Social media is one of the fastest growing industries in the world but as it has grown social media giants have shown interest in censoring and curating the content of their sites. According to Smart Insights, in the Asia-Pacific region alone, social media usage has skyrocketed twenty-one percent with over 300 million new users in only the last year. People have used the ability to broadcast messages to millions of people online for the sake of pushing a political agenda. With the rise of so-called “Trumpism” and the public distrust of the mainstream media, the use of social media has been transformed from a tool for catching up with friends to a tool of political discussion.
In July of 2016, former Breitbart writer and conservative provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos was banned from social media giant Twitter. Twitter claimed he was banned for “Inciting harassment” against actor and comedian Leslie Jones revolving around her role in the new Ghostbusters film.
In August, that year another conservative speaker, Philip DeFranco, made a Youtube video titled “Youtube is shutting down my channel and I don’t know what to do”. He later released a number of videos surrounding the topic of Youtube censorship. Youtube has also released a new system called Youtube Heros which has received negative feedback from content creators due to it’s goal of censoring and curating content. Since then many prominent youtubers have spoken out against youtube's copyright rules and demonetization.
On December 15, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced it’s new “FaceBlocking” program. This would allow FaceBook to use a select number of outside fact checkers and media journalists including Snopes to tag stories as “fake”. A tagged story will receive lower priority on users feeds. Many have attacked the FaceBlocking system claiming it makes FaceBook the “Ultimate arbiter of truth”.
These three social media giants appear to be increasing their rate of censorship, banning, and curation which begs the question: Is social media censorship on the rise? And, should we be concerned? It should be noted that this does not violate the first amendment of the US constitution because these websites are privately owned companies who operate their sites on privately owned servers. This gives them the right to control what is said as they please but it is undeniable that doing so may have consequences as we can see from the increasing pushback against these policies.
The quick answer is yes. According to twitter transparency statistics, the company has banned 375,000 accounts in the last six months of 2016 for “Spouting hateful rhetoric”. Over the course of the company's life it has banned 630,000 people for this offense. This means that twitter has banned more people for saying things they deem hateful in the last six months than the rest of twitter's lifespan combined.
Recently this Youtube has received mounting pressure from advertisers and mainstream media networks to censor an alleged rising amount of racism and anti-semitism. The Wall Street Journal claimed that the website's biggest star Felix Kjellberg, known by his fans as PewDiePie, is featuring anti-semitic content on his channel although this claim has been denied and many have raised evidence to the contrary. Youtube seems to have caved on the subject, choosing to keep its advertisers happy at the expense of some content creators by de-monetising some videos deemed “Not Advertiser Friendly” as well as introducing a new Youtube safety mode which stops certain videos from appearing in the search algorithms until you sign into a youtube account.
Some new social media sites such as Candid and Minds.com have been created in pushback to the rising tide of online censorship as havens of free speech. Political activist and free speech supporter Carl Benjamin also known as Sargon of Akkad is a prominent supporter of Minds.com especially after being repeatedly suspended from twitter. On the issue of social media censorship he said "They [People who use social media for political discussion] are the natural enemy of the establishment. The mainstream media is losing ground and alternative sources are rising. The media is afraid because they are losing their monopoly on the news".
In conclusion, social media censorship is on the rise. While this may be legal some argue that it is not right. Many fear a Orwellian future where speech is twisted and distorted by biased search algorithms and the quiet silencing of dissenters.
"When you see someone being silenced you have an obligation to speak up, because if you don't say anything now, you won't be able to say anything later"