support for Hong Kong. They don’t say “people can’t use ‘censorship’ in a colloquial sense” (although I do think that cheapens the concept). And besides all that, opinions should be discussed, debated, and even changed.

Think of this, then, as an opening for that debate. Use this as a springboard to form your own opinions, and share them in the comments. Agree with me? Great. Disagree with me? Even better???because through disagreement and reasoned discussion, we can improve and refine our opinions.

But don’t get mad if one of your comments gets flagged. That isn’t censorship???it’s moderation, working as intended.

[To the extent possible under law, I waive all copyright and related or neighboring rights to this article.]

Filed Under: , , , , ,

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “Moderation v. Discretion v. Censorship: They're Not The Same”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
100 Comments

This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

How have twitter and facebook impeded any means to make their opinions known that existed before twitter and facebook? Have they made it more difficulty to stand on a soap box with a megaphone? Have the made it more difficult to knock on doors and seek a conversation with the resident? Have they made it more difficult to print and post physical flyers? Have they made mailing campaigns more difficult? Have they made it harder to write letters to the editor (who, it is worth noting, is under no obligation to publish said missive)? Can you name any way? If not, I put it to you that they have not made speaking out any harder than it was before. They may have refused to make it easier for some, just as landlords make it more difficult by refusing protesters entry to tenants’ offices. So what? There’s is no legal or constitutional right to make someone else make it easier for you to speak your mind.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Twitter and Facebook are private platforms and the audience for the content on those platforms is voluntary. So when you violate their TOS and they decide to kill your account, you’re only losing the audience that decided to use that platform. It’s not stopping you from posting on a different social media platform. It’s not stopping you from homegrowing your own blog on your own server. You’re just losing access to an audience that has no obligation to listen to you in the first place.

That doesn’t violate your right to speak at all. And you don’t have a right to force others to hear/see/read your speech.

This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it.

This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

The cyberattacks launched from the platform facebook/twitter coexist on have made people a lot of enemies for those specific reasons and targets

That thing managed to piss off its religious right wing, I would have thought it would have been hard to make people actually go to hell upon their death from Buddhism, Christianity, and Hinduism according to the religious texts of those religions at the same time.

Prez/PMs of all those countries along with the less than legitimate political party that was known for the opium trafficking through afghanistan/india/china/russia/US almost never agree on anything and yet… They all really dislike the people that run that platform.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

How have twitter and facebook impeded any means to make their opinions known that existed before twitter and facebook? Have they made it more difficulty to stand on a soap box with a megaphone? Have the made it more difficult to knock on doors and seek a conversation with the resident? Have they made it more difficult to print and post physical flyers? Have they made mailing campaigns more difficult? Have they made it harder to write letters to the editor (who, it is worth noting, is under no obligation to publish said missive)? Can you name any way? If not, I put it to you that they have not made speaking out any harder than it was before. They may have refused to make it easier for some, just as landlords make it more difficult by refusing protesters entry to tenants’ offices. So what? There’s is no legal or constitutional right to make someone else make it easier for you to speak your mind.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Anonymous Coward says:

Mr. Stone:

One thing I think should be pointed out about your opinion: As far as I can tell it’s logically consistent (it feels sad that I feel tempted to congratulate anyone on that).

Also thanks for the write up (I will at least think about using it as a ‘source’ in conversations :p)

Anonymous Coward says:

Censorship is someone saying "you can’t do that anywhere" before or after threats of either violence or government intervention.

That’s just, like, your opinion, man.

"anywhere" is certainly an idiosyncratic requirement. There are countries with official "film censorship" offices by that name. They don’t prevent films from being shown in other countries, and in most cases the makers of censored films are not breaking the law—e.g., they can travel freely to the censoring country without fear of arrest.

"violence" is a requirement I’ve never heard of.

"government" is disputed. Wikitionary shows no such requirement, and gives a specific example of a headmaster as a censor (noun). (If you want to be stubborn, it’s true that some headmasters are government employees. Nevertheless, the term "government" appears zero times on that page.)

You provide no sources for any of these requirements. I have no problem with you holding or expressing this opinion, but you have to expect some friction when you invent a definition for a word and then complain when people don’t conform to your definition.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

That’s just, like, your opinion, man.

Yes, it is. He even said that. "And in fairness, most of what you read above is an opinion — my own, and nobody else’s."

