Censorship should not be in the eye of the beholder

I just stumbled on this provocative statement at a website:

We invoke the spirit of free and radical inquiry with the least amount of censorship, whilst preserving high standards in quality control.

Somehow it struck me as oxymoronic.     Not that “high standards of quality control” would *necessarily* mean that they’d edit according to some sort of ideological or thought standards, but it just seemed like they were leaving open that possibility.    Most online censorship takes the form of anti spam measures – which we almost universally approve of.     Other much more questionable forms are “you are off topic”.   I try to avoid making that type of decision.    However when blogging the Kim tragedy I practiced some harsh censorship by completely banning comments from a guy who initially was thoughtful but became abusive with his comments.     I don’t regret that decision, but clearly I was practicing censorship of his point of view.   I don’t like notion that censorship has a clear line of distinction from other editorial forms.   Rather I think it’s clear that everybody practices censorship of various forms, and what we need editors to do is explain which forms they apply rather than try to explain why their brand of censorship is not censorship but is some form of quality control.

Related was a legitimate but annoying form of censorship/spam control hit me yesterday and I was clueless until the webmaster explained what happened.

I tried to write something in response to a silly comment over at RealClimate.org which included the word “Socialistic”.   The spam filter was NOT being political however – can you find the drug in the word?

so cialis tic

11 thoughts on “Censorship should not be in the eye of the beholder

  1. We invoke the spirit of free and radical inquiry with the least amount of censorship, whilst preserving high standards in quality control.

    Interesting clarification. They don’t wish to be known as censors, but will control content if need be; in effect they reserve the right to censor based on “quality”. SO biz-speak semantics. A TOS based on some subjective, “quality” factor could potentially be more restricting than the usual avoid obscenities, insults, etc.

    Most sites (a-list, or nay-list, political or techie) do tend to moderate and/or censor writing because of offensive/non-PC/political content, even when site owners/webmaster/moderators have the usual free-speech rights schtick posted somewhere. You see that on DailyKOS: those who are not Obama supporters, however polite or eloquent they may be, are “troll-rated”, if not marked with a virtual swastika. Pointing out the informal fallacy of bifurcation (that one does not support ObamaCo does not entail that one does support Commander McCain and ZionCorp.) doesn’t really avail.

    Few blogs are really competing with the New YorkTimes or LA Times, of course, and are more like information-entropy, rather than serious writing, whether journalistic or academic. There often appear to be sort of unstated moderating guidelines: something like comments should be “snarky”, as they say, and/or seem like something one might overhear in a Mountain View starbucks……

  2. Yes, a lot is unstated and I think that takes a toll on everybody. Daily Kos is, to me, guilty of a major blogging sin which is not only censoring for ideology but doing so explicitly.

    They have some bogus justification for filtering out conservative views, but in essence it creates a massive choir preaching to itself, which for me misses the whole point of why the new conversational media is so exciting.

    I think I’m intellectually happier here at my own little blog when people *disagree*, because it helps me understand the world better.

  3. Joe,

    I think your decision back on the Kim thread was the right one. The poster you “censored” was a disruptor. There is a big difference when you censor for stifling someone’s legitimate position as opposed to just telling someone to shut up…lol.

    You have always allowed varying viewpoints on your blog and I would hardly call what you did as “censoring”. Censoring is about controlling the message, viewpoint and forcing the sheeple to drink only your Kool-aid – kind of the way North Korea’s hardwires tv’s to just the state sponsored channels.


  4. I contend moderation of any sort–including moderation of insults, obscenities, racial epithets, even threats– poses a greater danger to civil liberties than does the offensive language itself. Words are not weapons. Those who recall the older bulletin boards/USENET might recall that threads were always open, and everyone was adamantly opposed to censorship of ANY type, and while that does lead to some ugly situations (hick or gangstaSpeak, and/or hardcore porn jpegs, etc), the no-moderation policy upholds the inherent good of Liberty.

    Moderation of any sort entails some type of value judgment, often arbitrary, subjective, biased etc. as one can perceive with DailyKOS, not to say some of the eco-boards, where any skepticism regarding St. Gore’s version of global warming or pop-green politics generally leads to deletion.

    Those few out in consumerland who ever valued the writing of the authentic counterculture—such as a Kesey, or HS Thompson, the beats, etc.—might recall the old battles against censorship and obscenity statutes (and there were many a do-gooder democrat in those black robes as well as republicans). One might argue that moderated blogs signify the encroachment of J-Edgarocracy: and many vichycrats (think Feinstein, Harman) have marched right alongside the GOPers in agreeding to more surveillance and control of the Net……

  5. Horatiox where do you stand on censoring pure spam stuff – eg ads for Viagra? Without eliminating those almost every comment area would be overwhelmed. But when we get rid of those we have the slippery slope of when commercial speech crosses the line.

