Watch the newCBSN Originalsdocumentary, "Speaking Frankly | Censorship," in the video player above.
Musician Joy Villa's red carpet dresses at the past three years' Grammy Awards were embellished with pro-Trump messages that cemented her as an outspoken darling of the conservative movement. With over 500,000 followers across Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter, Villa refers to her social media community as her "Joy Tribe," and a few years ago she enlisted them to help wage a public battle against what she claimed was YouTube's attempt to censor her.
"I had released my 'Make America Great Again" music video on YouTube, and within a few hours it got taken down by YouTube," Villa told CBSN Originals. "I took it to the rest of my social media. I told my fans: 'Hey listen, YouTube is censoring me. This is unfair censorship.'"
Villa saw it as part of a pattern of social media companies trying to shut down conservative voices an accusation that many other like-minded users, including President Trump himself, have leveled against Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter in recent years.
But those who study the tech industry's practices say that deciding what content stays up, and what comes down, has nothing to do with "censorship.""There is this problem in the United States that when we talk about free speech, we often misunderstand it," said Henry Fernandez, co-chair of Change the Terms, a coalition of organizations that work to reduce hate online.
"The First Amendment is very specific: It protects all of us as Americans from the government limiting our speech," he explained. "And so when people talk about, 'Well, if I get kicked off of Facebook, that's an attack on my free speech or on my First Amendment right' that's just not true. The companies have the ability to decide what speech they will allow. They're not the government."
A YouTube spokesperson said Villa's video wasn't flagged over something she said, but due to a privacy complaint. Villa disputed that, but once she blurred out the face of someone who didn't want to be seen in the video, YouTube put it back online, and her video remains visible on the platform today.
"At YouTube, we've always had policies that lay out what can and can't be posted. Our policies have no notion of political affiliation or party, and we enforce them consistently regardless of who the uploader is," said YouTube spokesperson Alex Joseph.
While Villa and others on the right have been vocal about their complaints, activists on the opposite side of the political spectrum say their online speech frequently ends up being quashed for reasons that have gotten far less attention.
Carolyn Wysinger, an activist who provided Facebook feedback and guidance about minority users' experience on the platform, told CBSN Originals that implicit bias is a problem that permeates content moderation decisions at most social media platforms.
"In the community standards, white men are a protected class, the same as a black trans woman is. The community standards does not take into account the homophobia, and the violence, and how all those things intersect. It takes all of them as individual things that need to be protected," said Wysinger.
The artificial intelligence tools that automate the process of moderating and enforcing community standards on the sites don't recognize the intent or background of those doing the posting.
For instance, Wysinger said, "I have been flagged for using imagery of lynching. ... I have been flagged for violent content when showing images about racism and about transphobia."
According to the platforms' recent transparency reports, from April to June 2020, nearly 95% of comments flagged as hate speech on Facebook were detected by AI; and on YouTube 99.2% of comments removed for violating Community Standards were flagged by AI.
"That means you're putting these community standards in place and you have these bots who are just looking for certain specific things. It's automated. It doesn't have the ability for nuanced decision-making in regards to this," said Wysinger.
Biases can be built into the algorithms by the programmers who designed them, even if it's unintentional.
"Unfortunately tech is made up of a homogenous group, mostly White and Asian males, and so what happens is the opinions, the experiences that go into this decision-making are reflective of a majority group. And so people from different backgrounds Black, Latino, different religions, conservative, liberal don't have the accurate representation that they would if these companies were more diverse," said Mark Luckie, a digital strategist who previously worked at Twitter, Reddit and Facebook.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has said he believes the platform "should enable as much expression as possible," and that social media companies "shouldn't be the arbiter of truth of everything that people say online."
Nonetheless, a recent Pew Research Center survey found that nearly three-quarters of U.S. adults believe social media sites intentionally censor political viewpoints. In the last two years, two congressional hearings have focused on the question of tech censorship.
"We hear that there is an anti-conservative bias on the part of Facebook or other platforms because conservatives keep saying that," said Susan Benesch, executive director of the Dangerous Speech Project, an organization based in Washington D.C. that has advised Facebook, Twitter, Google and other internet companies on how to diminish harmful content online while protecting freedom of speech.
But she adds, "I would be surprised if that were the case in part because on most days the most popular, most visited groups on Facebook and pages on Facebook are very conservative ones."
She said she also finds it interesting that "many conservatives or ultra-conservatives complain that the platforms have a bias against them at the same time as Black Lives Matter activists feel that the platforms are disproportionately taking down their content."
A 2019review of over 400 political pages on Facebook, conducted by the left-leaning media watchdog Media Matters, found conservative pages performed about equally as well as liberal ones.
But reliable data on the subject is scarce, and social media platforms are largely secretive about how they make decisions on content moderation.
Amid ongoing criticism, Facebook commissioned an independent review, headed by former Republican Senator Jon Kyl, to investigate accusations of anti-conservative bias. Kyl's 2019report detailed recommendations to improve transparency, and Facebook agreed to create an oversight board for content removal decisions. Facebook said it "would continue to examine, and where necessary adjust, our own policies and practices in the future."
