Should Tech Giants Police “Hate Speech” Online?
There’s a semi-serious adage in journalism: “For any headline that asks a question, the answer is ‘No.’” Test it against the headlines you see each day and you’ll find it’s uncannily accurate. “Can cell phones give you brain cancer?” No. “Is Comcast customer service improving?” No. So it should come as no surprise that the answer to my headline’s question is not “No.” It’s really, “Heck, NO!” Read on for the scoop…
Are Tech Companies Censoring You Online?
Microsoft, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube have joined (that is, “caved in to”) the European Commission in an agreement to implement a “code of conduct” that pledges the companies will remove or block any “hate speech” within 24 hours of its discovery on their Internet properties.
The European Commission considers its code of conduct to be binding upon all “IT companies” operating within the EU’s borders, not just the four social networking giants who have signed on to it officially. The code of conduct also requires IT companies to:
Develop internal procedures and staff training to implement the code; strengthen their partnerships with civil society organisations (CSOs) which will help in flagging content which promotes incitement to violence and hateful conduct; identify and promote independent ‘counter narratives’, ‘new ideas and initiatives, and support educational programs that encourage critical thinking’ with the Commission; and share best practices with other internet companies, platforms and social media operators.
That part about “partnerships with CSOs” and “educational programs” make my Spidey sense tingle, too. It appears that tech companies operating in the EU are now expected to kowtow to any hypersensitive special interest group that takes offense at anything. European citizens who disagree with a government policy, or hold a minority opinion on social issues may find themselves silenced or re-educated.
The idea of social networks developing “counter narratives,” meaning propaganda campaigns, in cooperation with the EU government’s effort to shape what people think and say is simply terrifying. Facebook manipulated the stories that appeared in nearly a million users’ Newsfeeds as long ago as 2011, to see what effect such manipulations had upon users’ behavior. When Facebook got caught, the backlash was so outraged that the company had to issue an abject apology.
"It is clear now (in October, 2014) that there are things we should have done differently," wrote Facebook CTO Mike Schroepfer. Apparently, he and a lot of other tech execs have forgotten what was clear then! The EU’s code of conduct requires companies to do the same thing - manipulate or filter the information that users see in order to influence their behaviors.
In related news, Facebook announced on June 2, 2016, its new, advanced artificial intelligence (AI) dubbed “DeepText.” This software system is supposed to be “near human” in its understanding of 20 languages and the contexts in which human remarks are made. In other words, DeepText is supposed to be able to tell when you’re just joking about a bomb and when you really have one in your carry-on bag, just by reading your Facebook posts.
Another use for DeepText is in comprehending when one person’s words may offend, alarm, or sadden another person. Facebook hopes that DeepText will enable it to flag “potentially hurtful” words before they appear in anyone’s newsfeed.
If that doesn’t make Americans fear for the First Amendment’s life, I don’t know what will. When it comes to freedom of speech, Facebook is arguably more important than Congress. If a Congresscritter votes for a law that we The People don’t like, we can vote to replace him with someone who represents our interests. But nobody at Facebook is accountable to us, The People, and governments can exert more powerful pressures on corporations than individuals can.
The Slippery Sloper is Getting Slicker
Last but not least, I am perturbed by the prospect of European standards of “free speech” creeping into the United States, just as some people are worried about Sharia law infiltrating our legal system. Europe has never had a First Amendment; it is considered normal, even desirable, for government to decide what kinds of speech can be punished. I don’t want that sort of thinking to become “normal” here. Do you?
Europe also lacks a Fourth Amendment, the one that safeguards U. S. citizens against “unreasonable” searches and seizures of their “papers and effects.” The Fourth Amendment is virtually eviscerated in the U. S. now, after decades of relentless attacks on it by police, prosecutors, judges and lawmakers. The latest devastating blow was delivered on May 31, 2016, by the full panel of judges on the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, based in Richmond, VA.
By an overwhelming vote of 12-3, the panel ruled that law enforcement does not need a search warrant to obtain all the information about you that your cellular service provider collects and stores. Research has shown that information can reveal a lot more about you than you may want anyone to know, e. g., where you live, where you work, when you travel, who you meet with, who you sleep with, and, of course, your physical location at any moment. None of this is protected by the Fourth Amendment, according to this unappealing court of appeals.
Well-justified fear of customer backlash has kept tech companies fighting for customers’ privacy rights here in the U. S. But in Europe, the same companies are collaborating with the EU government to not only censor speech but also to invade customers’ privacy. Once it’s done over there, it may well creep over here to infect tech executives’ thinking in the USA.
Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below...
This article was posted by Bob Rankin on 7 Jun 2016
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Article information: AskBobRankin -- Should Tech Giants Police “Hate Speech” Online? (Posted: 7 Jun 2016)
Copyright © 2005 - Bob Rankin - All Rights Reserved