As for the rest, I think you’re being too literal in your interpretation. Instead of getting hung up on the specific wording, I took it to refer more to spheres of authority. Discretion refers to the exercise of censorial authority over yourself. Moderation refers to the exercise of censorial authority over private property by the owners of that property. Censorship (in this context) refers to the exercise of censorial authority over the citizens of a country by that country’s government. Of those three spheres of authority, only one has life-, liberty-, or property-removing enforcement apparatuses.

This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re:

"There are countries with official "film censorship" offices by that name."

The point being that censorship assumes force of law. It extends as far as the jurisdiction does. A "film censorship" office can legally ban the showing of a film anywhere that their writ holds.

Netflix or HBO, can at most choose not to themselves carry the film in question. It’s a pretty major distinction.

""violence" is a requirement I’ve never heard of."

Force of law is maintained and upheld by the violence monopoly, according to politics 101. So called because only the government summarily has the right to deprive people of liberty and life, or use force not prompted by apparent defense of self or others. You meekly go to jail or accept the handcuffs because the officer may shoot you or work you over if you don’t.

Let me know when Twitter can shut you up using threats of incarceration or police intervention.

""government" is disputed. Wikitionary shows no such requirement…"

Censorship can only be exercised by someone who holds authority to shut you down, not only in their own domain. Twitter can’t censor you because they can’t shut you up. They can throw you off their own property.
The concept of censorship otoh requires that you have been forbidden from speaking. Only government can do that.
A principal can censor what you are allowed to say or not say in school but their power ends at the school gates and is similarly restricted to sending you home – or expelling you.

The dictionary definition of censorship may be argued within a certain range but it’s impossible to apply to private property owners deciding to extend or withhold hospitality to guests".

"…but you have to expect some friction when you invent a definition for a word and then complain when people don’t conform to your definition."

Except that his definition remains correct according to all sources, unless someone decides to twist the criteria introduced for the definition.

So I think I would have to ask why you set out to deliberately blur the boundaries between Authority enforced by the violence monopoly of state and property ownership by calling the fairly important distinction a matter of "opinion"?

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

"Arguing about the meaning of words?"

…using a wiktionary definition which doesn’t really agree with the merriam-webster dictionary definition or the term as used in actual political science?

Censorship by it’s very meaning indicates an enforceable dictum. The bar owner, the home owner, or twitter can’t "censor" you. They can show you the door from their own property.

Government CAN censor you, using force of law, enforced by lawfully applied violence and/or incarceration anywhere within the public space of their jurisdiction.

Some forms of censorship have been deemed acceptable – if you post a naughty picture of a juvenile, for instance, the government sends you to jail. That’s censorship – deemed acceptable by the majority.
Try as they might though all Facebook can do is tell you you are no longer welcome on their premises.

When it comes to hate speech Twitter can still ban your ass from their platform – because it’s their private property – but the government obviously can not haul your ass to jail – because a stated opinion is protected speech.

Censorship and moderation are obviously not the same. And anyone trying to wordwall a debate around making them appear the same isn’t likely to be doing so merely out of academic interest.

Anonymous Coward says:

Twitter and facebook are still things that have in fact negatively impacted people’s right to speak.

No they aren’t. No they can’t. Nobody on earth has less RIGHT to speak now–with Facebook or twitter in existance, than they would have before facebook or twitter.

And, which is an entirely different issue, nobody on earth has less ABILITY to speak TO A LARGE AUDIENCE (which is a different thing), than they did BEFORE F&T. Everyone has all the speaking and audience-gathering tools that were available before F&T. It is certainly true that some people have gained more audience than others.

BUT–that’s true for everything humans do. A new local water purification plant does nothing for the water purity of the neighboring towns. Cheaper Braille books don’t help people who aren’t blind. Chitimacha schools don’t teach the Navajo language. Some valuable drugs cause allergic reactions in some patients. Some people can’t, or won’t, learn to use computers. But all these things are still good things!

This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it.

This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Killercool (profile) says:

Re: Moderation vs Censorship

If a mall refuses to let you have a demonstration in their food court, people who go to the mall will, in fact, not be able to hear you speak at that mall.

It does nothing to keep you from saying your piece at a different mall, outside of the mall, on your website, in a letter to a newspaper, in a phone-calling campaign, or any of many ways of expressing yourself.

