Censorship, the Free Press and Social Media

This is just off the cuff, based on lots of ongoing misrepresentations I keep seeing in various forums and organs.

Freedom of the Press: this is your right to publish anything, supported by your government. Nobody else, especially your government can prevent you from publishing. If someone does try to stop you, your government should step in and protect your right to publish.

Freedom of Speech: this is your right, supported by the government to make personal statement without fear of reprisal. This doesn’t mean you can be a nuisance (use a megaphone outside of someone’s house at 4am), it just means you can’t be barred from saying something someone else doesn’t like. Again, your government should defend your right to speak and not be silenced.

Not Freedom of the Press: nobody has an obligation to print your stuff. If the New York Times won’t print your article, this isn’t censorship. If the government tells the New York Times they can’t print your article, that IS censorship.

Not Freedom of Speech: people also have the right to ignore you. People ignoring your speech is not censorship. It’s not trampling on their freedom. Forcing them to listen to you IS infringing on their freedom.

What about Social Media? First Social Media companies are private entities, like the New York Times. They don’t have to publish what you type into their app. And they do refuse to publish lots of things. This is for their own business purposes, or perhaps personal reasons of the ownership. In fact, as a rule, everything you post to social Media won’t be made available to everyone who wants to read it. This is important. This isn’t a traditional “broadcast” media. You won’t have access to everything, even the things you may want to have access to, and that other users have access to. This is what the “algorithm” does.

The Social Media Algorithm: there are some problems here. The biggest is transparency. Nobody knows what is getting pushed forward and nobody knows what is being held back. This is true for the producer of the content, the consumer of the content and outside observers. There also seems to be an exception in most platforms. Paying the platform can get your message spread more widely. This completely obscures what is paid advertisement and what isn’t. This isn’t illegal, but most users of the platform probably don’t understand this.

Maximizing Eyeballs: so what criteria is being used to determine what subset of things you will be shown on Social Media? Nobody really knows for sure, except it will almost certainly try to maximize corporate profits. This means keeping you on their platform reading content for as long as possible. Not content that will educate and inform you. Just whatever hooks you in the most and keeps you looking at their paid content (advertisements) The best part: the content doesn’t even have to be remotely factual. The next best part: nobody even knows what you are looking at and can’t correct falsehoods or even just show a different perspective. In fact, those corrections and different perspectives, not matter how right or wrong, could also be blocked, often based on who pays and who doesnt.

This opens up these platforms for all sorts of abuse, mostly by those with money. I think everyone needs to think about the implications of this.

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