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?


8 responses to “The Advent of Private Censorship

  1. Justin Vacula wasn’t chased out because of his MRA affiliations. He was removed because he was unqualified for the job. The man made sport of harassing women in the atheist movement. He released home addresses and encouraged his followers to harass and intimidate others. He couldn’t do the job, because his actions made it impossible for him to reach his full audience: male and female. What happened there was as it should have been: public misogyny should be no more acceptable than public racism is, and we are right to punish those who behave badly. Don’t get me wrong: it’s important that they have the right to say whatever vileness they want to say (and he exercised that right fully), but those choices do have consequences.

    • Whipping up torch-wielding mobs should also have consequences. He’s guilty of little more – if anything – than his detractors but ‘misogynist’ appears to be a magic word. Like ‘witch’ in the 1400s.

      • After reading up on the issue, I can’t agree to the statement that he’s guilty of little more than his detractors.

        As for “misogynist” being a word that triggers an instant bad reaction, I say, huzzah. “Sexist” should be just as foul an insult as “racist.”

      • I don’t think you quite get what I meant. It’s a magic word, like WITCH! used to be in the 1600s. Surely an accusation still needs support, no?

      • That these words shouldn’t have magical power and should have something behind them to have effect. Even witches got the ducking stool.

  2. The problem is that users have been falling over themselves to give their individual power away, to businesses like Facebook.

    Consider “apps”. Most apps are entirely unnecessary, and indeed if you look, you’ll find many of them are equivalent to mobile web sites, except that they run on your phone/tablet, doing who knows what.

    Instead of apps, and even sites, we should be focusing on protocols. There should be a protocol for connecting friends together, for example. And a protocol for searching the web. And a protocol for sharing. And a protocol for monetary exchange. And a protocol for blogging. And on, and on.

    With IPv6, it’s entirely reasonable for every person to maintain their own website. But where’s the support for that? My provider won’t permit me to do it. I can’t find any in my area that will allow a consumer to publish a website on their own hardware.

    Even the connection needs to be re-thought. With the thick hive of devices urban and suburban folk live in, there is almost no reason to us an ISP, at all. We can serve it to ourselves. Without censors.

    Of course, this tests our belief in free speech, because it truly is uncensored. Without the ability to pry into messages in real-time, anyone could say anything to anyone. Depending on design, it might even be entirely anonymous.

    I’m not detailing a solution, but basically users have eagerly given their power away, and we need to build ways to get it back — ways simple enough that simple people can exercise their rights to say what they need to say, regardless of what anyone else thinks.

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