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Using platforms encourages internet censorship

Posted in: Matthew's Tech Posting

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Since politicians figured out how disruptive the internet in politics and how people outside of established power structures (outside government and media circles) can swing public opinion. There have been increasing attempts by governments worldwide to “regulate” (read as censor) it.

In Britain, there was a plan put forward by New Labour in 2008 for every website to have a “Film-style age ratings”, to “protect children from harmful and offensive material”.

Those plans went nowhere. However, in 2013, the Tories introduced internet censorship under the guise of fighting copyright infringement. ISPs were ordered to block many torrent and file sharing websites.

That was more of a trial run for future planned censorship. All was needed was a convenient excuse to allow a slippery slope to more censorship or several excuses.

The 2016 US elections gave rise to the term “Fake News”. With many on the left-wing who formally were pro-internet freedoms, demanding that something was done about Russian Fake news. Thinking it caused Donald Trump to be elected US president.

With libertarians now demanding censorship of “fake news”. Traditional media saw an opportunity to gain back their power to sway public opinion. Leading to many news outlets taking a extremely anti-internet bias (even “unbiased” outlets, like the BBC).

Previously positive stories about the internet furthering progress of humanity were replaced with scare stories. Suddenly, the internet was a scary place filled with Russian hackers, porn, hatred and fake news. Ignoring that, almost all (if not all) of those criticisms could apply to mainstream media.

A censorship charter

The UK introduced the “Online safety bill”. A bill that claims to make Britain the Safest place online. A censorship law that threatens platform owners with prison if Ofcom decides they “grossly” in not following guidelines.

That could include anything from “fake news,” to “hate speech” to terrorism and anything in-between (the law is extremely vague).

British parliament has proven that the “Online safety bill” is about censorship, rather than “safety” by including political censorship into the law.

The law claims to be fighting the “abuses” of big-tech, while making it impossible for the average to even set-up a discussion forum. A single person cannot write many complex risk assessments. Won’t be able to afford automated moderation tools or afford the $1/user age verification required.

Unpaid forum owners or moderators will not risk a fine or prison sentence if Ofcom decides they count as “executives” of the forum. Your only option will be to use Facebook pages for your community. So much for being an anti-big-tech bill…..

And yes, it appears Mastodon instances will also have to comply with this law, just like Twitter. Same strict rules apply to both.

How platforms enable internet censorship

A decade ago, to censor the internet. A country would have to invest in an expensive “firewall”. Run by a large (and expensive) group of censors who decide what needed adding or removing from the blacklist. That from a list of millions of websites, some of which will also attempt to evade censorship.

That monitoring and more intensive surveillance required comes at significant cost. China can hide that costs from the end user though its network of nationalised companies. Western countries have network run by private companies. The costs associated with a western firewall would fall on customers.

Now that the internet has centralised into a few platforms (think; Facebook, TikTok, Twitter and YouTube), censorship has become far-cheaper. There is no longer the need for a massive team of staff to maintain a national firewall.

Those companies will bow down to any censorship demands the government makes if enough threats are made to make them comply. That could include threats of financial penalties or threatening to throw employees in jail. Both of which is covered under the “Online safety bill”.

With platforms in charge, people are powerless to stop pro-censorship laws being passed. Mainstream media will provide the propaganda for an opt-out (also provided in the “Online safety bill”).

Your average joe will keep using the platforms without the care that doing so indirectly takes away their rights to free speech online.

The only way to fight bad laws is to make them too expensive to enforce. That, however, will be a topic for another day.

Published: 31st of January 2023

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