ON SOCIAL MEDIA AND DIGITAL CENSORSHIP
This last week I had the dubious distinction of having a post blocked from Facebook. I was involved in a discussion with a conservative friend of mine about an appropriate response to ISIS. Here is what I wrote¹:
They [ISIS] are not gaining power. They have
lay lost more territory than they have gained in the last year. At no point have I suggested inaction, but I absolutely disagree that we don’t have time for a rational response. An irrational response will be costly in lives and money and will not work. I don’t believe we can fight ISIS or al Qaeda or Boko Haram or any of a number of such groups the same way we fought Iraq or any other state actor. Yes, since they control territory there must be an on the ground military component, but that must be led by locals. Foreign troops on the ground become a propaganda poster for ISIS. Obama is right on this. Bombing is also dangerous. Every dead civilian, especially children or babies, is a recruitment tool. In the meantime, it’s up to western powers, and it does have to be an international program, to do the background work. Declaring “war,” is giving these guys too much credit. They can make the claim that they are warriors fighting some concept of a crusade. Structurally, ISIS resembles a criminal syndicate more than it does a nation state. What amounts to a pumped up Mafia should be treated as such. If we are going to treat ISIS as a very dangerous criminal organization, then western powers will have to fight them much like the US government fought the mafia and other organized crime syndicates. Go after their networks, their finances, their operatives, ultimately targeting their leadership and treating them as the criminals they are. Don’t give them an opportunity to be martyrs for their ridiculous cause. Put them in orange jumpsuits and show them for the criminals that they are. This also means that, instead of a military investment, western nations will have to invest in the structures and infrastructure that stabilize regions. This means supporting local democracy that selects its own leadership that is seen as legitimate in the eyes of the population, with legitimate and accountable policing authority (this sentence was changed for grammar). That means we may have to accept the consent of the governed in selecting their own leadership, even choosing to designate their own political boundaries. This leadership may be one which we have a bad history with. The boundaries they select may be problematic for our geopolitics. It will require diplomatic ties and international investment. Any perception that a puppet government is in charge, like that in Iraq, sets us up for a repeat performance, another ISIS, perhaps even more extreme than this one. I have no idea how that can play out in Syria. These governments will, out of necessity, have to be coalition governments that allow an equalization of representation. Look, these are not easy things. As much as conservatives like to blame Obama and liberals like to to blame Bush, the mess in these regions goes back almost a hundred years when the Allied Powers abandoned the principles of local sovereignty at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919. So we have a long history of nelgect, exportations exploitation and cultural mishandling to deal with. We’ve been playilng political chess in these regions for decades. The people resent us for justifiable reasons. Doesn’t justify ISIS’s actions. However, without the trust of local inhabitants, we are going nowhere. That means swallowing some national pride (not something conservatives are big on) and trying to make right generations of wrongs. It also means we need a two state solution in Israel/Palestine. No more blockade of Gaza. No more illegall settlements in the West Bank or no more subsidies for Israel. If Palestine does not have autonomy and real sovereignnty, there’s no room for the United States to be an arbiter of any kind of process in the Middle East. It may mean we’ll have to deal with national leaders we really don’t like, Hamas, Hezbollah, but we will have to incorporate them into a community of nations working toward similar goals. We don’t like them, but they have legitimacy among their own people that is necessary to preserve stability. It also means coming to terms with Russia. Our proxy conflicts with Russia have caused enough problems. There’s other variables to contend with, our unthinking alliance with Saudi Arabia, for one, but this is a start. No easy answers.
Now, as you can see, this is not a particularly radical statement. Yet, it was blocked. I could not get it to post even thought the initial posting was my own.
In the meantime, my conservative friends have had no problem posting some of the most hateful nonsense I’ve ever seen. I saw one post showing a picture of the Quran being burned. Another post, which I have published here, presenting a clear image of vehicular manslaughter in the context of the Ferguson protests. There are many more. None of them have ever been blocked and continue to circulate through social media unobstructed. Even my most conservative friend admitted that he “pushes the line,” and has never had any of his content blocked.
On the other hand, one of my friends had a post blocked because she was talking about breast feeding. Yep. There’ll be no mention of ta tas regardless of the context. Images of protesters crushed in the grill of semi are perfectly fine, but no boobs!
One of my students explained to me that my post was blocked by a “BOT” programed to scan Facebook and block certain content that is defined by an algorythm to be hate speech, obscene, etc. I’m not really sure what a BOT is, nor who writes the algorythm to be followed, but clearly something is wrong. That my post was defined as hate speech, because, according to my tech savvy student, I included certain words, or certain combinations of words that matched the hate speech profile, is clearly ridiculous.
Social media is a great mechanism for expanding debate. Yes, it’s frustrating to have to deal with moronic memes that spread intellectual vomit around the world at the speed of light, but there are also opportunities for enlightened discourse, for those who wish to participate. My friend and I were involved in just such a discourse, yet I was not allowed to participate.
This was one that George Orwell, to my knowledge, did not see coming. That digital BOTs would be roaming the internet at the speed of light, filtering thought through a lense created by some strange standard that allows hateful conservative thought to spread like wildfire, but blocks reasonable debate, is something even the master couldn’t have foreseen.
My student informed me that I can trick the BOTs by simply adding symbols in the middle of key words. For instance, instead of typing “ISIS” I might want to type “IS#IS.” This tricks the BOTs. He also suggested that I type my text in another format and screenshot it, posting it as a picture. The BOTs can’t recognized images. Maybe, just maybe, these BOTs are simply not qualified to censor human thoughts. We might want to consider the possibility that the BOTs responsible for regulating content on social media are just plain stupid.
- The writing above was a comment to a post on Facebook. Much of it was “written” using voice recognition. It was also a very quick survey of some of my thoughts. For the purposes of this blog I have edited some of the embarrassing stylistic blunders, but the content is unchanged.