The mall has not censored you. They have exercised their right of association (recognized as part of the first amendment by the Supreme Court) and told you to get off their property. Because it’s NOT A PUBLIC FORUM. It’s PRIVATE PROPERTY.

Even if these platforms get treated as publishers, they still don’t have to let you say ANYTHING. Because they are PRIVATE PROPERTY.

If you want to get nit-picky and claim that "corporations aren’t people, they shouldn’t have rights!", then fine. The editors and/or owners of the platform have Constitutional rights that include refusing you service for any reason that isn’t one of the categories protected by the Civil Rights Act.

Stop equating Constitutionally protected activities performed by private companies, owned by private individuals (whether singly or in a collective, aka "corporations"), with actions performed by a government official or body.

This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Moderation vs Censorship

The editors and/or owners of the platform have Constitutional rights that include refusing you service for any reason that isn’t one of the categories protected by the Civil Rights Act.

Wait, why does this one law supersede what’s written in the Constitution?

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Killercool (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Moderation vs Censorship

I’m pretty sure you’re just a colossal asshole, but I’ll answer just in case you are simply horrendously and shamefully uneducated:

It doesn’t. It simply outlines that one person’s constitutional rights stop where another person’s rights begin. According to law, and upheld by the Supreme Court, a person has a right to not be discriminated against for their race, age, color, religion, gender, veteran status, disability, being pregnant, or national origin. That right is where a business’s right to refuse service stops.

Business owners can still tell people to fuck off for being in a different political party, having bad breath, not wearing a protective mask, passing bad checks, or driving the wrong brand of car.

This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Moderation vs Censorship

Did you just ask why the contents of the constitution supersede what is written in the constitution?

I don’t think so. What part of the constitution bans discrimination by private parties, on these criteria? It’s obvious that the Equal Protection clause supports the Civil Rights Act in relation to government action—i.e., the government must not discriminate by religion, disability, etc. (Note that the Equal Rights Act was [probably] never ratified, and they can still discriminate by sex/gender. Sometimes, anyway.)

But, if the choice of what a property owner should allow on their private property is indeed a First Amendment-protected right, the Civil Rights Act couldn’t overrule it without an additional Constitutional Amendment. In which case the government couldn’t stop Twitter from banning gay people, for example.

It’s entirely possible I’m a giant asshole, but note that I’m only talking/asking about what the laws are, not what they should be. People should be protected on all those grounds, plus sex, and minus religion which is a choice.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
TaboToka (profile) says:

Re: Moderation vs Censorship

So when someone gets "moderated", it turns out that then noone can hear them … including those who wanted to ….

FTFY

See how ridiculous it sounds when we boil down your argument to its essence?

It doesn’t matter the platform; if it is owned by someone else, Trump, or you or I or anyone doesn’t have the right to use that platform without the owners’ permission. Any individual for (almost) any or no reason can have their words removed.

The only real limitation is an owner cannot discriminate against a group–a class—of people based upon specific status. Race, sex, being a veteran, etc.

Too bad Republicans have fought so hard to water down and eliminate class protections. Being LGBTQ+ for example, or atheist, or…conservative(!) are not protected and thus can be discriminated against all the live-long day. Sucks when it is you, huh?

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Moderation vs Censorship

"So when someone gets "moderated", it turns out that then noone can hear them on the platform, including those who wanted to hear it. It much more closely resembles the definition of "censorship"."

No it doesn’t, Koby, and it’s a fundamentally dishonest twist of facts to say it does.

There’s a similarity in real life – the host of a party throws out one of the guests. He does this in his full rights because he’s the damn home owner.
According to your argument the home owner should be held powerless if sufficiently many other guests want to hear what the guy getting thrown out has to say.

The home owner may be the one who is being a douche. The guy getting thrown out may have something important to say. That doesn’t suddenly override the fact that if the house owner wants him gone, he should go.

That doesn’t make it censorship.

If the guy getting tossed out is getting hauled off by a police car and informed that he’ll do jail time for speaking ever again about whatever he was saying, anywhere within the US? Now THAT is censorship.

You somehow keep running the argument that if sufficiently many people attend a certain place then the actual property owner shouldn’t own that property any longer, it suddenly becoming held to the same standards and obligations as public property.

