Youve probably never heard of Robert B. Strassler. Thats OK, youre not alone.
Early in his career, Strassler worked in oil fields, but he always had an interest inthe classics(the formal designation for the studies of ancient Greek and Roman civilizations). Eventually, Strasslers hobby became an obsession. He went so far as to author his own translation of Thucydides, the Athenian historian of the Peloponnesian War.
The problem was nobody wanted to read Strasslers book. This was in the 1990s. It was more difficult to publish to the web and there was no social media. Strassler approached every Ivy League institution he could find. Nobody was interested in reading a manuscript about Thucydides penned by an oilman with no formal credentials. That was the situation until Strassler contacted Victor Davis Hanson, a classicist professor in Fresno, California. Hanson agreed to look at the manuscript and was astounded by Strasslers work: a brilliant, highly readable translation of Thucydides including maps, diagrams, and charts. Hanson helped the disconnected oilman get in touch with a literary agent. Strasslers landmark edition became the standard translation of Thucydides. Still read today, The Landmark Thucydides: A Comprehensive Guide to the Peloponnesian War is as successful as any book on the classics can bein the age of Twitter.
Those of us who take the idea of democratic publishing seriously rejoice at how the field has opened to include anyone who has something to say and is willing to write it down. Thats why we should be more alarmed when we see social media companies crowd the spaces once occupied by blogs and do-it-yourself content creators. We see a decline in diverse opinions as the web quickly becomes less free and more autocratic.
How many Robert B. Strasslers are being stifled today by biased algorithms and arbitrary community guidelines?
In March, as COVID-19 exploded into a worldwide panic, the web gatekeepers weve come to rely on quickly massed around a singular interpretation of events andstifled dissenting voiceseven mild ones.
YouTube, the second largest search engine in the world, demonetized all videos that mentioned COVID-19, Coronavirus, or any term related to the pandemic, and herded viewers away from content creators and toward the Center for Disease Control (CDC) the sameCDC that first advisedagainstwearing masks. Even medical practitioners who deviated slightly from the prevailing visionwere removed from the platformafter gaining millions of views.
Experienced journalists who questioned official decrees (surely, the role journalists are expected to perform) were targeted with hit pieces and character assassination by their own peers.
As author/professor Cal Newport noted in anop-ed forWired, much of the dissenting viewpoints and on-the-ground data have become part of the mainstream conversation even after being suppressed by a small group of decision-makers:
We dont necessarily want to trust engineers at one company to make the decisions about what topics the public should and should not be able to read about.
How many times have you clicked on a link in a tweet and received a message as shown in the following screenshot?
Adults should be trusted to determine what kind of content is harmful (if such a thing exists) without the assistance of Twitter employees and their partners. And, are these warnings actually meant to protect people or simply to shield Twitter from corporate liability? I think we can guess what the answer is.
Its not only those without official-sounding credentials who are being barred from sharing content. Creators who clearly have experience in their fields of study are also facing arbitrary censorship.
The Great Courses Plus, a streaming service that produces college-level video courses taught by actual professors, was threatened with a ban from Google if they did not remove COVID-19-related content from their app. In an email to subscribers, the team wrote:
Google informed us they would ban The Great Courses apps if we continued to make [Covid-19] in-app content available. We are working with Google to ensure that they understand our content is factual, expert-led, and thoroughly vetted, so that we can remedy this misunderstanding as soon as possible.
The videos in question included content from Dr. Roy Benaroch, Adjunct Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at the Emory University School of Medicine; Dr. David Kung, Professor of Mathematics at St. Marys College of Maryland; and Dr. Kevin Ahern, Professor of Biochemistry and Biophysics at Oregon State University. How or why these scholars were found unworthy of Googles imprimatur is a mystery. As the public does not presume to give Google programming advice, perhaps Google could return the favor by not pretending to be experts on epidemiology, immunology, and virology.
The only way to see these offending videos is on the Great Courses website, where Googles authority is not absolute. It happens to be a WordPress-powered site. For intellectuals and laymen who value free expression, having your own website is becoming the only way to make sure you can keep it.
The problem of pitting credentials against experience in a zero-sum conflict is fixable, and WordPress is a big part of the solution.
WordPress allows capable scientists, economists, and medical professionals in other fields to write at length about their ideas without fear of being blocked by arbitrary restrictions. Also, the five-minute install (which does take a little more than five minutes for many people) imposes enough of a barrier to entry to discourage cranks.
We like to think of the internet as a true egalitarian system, where every voice is given equal consideration, but deep down we know thats not exactly how it works. Network effects tend to form hubs of concentrated influence around a handful of websites. This isnt always a bad thing. A recipe blog with poor taste and no pictures deserves fewer readers than a blog with great-tasting recipes and high-resolution images.