According to Fernandez, the focus should be on requiring tech companies to publicly reveal their moderation rules and tactics.
Benesch points out, "We have virtually zero oversight regarding take-down, so in truth content moderation is more complicated than just take it down or leave it up," referring to the fact that, to date, there has been little publicly available data provided by tech companies to allow an evaluation of the process.
"Protecting free expression while keeping people safe is a challenge that requires constant refinement and improvement. We work with external experts and affected communities around the world to develop our policies and have a global team dedicated to enforcing them," Facebook said in a statement.
And a statement from Twitter said, "Twitter does not use political ideology to make any decisions whether related to ranking content on our service or how we enforce our rules. In fact, from a simple business perspective and to serve the public conversation, Twitter is incentivized to keep all voices on the service."
Meanwhile users like Wysinger struggle with mixed feelings about social media sites that promise connection but sometimes leave them out in the cold.
"Whether we like it or not, we are all on Facebook and Instagram and Twitter all day long, and when they take us off the banned list, I don't know anyone who doesn't post a status on Facebook right away, after the ban is lifted: 'I'm back y'all!'," said Wysinger.
"It's like an abusive relationship, you can't even leave the abusive relationship because you become so used to and dependent on it."
Read the original:
- 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
- Censorship - Wikipedia - September 6th, 2020
- What Is Censorship? | American Civil Liberties Union - September 6th, 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
- German Analysis Institute Regrets Censorship of a Professional Science Assertion - The Shepherd of the Hills Gazette - August 10th, 2020
- China Is Upgrading Its Great Firewall And Can Now Censor Even More Content - News18 - August 10th, 2020
- Twitter censors all links to BitChute - Reclaim The Net - August 10th, 2020
- Fear of Authoritarian Regimes Is Pushing the Film Industry to Self-Censor - Foreign Affairs Magazine - August 10th, 2020
- Facebook is wrong to censor Donald Trump - The Spectator USA - August 10th, 2020
- Education, not censorship, must be used to tackle online antisemitism - The Jerusalem Post - August 10th, 2020
- Why Did Facebook Censor This Video Of President Trump? - The Hayride - August 10th, 2020
- Lawyer concerned that 'internet censorship bill' may be used as a political tool - CapeTalk - August 10th, 2020
- Brother Nut, the Artist, Taking Vow of Silence to Protest Chinas Censorship - VOA Asia - August 8th, 2020
- Researchers slowly discover censorship doesnt work - Reclaim The Net - August 8th, 2020
- Setlist: Wiley, Twitter and the online censorship debate - Complete Music Update - August 8th, 2020
- The line between legislating in opposition to disinformation and censorship could be very skinny - Pledge Times - August 8th, 2020
- Hollywood Is "Increasingly Normalizing" Self-Censorship for China, Report Finds - Hollywood Reporter - August 7th, 2020
- Rep. Buck wants Twitter's Jack Dorsey to testify about 'censorship of conservatives' and 'cozy' relationshi... - Fox News - August 7th, 2020
- Lee says Google, Facebook and Twitter are censoring conservative voices - Deseret News - August 7th, 2020
- The White Houses plan to purge Chinese tech from the internet is just bluster for now - The Verge - August 7th, 2020
- Is the Gov't Outsourcing Censorship Duties to FB & Google? - The Jewish Voice - August 7th, 2020
- Doctors' cries of censorship become part of their message - Poynter - August 6th, 2020
- Turkey takes Germany's hate speech law, and makes it much worse with its own censorship and data localization rules - Privacy News Online - August 6th, 2020
- Op-ed: Censorship and higher taxes won't create more Apples, Amazons, Facebooks and Googles - CNBC - August 6th, 2020
- Pence Says Administration Will 'Lean Into' Issue of Tech Censorship - Newsmax - August 6th, 2020
- GreatFire introduces app maker to bypass Chinas censorship - Reclaim The Net - August 6th, 2020
- Facebook removes pro-Trump ad aimed at Joe Biden, claiming false information - Fox News - August 6th, 2020
- #SavetheChildren Ban? Facebook Censors 'Save the Children' - Heavy.com - August 6th, 2020
- Censorship or fighting disinformation? Russia to use AI to create controversial fake news filter, as Facebook efforts stall - RT - August 6th, 2020
- The Italian journalist sets fire to Instagram bordering on censorship with her first bath - Explica - August 6th, 2020
- Facebook censors hydroxychloroquine praise, even in countries where its an official treatment - Reclaim The Net - August 6th, 2020
- Theft, censorship and the emperors of the online economy: Tech CEOs go on defense - POLITICO - August 4th, 2020
- How the New York Times profits from self-censorship - The Spectator USA - August 4th, 2020
- Some Facebook mods support the ads boycott, call for more censorship - Reclaim The Net - August 4th, 2020
- South Park: Why Episodes "200" and "201" Were Banned - Screen Rant - August 4th, 2020
- Free speech risk as university staff feel need to censor pro-Brexit views - The Scotsman - August 4th, 2020
- Greg Gutfeld on conservative censorship: 'Abuse only goes one way' - Fox News - August 3rd, 2020