You are, in other words, directly arguing for the nationalization of private property based on how popular it is. If that is really your opinion then fine. Carry the debate accordingly. But if that’s the case, "comrade", then at least be honest about it.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Anonymous Coward says:

So when someone gets "moderated", it turns out that then noone can hear them on the platform, including those who wanted to hear it. It much more closely resembles the definition of "censorship".

Alex Jones has been "moderated" from Twitter, but that doesn’t mean his followers can’t follow him on his own platform. So no, that does not more closely resemble the definition of "censorship".

This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Alex Jones has been "moderated" from Twitter, but that doesn’t mean his followers can’t follow him on his own platform.

If we follow this to its logical conclusion, nothing prevents every domain registrar from denying him service, but at least those who remember his IP address could reach him. Except that there’s no right to have IP addresses, internet service, printing presses, megaphones, the ability to accept money via credit/debit cards… Well, maybe he could use Tor, or stand around in a public park with a few dozen people.

Where does the extreme reluctance to use the term "censorship", until the government literally throws him in prison or sews his mouth shut, actually get us?

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

"If we follow this to its logical conclusion, nothing prevents every domain registrar from denying him service, but at least those who remember his IP address could reach him."

Or he could set himself up as a domain registrar or use any of the ones specifically set up as services for fringe views. Done.

There is in fact only one way Jones could be completely blocked from carrying his message; If government censors him, rendering anyone who extends him a platform or infrastructure access an accomplice.

THAT is how censorship works.

"Where does the extreme reluctance to use the term "censorship", until the government literally throws him in prison or sews his mouth shut, actually get us?"

To the proper definition of "censorship".

Now, comrade, is there a reason as to WHY you keep arguing that private property rights should be conflated with the government violence monopoly? Only the latter can apply censorship which is why only the latter is under strict rules of how and where it can apply such censorship.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

While the modern reading tends to be freedom of the press as referring to newspapers, it actually refers to owning and hiring printing presses. That is it guarantees that you can publish, so long as you can find a publisher, or afford to publish yourself, with or without the aid of sponsors and collaborators.

As ever, free speech and freedom of the press does not guarantee an audience, or that someone else will bear the costs of distributing your speech, it just means the government will not stop you trying to get the word out.

tz1 (profile) says:

We don't do what exactly?

So when someone posts something which is offensive, and a mob then doxxes them, gets them fired, has their bank and/or payment processor, their ISP, their hosting service drop them, how is that not “censorship”?

Then there’s the problem that “We DO do that around here, except to X”, take the tweets that get banned when you simply s/white/black/g. In the above post, note how it is someone who is uncomfortable with LGBTQ, not someone like Dan Savage who said worse in public at a conference showing what by the reciprocal standards would be anti-Christian bigoted hate speech.

The upside is the war is now open instead of a slow attrition where Alex Jones gets banned but not Rachel Maddow. Milo but not Savage.

The second great thing to come from this is the nonsense like the post above trying to use reason and proper argument when everything is about hurting someone’s feelings, and the accuracy of the post isn’t relevant, or isn’t even contested but belittled or condemned.

Take the current cause. There ARE lots of opportunities for fraud in “Mail In Ballots”. They can be mitigated with strong voter-ID laws (including a signature sample that must match the ballot), bans on ballot harvesting, and have the postal inspectors and USPS secure the mail in path.

The problem is we can’t have that discussion. If we could the above points would be the response to Trump, not “Fact Check: False – see these CNN and NBC #FakeNews articles”.

Also note the controversy over Mail In Ballots doesn’t even come close to talking about hate speech, yet that, something which should not be about feelings, is the cause. Is Trump calling for the slaughter of Gay people like Ric Grenell or Milo? Well, maybe you don’t see any difference.

Me: Come, let us reason together and discuss and debate, using reason and evidence without getting personal or profane.

You: We don’t do that around here.

This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it.

tz1 (profile) says:

We don't do what exactly?

So when someone posts something which is offensive, and a mob then doxxes them, gets them fired, has their bank and/or payment processor, their ISP, their hosting service drop them, how is that not “censorship”?

Then there’s the problem that “We DO do that around here, except to X”, take the tweets that get banned when you simply s/white/black/g. In the above post, note how it is someone who is uncomfortable with LGBTQ, not someone like Dan Savage who said worse in public at a conference showing what by the reciprocal standards would be anti-Christian bigoted hate speech.

The upside is the war is now open instead of a slow attrition where Alex Jones gets banned but not Rachel Maddow. Milo but not Savage.

