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:
- Letter: Censorship and the CPSDB - The Suburban Times - February 11th, 2021
- Chilling trend toward censorship - Chicago Daily Herald - February 11th, 2021
- Government censorship threats over TikTok spiked interest in VPNs - ZDNet - February 11th, 2021
- For a brief period, there was a platform for sensitive political debate in China. Then censors shut it down - CNN - February 11th, 2021
- Why I think censorship is important in the age of social media | Column - The Daily Collegian Online - February 11th, 2021
- Send a Big Message to Big Tech: Stop the Censorship - National Federation of Republican Women - February 11th, 2021
- Response to Censorship, freedom of speech article - The Tryon Daily Bulletin - Tryon Daily Bulletin - February 11th, 2021
- Facebook's depoliticization aimed at censorship of left-wing and socialist organizations - WSWS - February 11th, 2021
- Sundance 2021 Review: CENSOR, The Danger Of Confusing Fiction With Reality - ScreenAnarchy - February 11th, 2021
- Blacklisting And Censorship Are Hallmarks Of Repressive Societies - The Federalist - February 11th, 2021
- Censorship or conspiracy theory? Trump supporters say Facebook and Twitter censor them but conservatives still rule social media - USA TODAY - December 5th, 2020
- OIF Seeks Information on 2020 Censorship Incidents | News and Press Center - ala.org - December 5th, 2020
- In India, a Clash of Digital Innovation and Internet Censorship - CoinDesk - Coindesk - November 30th, 2020
- Censored Planet: University of Michigan research finds worldwide increase in internet censorship - WSWS - November 30th, 2020
- Twitter claims it has reversed ban of link to Sidney Powell's Georgia election lawsuit - Fox Business - November 30th, 2020
- Jeanine Pirro Thinks Big Tech is Censoring Her Text Messages - Mediaite - November 30th, 2020
- Censorship In The Biden Era - OpEd - Eurasia Review - November 30th, 2020
- Ex-Employee Confesses! Behind-the-Scenes of Google Censorship - The Liberty Web English - November 30th, 2020
- The attempt to censor Jordan Peterson shows the intolerance of the social justice generation - Telegraph.co.uk - November 30th, 2020
- PlayStation Reportedly Censoring PS5 Users on Twitter - ComicBook.com - November 30th, 2020
- Ted Nugents Wife Shemane Targets Instagram For The Recent Censor But She Puts It Again On Instagram To Find A Solution For Free Speech - Metalhead... - November 30th, 2020
- Censorship - Wikipedia - November 28th, 2020
- What Is Censorship? | American Civil Liberties Union - November 28th, 2020
- What is Censorship? - National Coalition Against Censorship - November 28th, 2020
- Censorship on social media? It's not what you think - CBS News - November 28th, 2020
- 'Welcome To The Party, Zoom': Video App's Rules Lead To Accusations Of Censorship - NPR - November 28th, 2020
- ICANN Can Stand Against Censorship (And Avoid Another .ORG Debacle) by Keeping Content Regulation and Other Dangerous Policies Out of Its Registry... - November 28th, 2020
- Ted Cruz digs in for congressional battle over censorship on Twitter, Facebook - Houston Chronicle - November 28th, 2020
- The Dangerous Inversions of the Debate Around Trans Censorship - The New Republic - November 28th, 2020
- Carter Estes: Effort to ban Trump officials from Harvard is a dangerous attack on free speech and education - Fox News - November 28th, 2020
- Meet the Censored: Andre Damon - WSWS - November 28th, 2020
- Donald Trump says Twitter censorship is a national security issue - Washington Times - November 28th, 2020
- In hybrid online-offline format, theatre fest explores the Unexpressed, censorship of womens bodies and artistic collaborations - The Indian Express - November 28th, 2020
- Was this censorship?: Noam Chomsky, Vijay Prashad ask Tata Lit Live after it cancels their discussion - The Hindu - November 28th, 2020
- Tata Lit Fest cancels a discussion between Noam Chomsky and Vijay Prashad, raising concerns of censorship - Frontline - November 28th, 2020
- Barcelona members strike back vs. Bartomeu: What does 'motion of censorship' mean, and what's next? - ESPN - September 18th, 2020
- What the *, Nintendo? This in-game censorship is * terrible. - EFF - September 18th, 2020
- Social media censorship in Egypt targets women on TikTok - The World - September 18th, 2020
- Trumps Partial TikTok And WeChat Ban Tip-Toes Into Chinese-Style Censorship - Forbes - September 18th, 2020