    Hmmm — I suppose an interesting system might keep every comment, no matter how offensive or commercial, but then flag them such that a user could turn filters “on” or “off” as you can with Google search.

  6. Filters of some type might be needed (as with the email filters now in effect) for ads, spam, or malware. At the same time, a few ads (say ad sense stuff) are not that horrible. I do not favor the word-verification apps, however, nor the mandatory login-registration common to many sites. They supposedly prevent spam, but at the same time they may prevent communication of various sorts: it’s a good way to eliminate dissent as well.

    At least in political terms, moderation and closing down communication, whether at personal/regional blogs or a-list political or tech sites, often creates a clique, if not virtual frat house. The regs take over, and it’s nearly like a union, with seniority etc. One can perceive this process in effect at Slate/Fray, or DailyKOS (sort of a case study in blogging incompetence).

    The Fray, a bit more open than most poli-blogs, has itself grown ever more cliqueish–or bureaucratic. It’s interesting to imagine some Slate-like sites eventually taking on the big newspapers, TV, etc. but I don’t think that’s likely to occur; besides, even the Slate has a staff of paid regs, and then the chumps shouting at each other on the Fray, the comments mostly forgotten in a few minutes.

  7. Horatiox,

    I agree with you to a certain extent. I definitely agree about the you must register and log in type sites…that gets very annoying. I like Joe’s approach here where you just need to provide a name and email and there is no real login process.

    I think the line needs to be drawn when you clearly have someone who is intent on being a disruptor. There were so many intense conversations on the Kim threads and we really had amazing contacts directly with the SAR folks and people in the news about the story. There is another board in the area that is local but since it was totally un-moderated and the disruptors were allowed free reign there the key people involved in the story would not participate over there.

    If Joe hadn’t taken the steps to weed out 1 or 2 people in particular the overall value of the discussions would have dropped significantly and quite frankly many of us would have just walked away.

    IMO – moderating out a disruptor is key to maintaining a level of decency, quality and overall thoughtfulness especially with a very serious and sensitive subject like the Kim story.

  8. Some censorship is absurd: The Pen Is Mightier Than The Sword is often censored because the computer program automatically ignores the space between Pen and Is. Also I once was asked to summarize a doctor’s lecture and I equated the consumption to alcohol by using the comparison to “two cocktails”… the word was on a banned list and so my entire report was lost to cybercensorship.

    Someone with a new and refreshing idea can be viewed as a ‘disruptor’ but usually it is the manner of his expression or his persistence that causes him to achieve that status. A different viewpoint is sometimes welcomed since that is often how progress is made. However obviously malicious and oft-repeated criticisms simply does merit the use of that delete key.

    We all make mistakes in our navigation on unfamiliar roads, we all have our coffee cups too close to the keyboard, we all have our backup systems utiized too seldom. Yet the disruptor’s comments were an annoying distraction rather than a serious treatment of the issue. Several Alaskan editorials treated the issue more wisely when two experienced hikers (one with a cell phone) were lost in Denali. Local communities that depend upon tourist dollars don’t like hearing comments about “its the hikers own fault, let them fend for themselves”. The local merchants who seek tourist-dollars have a much more generous viewpoint toward their customers than that disruptor kept harping on and on about.

    We all tend to stray off topic from time to time; we all tend to focus on different viewpoints and we all tend to give different weights to various facts available to us. Sensible discussions dont really need censors … MOST of the time. Once a disruptor is allowed to persist, serious contributors can wander away in disgust and frustration. The loss of the serious contributors is too great a price to pay.

  9. Nobody really favors censorship… its simply that a disruptor does not have to “yell fire in a crowded theater”. A disruptor can pretty much achieve the same result by simply muttering obscenities over and over. Everyone heads for the exits.

  10. Yeah good point. Bloggers might define disruption in various ways, however–often somewhat arbitrarily. The obvious lewd or obscene or harrassing comment is one thing: but being moderated and censored for, say, calling Obama’s “tire inflation solution” to energy problems simple-minded if not moronic will might get you labelled as disruptor as well, if not crypto-klansman. You see this on KOS as well: ask one of the regs to prove or verify in some way some grand speculation or theory, and the troll ratings (and tasty roadkill recipes) soon follow…….

    (what’s funny is that many of the eco-crats (probably Al Gore fans) are running with this tire inflation hype. It doesn’t take Steven Hawking to realize that it’s highly unlikely BO and his staff really know what the tire inflation ratios actually are across the USA. That doesn’t stop the guestimates and quick fix-speak. Few if any of the eco-crats for BO have bothered to post any data, of course)

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