2/2/09

Censoring Social Networking: Can You Program Justice?

We are watching the beginnings of the media giants taking over social networking. I got an inkling of this when I heard that LexisNexis, an online research service, bought Martindale Hubbell, an online legal directory, who in turn partnered with LinkedIn, an online networking site. Lexis has partnered with Chambers Global, a UK business that ranks lawyers and law firm's proficiency, to display the Chambers rankings on Martindale. Lexis is owned by Reed Elselvier, one of the world's largest providers of online information. RE employs 35,000 around the world and reported revenues of £4,584m/€6,693m/$6,625m. Which brings me to my story. Flickr has censored a Spanish psychologist's collection of photos and art because of his offensive content. He was told, "Use your common sense to determine if your content is appropriate or not to a global audience (emphasis added) ... you must know that if we receive another report about your content or conduct, it is very likely to cancel your account." The offending content? Smoking. Now, certainly, we should be outraged at the topic of this censorship; it is as offensive as it gets no matter what side you weigh in on. But let us, instead, look at the larger issue. The authority, and the manner in which Flickr--now owned by Yahoo--weilds its authority, in determining what content is acceptable to a global audience. I ask you: who is this site to determine what is globally acceptable? How can one online community, scattered hither and yore, determine what is globally acceptable? Flickr's solution--more rightly, Yahoo's--is to establish an indiscriminate discriminating program that automates the intake of complaints, then sends out an automated warning to the content holder to straighten up and fly right. If they don't, they are censored to an "adult-only" section. If they receive too many complaints, they are booted. It is nearly impossible to appeal this process to a human. Its like spotting a unicorn--rumoured to exist and any successful attempt is regarding as myth. With these sorts of problems, I have witnessed another solution: have human admins troll the site. I remember AOL employed such folks back in the day when chat rooms were booming. I saw this type of policing just recently on a LiveJournal site called Vintage Photographs. They employed this method to mediate between posters when the worthiness of a photo was called into question. When a comment fight ensued, the mediator would step in, make a judgment then put the offending participants on a week-long vacation. If it happened too many times, the participant was banned. The danger in these types of situations is that admins are either too lax or revel in their meaningless authority and go power-crazy. Meh. But can't you see it now? What are the long-term results? In a Yahoo-type environment, the program becomes the power and Hal2000 takes over. In a VintagePhoto environment, we end up creating a hierarchy of online judges that fall under no jurisdiction. My guess? By the year 2020, we will have a virtual jurisdiction. We have to. With the likes of Reed Elsevior and LexisNexis and LinkedIn now entering the arena, social networking is taking a decidedly serious turn. Lord knows who will rule this virtual world . . .

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4 comments:

sdastroguy said...

Its not just pictures either. Here is a link to an article that ran in the local paper yesterday morning.

http://argusleader.com/article/20090201/NEWS/902010309

Facebook evidently doesn't like some peoples names. As a result they have been causing issues for some of the folks out here with Native American last names. It sure doesn't seem very fair to me though in defense of Facebook there at least appears to be an appeal process that is run by real humans. At least so far.

judith said...

Facebook has recently removed a gallery of about 60 photos taken in Gaza during the Israeli invasion from my page and those of several friends. I have written Facebook asking for an explanation and demanding that they repost the pix. They do not respond. The photos are explicit pictures of war: maimed and crying children, dead people and animals, destroyed buildings, blood running in the streets.

Sarah Falcon said...

And my question is: are you programming justice to expand the amount of content that's acceptable to a "global audience" (and censor the stuff that's not).
http://ncacblog.wordpress.com/2009/02/04/facing-the-global-audience-flickr-and-censorship/

ricky said...
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