There is still room enough in the network for certain nodes to grow in size and influence based on the quality of their content. A node with enough backlinks, good organic search rankings, and high-quality content will gain an audience, and be able to keep it, without fear of corporate reprisals or aggressive algorithm updates.
If we really care about democratizing publishing, we wont always like what we read. There will be disagreements, but democracy requires a literate population eager for debate. We can challenge, discuss, and learn.
There are a lot of Robert B. Strasslers out there in the network, waiting patiently to be heard.
Read the rest here:
- Fox News Host Tucker Carlson Blasts Alleged Big Tech Censorship: By Offensive, They Mean The Left Doesnt Like It - Deadline - June 21st, 2020
- 'Gone With the Wind' censorship is a slippery slope - Los Angeles Times - June 21st, 2020
- AG Barr on tech companies censoring viewpoints: 'There's something very disturbing about what's going on' - Fox News - June 21st, 2020
- Resist The Self-censorship Bug - City Journal - June 21st, 2020
- New Report Looks at How People Feel About Online Censorship, and Who Should be Making the Calls on Such - Social Media Today - June 21st, 2020
- The main types of censorship in films: Are they even necessary? - Film Daily - June 21st, 2020
- Censorship and the future of e-readers - Catholic Culture - June 21st, 2020
- Censorship is a growing problem in our news and other media - Bluefield Daily Telegraph - June 21st, 2020
- U.S. senator: Twitter tried to censor me and lost - The Highland County Press - June 21st, 2020
- Is this the maddest target of woke censorship yet? - Spiked - June 21st, 2020
- Gail Asper 'very troubled' by allegations of discrimination at Canadian Museum for Human Rights - CBC.ca - June 21st, 2020
- The Unplug Collective Allows Black Women to Express Themselves Without Censorship - Teen Vogue - June 21st, 2020
- Bolton book decision: Right answer, wrong reasoning | TheHill - The Hill - June 21st, 2020
- Censorship by country - Wikipedia - June 9th, 2020
- Censorship Is Not All Bad | HuffPost - June 9th, 2020
- Why Is Censorship Bad? | Reference.com - June 9th, 2020
- Things you're not allowed to say: lowlights of the new censorship - New York Post - June 9th, 2020
- Barr claims social media platforms 'censoring particular viewpoints and putting their own content in there' - Fox News - June 9th, 2020
- Nazi Propaganda and Censorship | The Holocaust Encyclopedia - June 9th, 2020
- The march of progressive censorship - Spectator.co.uk - June 9th, 2020
- Reddit CEO Steve Huffman thanks users that asked for more censorship on the platform - Reclaim The Net - June 9th, 2020
- The Censorship of COVID-19 Data Around the World | Sam Bocetta - Foundation for Economic Education - June 9th, 2020
- Censorship row over report on UK BAME Covid-19 deaths - The Guardian - June 9th, 2020
- Blood Brothers #36: Social media censorship, nationalism and defending Muslim rulers - 5Pillars - June 9th, 2020
- Bitcoin.com's Mining Video Censored: The Tale of Youtube's Blatant Censorship and Propaganda - Bitcoin News - May 19th, 2020
- Here's How to Fight Censorship In a Nutshell - Discovery Institute - May 19th, 2020
- What Triggered a Biology Journal to Demand Government Censorship of Intelligent Design - Discovery Institute - May 19th, 2020
- OpEd: Has Disney Taken Censorship Too Far With the Latest Disney+ Blur? - Inside the Magic - May 19th, 2020
- People are worried about Disney censoring 'Hamilton' when it comes to Disney Plus this July - Insider - INSIDER - May 19th, 2020
- Does Big Tech censorship ultimately fail, giving more legitimacy to the content it tries to hide? - Reclaim The Net - May 19th, 2020
- Hey, Google, your censorship of 'Plandemic' only turned its author's book into #1 bestseller. Its the Streisand effect, stupid! - RT - May 19th, 2020
- Opinion: Conspiracism is a popular phenomenon; addressing it requires understanding and dialogue rather than censorship - Eastern Echo - May 19th, 2020
- The pandemic is making digital rights violation in Africa, the new norm - Techpoint.ng - May 19th, 2020
- YouTube bans content that contradicts WHO on Covid-19, despite its track record of misinformation - MercatorNet - May 19th, 2020
- #MeToo in the land of censorship - Human Rights Watch - May 10th, 2020
- The people have cancelled... there's a new kind of censorship in town - Independent.ie - May 10th, 2020
- Dave Rubin interview: His new book, censorship on the left and what he sees happening in Canada - National Post - May 10th, 2020
- The Darlings are discouraged and disheartened by live stream censorship - The Province - May 10th, 2020
- Twitter accused of 'censorship' after banning Wings Over Scotland accounts - The National - May 10th, 2020
