The Advent of Private Censorship

We have a lot of legal protections against government censorship. These are particularly strong in the United States due to its clear and singular constitution but there are protections of various degrees in other westhern countries as well. I’m from the UK, we have less protection than some places but since becoming part of Europe our protections have become stronger.

The problem is that increasingly it is not government that acts as censor but, rather, private companies and individuals. Our capability to exercise free expression is increasingly constricted and contorted not by the oppression of governments but by the service agreements and public relations concerns of companies. We also face the problems of the ‘howling internet mob’ where the immediacy and force of a public reaction often overwhelms sense or moderation, frightening people into quick reactions that may not be measured or sensible.

Examples abound of these problems coming up and I’ve watched several of them unfold. There were issues with Paypal and payments to authors of erotica. There have been projects bumped off Kickstarter (Tentacle Bento) and today we’re seeing Justin Vacula hounded out of a position in the SCA seemingly for stridency and being a Men’s Rights Activist. Such a reaction seems a little extreme but things move too fast for space, thought and measured reaction.

The internet is a huge and vast space but certain channels come to pre-eminance and to the point where they are the only meaningful channel. Paypal is one and the ability of erotica authors to be paid through it was only narrowly preserved. Ebay has progressively become more and more constricted in what can be sold there.

The latest problems emerging are in the explosion of crowdfunding. The main site – Kickstarter – is particularly sensitive to censorship. IndieGoGo less so, but it’s still heavily restricted.

If you produce and sell adult material you’re considered to be ‘high risk’, without much justification and this seems… odd. Crowdfunding in particular could really put paid to a lot of issues (or presumed issues) in adult entertainment. Performers could raise their own funds for their own projects, work with whom they wished to work, supported by their fans with no question of exploitation and a guaranteed income.

Things like this cannot go ahead, not for any good reason but purely because of unwarranted fear and exploitation on the part of financial and corporate interests.

Do I know what the solution is? No, I do not. Private enterprises should be able to control their own businesses, but equally people’s rights should not be abrogated. How might we navigate around this? I don’t know that either but perhaps there’s a model in how we deal with bigotry in private business. A business owner is entitled to their opinions but is not entitled to withhold their business on the basis of race, religion etc. The state acts as a guarantor of someone’s rights against the prejudice of private individuals.

Is there a model there of the state acting to protect our rights to free expression, assembly etc and extending them into private spaces? Whatever the case we need to have a public debate and we need to fight for our rights as hard in the private sphere as we do the public. This is only going to get worse. On Youtube and elsewhere malicious use of DMCA notices and ‘flagging’ is already a massive issue as automated systems get abused.

What can we do? Where’s the middle path?