- Judd Apatow Criticizes Hollywood's Censorship For International Market: China Has Bought Our Silence With Their Money - Deadline - September 18th, 2020
- Bangladesh in the Shadow of Censorship The Diplomat - The Diplomat - September 18th, 2020
- Why is the government pushing unprecedented online censorship? - Telegraph.co.uk - September 18th, 2020
- Not Content to Censor Conservatives, Zuckerberg Now Seeks to Meddle in Election - National Legal and Policy Center - September 18th, 2020
- New Alliance to Track and Fight Censoring of Conservatives - CBN News - September 18th, 2020
- Reading the Evolution of Censorship and Sedition in India - The Wire - September 18th, 2020
- China's Influence on the Global Human Rights System - Human Rights Watch - September 18th, 2020
- China Isn't Hiding the Border Tensions With India From Its Public Anymore - The Diplomat - September 18th, 2020
- Call Trumps Attacks On The 1619 Project What They Are Censorship of American History - Forbes - September 6th, 2020
- Facebook is bringing an updated content censorship term for its users from October 1st - Digital Information World - September 6th, 2020
- Will Joe Rogan Have The Guts To Call Out Spotify For 'Censorship'? - CCN.com - September 6th, 2020
- Joe Rogans Spotify move condemned by fans over right-wing censorship claims - The Independent - September 6th, 2020
- Shadow banning and its role in modern day censorship - Cherwell Online - September 6th, 2020
- Apple reacts to censorship censure - Mobile World Live - September 6th, 2020
- TunnelBear Circumvents Iran VPN Block, Launches 10GB Monthly Offer in the Country - Business Wire - September 6th, 2020
- Facebook is changing its Terms of Service, and users are not happy - Windows Central - September 6th, 2020
- End the blacklist of the World Socialist Web Site on Reddit! - WSWS - September 6th, 2020
- Kahle: Upholding the public trust - The Register-Guard - September 6th, 2020
- Science protections must be enforceable | TheHill - The Hill - September 6th, 2020
- Reddit isnt happy about President Trumps anti-censorship executive order - Reclaim The Net - September 6th, 2020
- Forget TikTok. Chinas Powerhouse App Is WeChat. - The New York Times - September 6th, 2020
- The shaky upcoming national election environment can be fixed - JNS.org - September 6th, 2020
- Kyle Rittenhouse lawyer Lin Wood threatens to sue Twitter over censorship - Reclaim The Net - September 4th, 2020
- Finding human territory in a fractured world - The Tech - September 4th, 2020
- We dont believe in censorship: Controversial Aboriginal commentator to lead WA festival amid fear of backlash from Noongar people - WAtoday - September 4th, 2020
- How WeChat Censored the Coronavirus Pandemic - WIRED - August 28th, 2020
- Voter Advocacy Orgs Sue Trump Administration for Executive Order Threatening Social Media Censorship - EFF - August 28th, 2020
- Kuwait eases censorship laws after banning 5000 titles in last 7 years - The Indian Express - August 28th, 2020
- Buffy's Amber Benson on censorship, the musical, and Tara's death - digitalspy.com - August 28th, 2020
- Kuwait relaxes book censorship laws after banning thousands of titles - The Guardian - August 28th, 2020
- Film and Publications Amendment Act: Protecting, not censoring, our citizens in the digital age - Daily Maverick - August 28th, 2020
- Chinas wrath on Hong Kong is causing artists to self-censor - Reclaim The Net - August 28th, 2020
- Here are 5 excuses liberals have put forward in defence of modern day book burning, and why it makes them look like total morons - OpIndia - August 28th, 2020
- Jessie and Austins aunt vs TikTok the debate around censorship of Bodies in the Suitcase video - HITC - August 28th, 2020
- Artists Ai Weiwei and Fang Fang's depictions of the Wuhan lockdown - DW (English) - August 28th, 2020
- A Radioactive Plague: The secrecy and censorship surrounding civilian deaths from World War II - Milwaukee Independent - August 10th, 2020
- Censorship on the internet in 2020: The potential effects of TikTok - Film Daily - August 10th, 2020
- Wicker: Time to address online censorship - The Vicksburg Post - Vicksburg Post - August 10th, 2020
- Open Technology Fund Authorization Act - BORGEN - Borgen Project - August 10th, 2020
- The Logic of a US WeChat Ban - The Diplomat - August 10th, 2020
- Ben Domenech Clashes With Joe Trippi Over Censorship Of Trump's Social Media - The Federalist - August 10th, 2020