Just imagine virtually every newspaper across the nation owned by one person. Or television stations, or radio stations.
They’d all carry exactly the same political perspective, set by the owner.
That’s why there are rules and regulations governing how many stations one person can own, or how many newspapers can be controlled by a single entity.
But the web has no such restrictions yet, and so massive swaths of online content reflect the priorities of just one, or a few, billionaires.
Even before regulations arrive, however, those individuals need to address the concern, a coalition of organizations led by the Electronic Frontier Foundation is explaining in a new report.
“Users need to know why some language is allowed and the same language in a different post isn’t,” said Jillian York, director of international freedom of expression for the EFF.
“They also deserve to know how their posts were flagged – did a government flag it, was it flagged by the company itself? And we all deserve a chance to appeal decisions to block speech.”
The EFF and its partners are calling on Facebook, Google, and other social media companies – those behemoths that mostly are controlled by a very small group of people “to publicly report how many user posts they take down, provide users with detailed explanations about takedowns, and implement appeals policies to boost accountability.”
It’s no secret that many of the top echelons of major web companies are leftist in their politics – sometimes even far-leftists. And there have been numerous cases erupt in recent months where conservatives document what appears to be a bias-based censorship to which they are being subjected.
The conservatives already have been raising the issue, most recently with a callout to CEOs of those social media companies.
Newsbusters, a service of the Media Research Center, reports MRC President Brent Bozell and dozens of others issued a joint statement urging social-media companies to start playing fair if they “wish to have any credibility with the conservative movement and its tens of millions of supporters.”
“Social media censorship and online restriction of conservatives and their organizations have reached a crisis level,” the statement says. “Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s hearings on Capitol Hill only served to draw attention to how widespread this problem has become.”
The statement said social media firms “have banned gun videos and rejected pro-life advertisements.”
“They have skewed search results and adjusted trending topics in ways that have harmed the right. Firms have restricted and deleted videos, even academic content. Conservative tech employees have found their speech limited and their careers harmed. And top tech companies have given preferential treatment to anointed legacy media outlets that also lean left. These same tech titans then work with groups openly hostile to conservatives to restrict speech.”
Their opinion is affirmed by others. Fast Company, a monthly business magazine, for example, said Facebook has been “hyper-partisan.”
“Like the stages of grief, first the company denied the problem and over the last few months has admitted it and then slowly announced it would implement ways to try and fix it. But just how big is this problem? According to a Medium post by the Boston Globe’s director of audience and Nieman fellow, Matt Karolina, it was and remains a big one,” the report said.
The conservative leaders wrote that the social-media companies, first, need to provide transparency.
That’s what the EFF and its partners in the new campaign are demanding.
They have released the Santa Clara Principles, a “set of minimum standards for tech companies to augment and strengthen their content moderation policies,” the EFF announcement said.
“The plain language, detailed guidelines call for disclosing not just how and why platforms are removing content, but how much speech is being censored. The principles are being released in conjunction with the second edition of the Content Moderation and Removal at Scale conference. Work on the principles began during the first conference, held in Santa Clara, California, in February,” the report said.
“Our goal is to ensure that enforcement of content guidelines is fair, transparent, proportional, and respectful of users’ rights,” said EFF Senior Staff Attorney Nate Cardozo.
It’s a laudable goal to want to remove “hate speech,” but in their zeal, companies “all too often wrongly removed perfectly legal and valuable speech,” EFF said.
Explained the EFF announcement, “And the processes used by tech companies are tremendously opaque. When speech is being censored by secret algorithms, without meaningful explanation, due process, or disclosure, no one wins.”
“Users deserve more transparency and greater accountability from platforms that play an outsized role – in Myanmar, Australia, Europe, and China, as well as in marginalized communities in the U.S. and elsewhere – in deciding what can be said on the internet,” said York.
The guidelines for those principles include publishing the number of posts removed and accounts permanently or temporarily suspended due to violations of their content guidelines, giving clear notice to all users about what types of content are prohibited, and to provide human review by someone not involved in the initial decision.
“Content takedown and account deactivation practices can have a profound effect on the lives and work of individuals in different parts of the world,” said York, cofounder of Onlinecensorship.org. “The companies removing online speech should be up front about their content policing policies. Users are being kept in the dark, voices that should be heard are being silenced forever by automation, and that must change.”
Among those joining the demand are the Center for Democracy and Technology, New America’s Open Technology Institute, and a number of individuals.
The conservative leaders, in their letter, had said, “We need detailed information so everyone can see if liberal groups and users are being treated the same as those on the right. Social media companies operate in a black-box environment, only releasing anecdotes about reports on content and users when they think it necessary. This needs to change.”
And they said, “‘Hate speech’ is a common concern among social media companies, but no two firms define it the same way. Their definitions are vague and open to interpretation, and their interpretation often looks like an opportunity to silence thought. Today, hate speech means anything liberals don’t like. Silencing those you disagree with is dangerous. If companies can’t tell users clearly what it is, then they shouldn’t try to regulate it.”
“Top social media firms, such as Google and YouTube, have chosen to work with dishonest groups that are actively opposed to the conservative movement, including the Southern Poverty Law Center. Those companies need to make equal room for conservative groups as advisers to offset this bias. That same attitude should be applied to employment diversity efforts. Tech companies need to embrace viewpoint diversity,” the conservatives said.