The second great thing to come from this is the nonsense like the post above trying to use reason and proper argument when everything is about hurting someone’s feelings, and the accuracy of the post isn’t relevant, or isn’t even contested but belittled or condemned.

Take the current cause. There ARE lots of opportunities for fraud in “Mail In Ballots”. They can be mitigated with strong voter-ID laws (including a signature sample that must match the ballot), bans on ballot harvesting, and have the postal inspectors and USPS secure the mail in path.

The problem is we can’t have that discussion. If we could the above points would be the response to Trump, not “Fact Check: False – see these CNN and NBC #FakeNews articles”.

Also note the controversy over Mail In Ballots doesn’t even come close to talking about hate speech, yet that, something which should not be about feelings, is the cause. Is Trump calling for the slaughter of Gay people like Ric Grenell or Milo? Well, maybe you don’t see any difference.

Me: Come, let us reason together and discuss and debate, using reason and evidence without getting personal or profane.

You: We don’t do that around here.

TaboToka (profile) says:

Re: We don't do what exactly?

There ARE lots of opportunities for fraud in "Mail In Ballots"….

Don’t give us hypotheticals. Cite any government election where the outcome was changed by documented voter fraud. (Hint: there are exactly zero)

I’d be interested in hearing how Trump was “censored”, as none of the content in his tweet was removed or modified. The only thing that happened was a link was added to the bottom.

This is yet another example of a tempest in a teapot. If Trump’s executive order results in serious damage to 230, then I hope Twitter promptly and permanently enforces their TOS.

This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it.

tz1 (profile) says:

Then there's DCMA notices

Ask Michael Moore if his 4 seconds of use of some film the original author used to file a takedown notice causing his movie to be taken down is censorship.

It happens much more commonly and there are people who simply troll the DCMA report box to take things down for a day or two and just force the people to respond.

This is also a serious problem but also “content moderation”. Because someone with a gmail account which has only existed for 20 minutes says it violates their copyright, we must remove your content.

This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it.

tz1 (profile) says:

Then there's DCMA notices

Ask Michael Moore if his 4 seconds of use of some film the original author used to file a takedown notice causing his movie to be taken down is censorship.

It happens much more commonly and there are people who simply troll the DCMA report box to take things down for a day or two and just force the people to respond.

This is also a serious problem but also “content moderation”. Because someone with a gmail account which has only existed for 20 minutes says it violates their copyright, we must remove your content.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Then there's DCMA notices

"Ask Michael Moore if his 4 seconds of use of some film the original author used to file a takedown notice causing his movie to be taken down is censorship."

Glad you asked. "Copyright" is a segment of law where government in practice allows private entities censorship privileges and thus a single individual can force everyone to not allow that message on their platform.

I’m fairly sure youtube in itself could only take a given file down from their own platform. The rightsholders, however, can abuse the DMCA and use any excuse, no matter how flimsy, to have Moore’s movie removed from anywhere.

It’s a telling argument against copyright.

But has little to do with censorship being practiced by youtube or google who can not do the same as a copyrightsholder.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Anonymous Coward says:

So when someone posts something which is offensive, and a mob then doxxes them, gets them fired, has their bank and/or payment processor, their ISP, their hosting service drop them, how is that not "censorship"?

Nothing of this is under discussion. Nobody has been discussing who is working (or no longer working) for facebook or twitter. Nobody has been suggesting that facebook or twitter has been interfering with anyone’s relationship with any other business.

All that is happening is that a private company has declined to distribute what some other person has been creating. That happens all the time. Walmart has dropped spices that I was accustomed to buy from them, although they still sell food I don’t like. Amazon doesn’t sell all the books I want to buy, although they sell some books I don’t approve of. Autozone doesn’t sell headlights for my car, although they do sell headlights for cars that would not suit me.

Autozone is the largest auto parts distributor in my community; walmart is by far the largest grocery retailer. And so those are real inconveniences. Amazon is not a problem: U.P.S. delivers books from many resellers. How about this: TWITTER DOESN’T CARRY MIKE MASNICK ARTICLES!

And who would care? Who would be so unimaginably STUPID as to complain about that? People who want to read MM, simply go to Techdirt. What Twitter does, or doesn’t do, can never matter to people who don’t like what Twitter does. They just go elsewhere. To any of many elsewheres. At no convenience at all. It’s not like you have to drive to the nearest city to buy headlights. Techdirt is just as easy to visit as Twitter. (easier for me: I bookmark TD but not TW.)

