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There are many problems with the censoring of online content, not least that it can limit free speech. But there is also the question of transparency. By the very nature of censorship, unless you have been kept in the loop you would simply not know that anything had been censored.
This is something the Electronic Frontier Foundation wants to change, and today the digital rights organization launches Onlinecensorship.org to blow the lid off online censorship. The site, run by EFF and Visualizing Impact, aims to reveal the content that is censored on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, Instagram, Flickr, and YouTube — not just the ‘what’ but the ‘why’. If you find yourself the subject of censorship, the site also explains how to lodge an appeal.
Inspired by the removal of a Facebook post supporting OneWorld’s Freedom for Palestine project, Onlinecensorship.org was born out of a desire to increase transparency and accountability. The aim is to identify the censorship trends that exist on social media sites as well as learning about the impact it has on different communities.
Jillian C York, EFF Director for International Freedom of Expression and co-founder of Onlinecensorship.org, says:
We want to know how social media companies enforce their terms of service. The data we collect will allow us to raise public awareness about the ways these companies are regulating speech. We hope that companies will respond to the data by improving their regulations and reporting mechanisms and processes — we need to hold Internet companies accountable for the ways in which they exercise power over people’s digital lives.
Co-founder Ramzi Jaber explains that the likes of Facebook need to understand that when content is censored, more often than not it is vulnerable people who are worst affected. He says: “Both a company’s terms of service and their enforcement mechanisms should take into account power imbalances that place already-marginalized communities at greater risk online”.
Head over to OnlineCensorship.org where you will find everything you need to know about making an appeal, news about censorship, and a means of reporting censorship you have suffered.
Related: Facebook won’t let you type this
York, an American who lives in Berlin, and cofounder Ramzi Jaber, who is from the West Bank, came up with the idea after noticing posts being taken down in conflict zones.
But surprisingly, many of the submissions they’re seeing are from the U.S. The “vast majority” have been from people with content banned on Facebook, said York. Facebook did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The goal of the organization — which is a joint partnership between Visualizing Impact and the Electronic Frontier Foundation — is to collect posts that are censored for reasons that don’t specifically violate a company’s terms of service.
Facebook (Tech30), for example, prohibits nudity, hate speech or graphic images that glorify violence. It has also banned the private sale of guns and drugs. But a post about bullfighting? The company banned it — then backpedaled. It also banned a post from a woman in Turkey critiquing Charlie Hebdo. Instagram removed a photo that poet Rupi Kaur posted on Instagram, showing a woman lying on her bed, her period soaking through her pajama pants.,
When users are blocked or have their content removed, there is often little explanation and they’re left to figure out the reason why for themselves. Is menstruation, for example, inappropriate?
OnlineCensorship, which is run by a team of six people around the world, hopes to be a resource for this. It also wants to use of the data it’s collecting to determine trends and context for why posts are removed, and how that ultimately impacts users.
“Is there mass censorship going on that people don’t know about? We don’t know,” said Matthew Stender, who works with York in Berlin. “We don’t know to what extent Facebook [and other platforms] curating our timelines shape our view of the world.”
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