- Facebook Won't Fudge Censorship Oversight, Qumra Sells $80 Million in Holdings and Juganu Revolution in Today's Roundup - CTech - May 10th, 2020
- Facing COVID-19 Misinformation and Censorship in Brazil, Russia, and China - Slate - April 23rd, 2020
- Prince Harry and Meghan Markle accused of censorship over refusal to engage with tabloid media - The Independent - April 23rd, 2020
- German censorship campaign targets scholar over BDS and applies 'antisemitism' charge - Mondoweiss - April 23rd, 2020
- Rex Murphy on COVID-19: The power to censor speech and other great ideas from our Liberal overlords - National Post - April 23rd, 2020
- News on News: Reflecting on institutional censorship and the conversations with the experts - Grand Valley Lanthorn - April 23rd, 2020
- Facebook Pandemic Philanthropy Overshadowed by Its Censoring of Protests - Breitbart - April 23rd, 2020
- Lady Chatterley's censor: Almost 60 years ago, a court case looked to save us from ourselves - The Big Smoke Australia - April 23rd, 2020
- The ADL wants to fight hate in video games, but ham-fisted CENSORSHIP is the last thing we gamers need - RT - April 23rd, 2020
- Internet Censorship During COVID-19 Is Threat To Cryptocurrencies And Liberty - Forbes - April 2nd, 2020
- Social media censorship in the time of coronavirus - Telecoms.com - April 2nd, 2020
- The Coronavirus Has Started a Censorship Pandemic in Turkey, Hungary, Thailand, and Around the World - Foreign Policy - April 2nd, 2020
- Landmarks in law: the controversial 80s play that defied gay censorship - The Guardian - April 2nd, 2020
- Turkey among several countries censoring their coronavirus critics - Ahval - April 2nd, 2020
- Bitcoin Core shifts to dark web to resist censorship - Decrypt - April 2nd, 2020
- It's a bad idea for journalists to censor Trump instead, they can help the public identify what's true or false - The Conversation US - April 2nd, 2020
- The mounting human cost of Chinas coronavirus censorship - Reclaim The Net - April 2nd, 2020
- Society's Dependence on the Internet: 5 Cyber Issues the Coronavirus Lays Bare - Nextgov - April 2nd, 2020
- Turkmenistan bans the word Coronavirus, wearing of masks, in a major censorship move - The Statesman - April 2nd, 2020
- Indias government wants to censor the media to fight Covid-19 but transparency is a better weapon - Scroll.in - April 2nd, 2020
- YouTube continues to ban crypto content; None knows the reason - iNVEZZ - April 2nd, 2020
- How Authoritarians Are Exploiting the Covid-19 Crisis to Grab Power - The New York Review of Books - April 2nd, 2020
- Corona Cover-Up? Videos The Chinese Government Would Rather You Don't See Surface on The Internet - Talent Recap - April 2nd, 2020
- Under the pretext of combating coronavirus States trying to crush the opposition and to tighten censorship - The KXAN 36 News - April 2nd, 2020
- Reporters Without Borders: If the Chinese press were free, the coronavirus might not be a pandemic - Hong Kong Free Press - April 2nd, 2020
- China's Media Censorship Could Cost Thousands of Lives: Journalism Watchdog - Newsweek - April 1st, 2020
- It's a bad idea for journalists to censor Trump instead, they can help the public identify what's true or false - goskagit.com - April 1st, 2020
- Apple Helps China Censor Citizens By Pulling The Plug On A Keyboard App That Encrypted Text Messages - Techdirt - April 1st, 2020
- Bored with the First Amendment | Scales on Censorship - School Library Journal - April 1st, 2020
- John Wick Producer Ordered to Pay Huayi Bros. Over Axed China Release - Variety - April 1st, 2020
- Some mobile phone apps may contain hidden behaviors that users never see - The Ohio State University News - April 1st, 2020
- Bypassing the China firewall needs & ways to do it - KnowTechie - April 1st, 2020
- Society's dependence on the internet: 5 cyber issues the coronavirus lays bare - The Conversation US - April 1st, 2020
- Reporters Without Borders to track coronavirus disinformation - The Shift News - April 1st, 2020
- virtual minecraft library combats government censorship by housing banned journalism - Designboom - March 16th, 2020
- Lessons From China on the Coronavirus and the Dangers of App Consolidation - Slate - March 16th, 2020
- 'Love in time of' coronavirus: Tinder being used to circumnavigate possible Chinese censorship of outbreak - Washington Examiner - March 16th, 2020
- Coronavirus: The new and ingenious ways Chinese citizens are evading censorship to learn about the outbreak - Hong Kong Free Press - March 16th, 2020
- Censorship and Propaganda in the Time of the Coronavirus - Qrius - March 16th, 2020
- Should OTT content in India have a censor board to strap creative freedom just like films? - PINKVILLA - March 16th, 2020
- The big coronavirus cover-up: Fighting truth and coronavirus, the China way - ThePrint - March 16th, 2020