The only thing stupider than complaining about what Twitter does, is to complain ON SOME OTHER SITE that something can’t be found on Twitter. Look, you found Techdirt easily enough–just like anyone could find the site containing whatever dreck Twitter doesn’t have.

I grant you, Twitter’s dreck is deeper and more concentrated than most people’s. But even Twitter cannot encompass the volume of dreck that the human race can produce.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re:

"And who would care? Who would be so unimaginably STUPID as to complain about that?"

The people who are outraged that not only does the bookstore carry a lot of bleeding-heart liberal garbage and leftie propaganda, it also doesn’t carry "Mein Kampf"…in the front aisle, next to the other blockbusters?

We’ve seen this kind of crowd before. The ones who feel the fact that most people deem them too deranged to be afforded much room to speak as a conspiracy by <insert scapegoat here>.

Rather than, as everyone else sees it, them simply being a deranged minority fringe too loud and obnoxious for most people to willingly suffer their presence.

This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Yeah... no

Censor
verb
To review in order to remove objectionable content from correspondence or public media, either by legal criteria or with discretionary powers. (Wiktionary, emphasis added)

Blitzchung getting banned from competitive Hearthstone was absolutely censorship, carried out by a private company to protect their market share by not angering business partners in mainland China. Even the most conspiratory line of thinking doesn’t lead one to thinking that the Chinese government threatened Blizzard with legal action, but the result is that professionals that play for Blizzard now will bite their tongue on anything remotely controversial or they’ll have their careers ruined and rightfully won prize money stripped away.

In the U.S. the 14th Amendment prohibits the government from discriminating against people on any basis. This doesn’t extend to private entities. While it generally shouldn’t apply to private entities, this also means that unless there’s an additional law, people can be denied food, housing, employment, and basic utilities based on race, gender, or sexual orientation.

We currently lack these laws protecting sexual orientation, and so people have to self-censor about their orientation, lest they wind up homeless and jobless. This is a case where the government cannot lift a finger against someone, but someone speaking up about their experiences can face such brutal retaliation that they stay quiet or risk being ruined.

The delusion that only the government can censor allows censorship to be outsourced to private companies with no recourse. Mastercard and Visa preventing something from being said is indistinguishable from the government preventing it. Anti-sex crusaders want payment providers to stop doing business with services that allow NSFW content? Hollywood wants video hosts to pre-screen all uploads for piracy as a requirement to receive money? Platforms will start banning user content and/or throw away any semblance of privacy to enforce it. And people can’t go to another platform because these moral busybodies won’t allow them to exist. 0 government involvement, mass censorship and the end of privacy on platforms that want to accept money to offset the costs to exist.

"Discretion" is censorship once it crosses into the territory of disproportionate retaliation for someone enjoying their basic human rights.

As for moderation, even places that are "unmoderated" are moderated for spam. Everyone acknowledges that some things have to be removed to preserve usability. But if Google moderated their search results to remove Techdirt at the behest, or under threat from, Hollywood it’d be censorship and it’d be just as wrong as the government doing it.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Yeah... no

"To review in order to remove objectionable content from correspondence or public media, either by legal criteria or with discretionary powers. (Wiktionary, emphasis added)"

Yeah, Merriam-Webster has it different. I’m more inclined to believe the accredited dictionary when it is in conflict with the wiki entry.

Blitzchung is quite free to portray his views on his own blog and that of others, no problem. The various corporate networks with moral agendas of their own can and are circumvented by many. In no few cases the circumvention of a purely moral barrier itself gives a market niche to a competitor to flourish.

Censorship would mean none of those alternative venues could exist, under law. That’s the difference.

Then you mentioned Hollywood…and here we have to note that the one area of law which extends government privilege of censorship to private entities is, in fact, copyright law. That’s why the debate around copyright has made such persistent waves. Because the DMCA and by now a few other provisions, have handed rightsholders the right to censor.

We’re still at the point where censorship can not be exercised by private entities. For that to happen you need a court case (or a DMCA notice) at which point it’s government censoring you.

Anonymous Coward says:

Mastercard and Visa preventing something from being said is indistinguishable from the government preventing it.

Mastercard? Visa? Where did THEY get into the conversation?

