With growing time, citizens have become increasingly concerned about internet censorship. Based on recent happenings, it becomes clear that governments’ efforts in the realm of censorship are only going to get stronger.
This week, the House Permanent Select Committee of the US government held an open hearing on “Misinformation and Conspiracy Theories Online.” The hearing saw several expert witnesses weigh in on how to censor content more. The COVID-19 saga combined with the upcoming presidential elections in the USA has resulted in a massive rise of what they deem “conspiracy theories” online, with QAnon being the most victimized and, despite the US constitution’s First Amendment, it hasn’t stopped congress from flirting with the idea of pressuring social media platforms to takedown things when they don’t agree with it.
For example, Senator Warren and other Democrats have also sent sternly worded letters to Facebook asking why the platform doesn’t censor more climate change “misinformation” and the Biden campaign has called on Facebook to do more to shut down President’s Trump’s comments.
The chairman of the hearing, Congressman Adam Schiff posed a question to Cindy Otis, Vice President of Analysis at Alethea Group, the answer to which can probably define the range of censorship that the internet users will face in the coming future. Schiff asked about what all social media platforms don’t disclose to analysts, but otherwise should, to help them “do their work.”
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Otis said that it would be “extraordinarily” helpful if social media platforms share the complete details of the kind of content, pages, and groups that have been taken down. “As researchers, as analysts, one of the most important things for us is getting the data on what content, what accounts, what pages, and all of that have been removed,” answered Otis, calling on social media platforms to hand over data on banned content and users.
She went on to explain that Facebook does provide some amount of information, such as the account or page name, but only after it has been taken down. Otis says that it would be helpful if Facebook can also handover the content and other activity of the accounts, groups, or pages that have been suspended.
When social media platforms end up providing such information to analysts, it will supposedly help them closely study the trends and patterns in the content posted by accounts that are propagating any dissenting idea, trend, or controversy theory, and will likely help them find trends that they want to stamp out before they become mainstream. “Unless we were particularly tracking that threat or were part of that analysis to begin with, we’re not able to go back and identify the tactics and procedures that were used by threat actors to do this campaign in the first place.”
While on one end, Otis suggests that the data of banned accounts must be handed over to analysts, the Head of Analysis at Graphika Inc., Melanie Smith suggested that Big Tech platforms should be encouraged to restrict content on their platforms and restrict movements such as QAnon to alternative, small platforms.
“The best possible solution, here, when we restrict content on mainstream social media is that QAnon will retreat to the fringes, and therefore not be able to be exposed to new audiences and new communities that could be impacted,” said Smith. And what’s more – it just doesn’t stop there.
Smith says that even alternative “fringe” platforms must be compelled to restrict such content, which invariably translates to complete censorship and eradication from the face of the internet. “We need to be talking to more alternative platforms about restricting content and making a concerted effort in that space,” suggested Smith.
All-in-all, combining the recommendations of Smith and Schiff gives us a formula to the kind of censorship that is notches above what we are currently seeing.