The Computer Corner
By Charles Miller
Censorship is defined as the suppression or prohibition of parts of books, films, news, etc. that are considered obscene, politically unacceptable, or a threat to somebody’s security. The practice of censorship was long established before Socrates was sentenced to drink a cup of hemlock in 399 BC, and the practice is alive and well online in the 21st century. Fortunately for those of us who live in Mexico, our access to the worldwide internet is not subject to the strict governmental controls as is the case in totalitarian regimes such as China, Iran, North Korea, or Cuba.
In fact, the main censorship that can be seen in Mexico is an increasing amount of self-censorship that some social networks are imposing on their users. The practice, which is also known as “shadow banning,” keeps some users from seeing some posts online while allowing others.
Twitter is thought to be actively purging their corner of cyberspace of the usage of the F-word, the N-word, the B-word, as well as the S-word, T-word, the A-word, and the R-word. If you are not following what all those words are, you are not alone. In an effort to retard the use of unacceptable words …. Uh-oh! I just used the R-word and could have been suspended because it seems that Twitter has decided that the R-word, “retard,” has no place in civil discourse. Calling somebody a retard and sometimes even using the word in context could get your account blocked for 12 hours! Notable here is the fact that Twitter does not close the accounts of those who violate its unpublished rules for politically-correct speech; its policy is to punish silently and keep users tweeting while controlling what can be said and seen.
This rule might be okay if it were used intelligently and uniformly to clamp down on users guilty of harassment or of promoting illegal activities, but the rules appear to be used on people simply for posting politically incorrect language. The automated systems can be used to censor social media posts, and therefore limit what citizens can say online. In China, all social media posts are automatically censored, depending on their content.
In 2013, Harvard political science professor Gary King led a study to investigate what caused social media posts to be censored. Posts mentioning collective action were more likely to be deleted than those that had not mentioned calls to action. So one of the things this study revealed is that social media censorship is a way to restrict users’ ability to organize protests.
Among the most notable of the protests organized via social media were the Arab Spring uprisings, starting in 2010, referred to as “Twitter Revolutions.” Usage of social media by citizens organizing protests has led to governmental reprisals, such as the alleged program of the Tunisian government to hack its citizens’ Facebook and Twitter accounts, which the government is accused of deleting.
Charles Miller is a freelance computer consultant, a frequent visitor to San Miguel since 1981 and now practically a full-time resident. He may be contacted at 044 415 101 8528 or e-mail FAQ8 (at) SMAguru.com.