I can see it now: a world in which crack cocaine becomes impossible to find because, drug pushers can’t get a merchant account with Visa. Mastercard goons cruising the streets, gunning down anyone who speaks without permission. Dude, what ARE you SMOKING?

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
ryuugami says:

Hey Stephen, nicely done. I enjoyed the article (and most of the discussion in the comments).

I do have a minor correction:

Shiva Ayyadurai’s attempt to sue Techdirt over the assertion that he didn’t invent modern email

It’s not an "attempt", as he did sue Techdirt.

Perhaps "Shiva Ayyadurai suing Techdirt …" would be a better phrasing?

I’d also suggest linking this article (the first on TD about the lawsuit):
https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20170111/11440836465/techdirts-first-amendment-fight-life.shtml

Peter (profile) says:

Moderation v. Discretion v. Censorship

The lines begin to blur when governments issue "guidelines" as to how they’d like to see content "moderated".

And the lines disappear entirely when governments put an exclamation mark behind their ‘guidance’ with ‘encouragements’ of fines to the tune 4 % of the global annual revenue should a platform choose to not adhere to the "guidelines".

Anonymous Coward says:

If moderation is limited By trump some sites will become unusable because they will be overwhelmed by spam. every second post on Twitter will be buy product X read my newsletter connect with me on LinkedIn. Twitter is a beacon of information and free speech. Doctors use it to exchange data on methods to tackle covid 19 its used by charity’s to get donations or advice in emergencys Eg storms floods it’s literally a live saving resource
Many poor people can’t afford a laptop or a broadband connection but they can read twitter on a
mobile phone.
In the land of the free its strange to see a conservative government seeking more control and
oversight over a private company that’s used as
a source of speech by people on both ends of the political spectrum
Trump could just Facebook to post random comments or proposals.
Whatever he says will be reported on fox news and 100s of media outlets

Samuel Abram (profile) says:

Nintendo's Censorship (or Moderation)

Hi Stephen. Remember when Nintendo of America removed, or otherwise didn’t allow objectionable material in their video games until Mortal Kombat came about and there were Congressional hearings and then the ESRB was formed?

Would you call what Nintendo did censorship or moderation? There’s an argument for moderation in that it was only within their purview and only on their video game systems, but there’s also an argument for censorship in that once the video games went outside of the bounds set by Nintendo of America, they were subpoenaed by the Government with threats of punishment. The ESRB made their censorship/moderations policies moot, but it’s an interesting question. What do you think, Stephen?

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Thad (profile) says:

Re: Nintendo's Censorship (or Moderation)

A related question might be the Comics Code Authority introduced in the 1950s.

There were congressional investigations into comic books, with a clear threat of censorship. However, government censorship never came; instead, publishers within the industry chose to regulate themselves with a "voluntary" code.

The Code was, hypothetically, not required. However, it was introduced under threat of government censorship, and it led to de facto censorship in that if your comic didn’t have the Comics Code Seal on it, newsstands wouldn’t carry it. This wound up driving most comics publishers out of business, including EC, which was then best known for publishing horror comics (including Tales from the Crypt), and Lev Gleason Publications, best known for crime comics (including Crime Does Not Pay). If this wasn’t censorship, it certainly had an effect that was very much like censorship; it severely restricted the kinds of stories that were told in American comics, and dealt the industry a blow from which it never really recovered either creatively or commercially.

All that said? It didn’t have the force of law behind it. And a decade later, we got the underground comix movement. They weren’t printed by large publishers, they didn’t have the Comics Code Seal, they weren’t sold on newsstands, and they didn’t have the kind of broad distribution that the big publishers did — but they had content that was a lot more graphic than anything EC, Gleason, or any of the other publishers of the ’50s ever put out. The Comics Code didn’t stop them from being published — but many of them were subjected to government censorship efforts (see Zap: Censorship and Suppression (NSFW)).

TV is a whole other subject. Broadcast TV is regulated by the FCC and certainly subject to some amount of government censorship (including fines for saying certain words at certain times of day). Cable TV is not — but, for the most part, cable TV stations choose to comply with broadcast TV standards. There’s no legal reason why Comedy Central has to bleep the swears in South Park or The Daily Show, but it chooses to do so anyway. And while that’s not mandated by the government, it’s clearly influenced by the government’s standards for broadcast TV.

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published.

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »