Interesting debate going on at one of our websites about how to handle advertising coming in from Google adsense with themes that are presented in misleading, stupid, sensational ways. Often these ads are political and tend to be from the frothing-at-the-mouth right wing websites like NewsMax, where they routinely parody Obama.
Since we’ve had complaints about these ads (ie they offend some people and often annoy us), the question arises about what to do. This question is complicated by the fact that it was a *prospective advertiser* who complained to us, so I’m a bit concerned that our incentives in this case are getting aligned with one point of view over another. We don’t want political advertisers having a say in what their political opponents can or can’t say at our site.
I think my partner has come to a good compromise position which is to shut off the images and use the text only ads. He thinks this is NOT a form of censorship but I’d say it is – albeit an acceptable kind of censorship in cases like ours:
I also would say that if one narrows things to the censorship protections defined by free speech provisions of US Constitution the game changes since the supreme court generally argues that for legal purposes we are generally concerned with political censorship and not commercial speech or “hate” speech. Both of those are legally (and I think usually appropriately) censored.
Your definition of censorship is too narrow, a common frustration of mine. This lets people argue – totally speciously – that THEY don’t ever censor but OTHER people do.
Virtually everybody believes in some censorship – in fact I would argue emphatically that “zero censorship” is a sociopathic condition (e.g. child pornographers should be shot or imprisoned, people who routinely shout loud obscenities in public should generally be stifled).
So, is it censorship to limit the choices of people practicing free speech *in any way whatsoever* ? Of course it is!
Why? I direct you to the origins of the word “censor”.
Etymology: Latin, Roman magistrate, from censēre to give as one’s opinion, assess; perhaps akin to Sanskrit śaṁsati he praises
1: a person who supervises conduct and morals: as a: an official who examines materials (as publications or films) for objectionable matter b: an official (as in time of war) who reads communications (as letters) and deletes material considered sensitive or harmful 2: one of two magistrates of early Rome acting as census takers, assessors, and inspectors of morals and conduct
China is closing down access to various internet services as they approach they anniversary of the Tiananmen Square democracy protests in 1989. The early report from TechCrunch says that Twitter, Flickr, Bing, Live, Hotmail, Blogger have all been made hard to access via the “Great Firewall” filters. I did notice when in China last year that there are various programs like ‘Great Ladder” that allow people to bypass these filters, but obviously not many are going to have the combination of nerve and savvy to do this.
I believe that China’s censorship policies are probably counterproductive *even to the Chinese Government’s goals* in the long term, and I’d sure like to find a way for the internet community to make this clear to China’s leaders. Ironically China’s leadership has done a remarkable job transitioning away from the bulky, centralized, bureaucratic economy that had been stifling progress for decades. China’s citizens now enjoy a higher level of prosperity and *economic* freedom than they arguably have ever had in history. Much of this prosperity is the result of producing goods for the US market. What exactly does the government think will happen if they allow more open dialog in China? I’d suggest they’ll find this would tend to reduce the tensions created by unhappy citizens rather than increase them. Suppression of dissent in Tibet routinely brings international scorn to China, where a more open dialog will bring praise, respect, and support.
China needs to realize that the world’s fascination and respect for China’s culture and international influence will be enhanced by free speech, not reduced.
TechCrunch UK is reporting on this and I’m looking for more direct information now.
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?
TechCrunch is reporting today that China is redirecting internet searches from Google, Yahoo, and MSN and I assume all other engines – to Chinese search engine Baidu. However I can’t find anything but little anecdotal posts to support this. Looks to me like some videos and blogs have been affected, but that the big search engine issues may have related to a temporarily problem or testing of DNS stuff.
They suggest this may relate to the recent award given to the Dalai Lama I’d guess China is spending a lot of time thinking and experimenting with ways to maximize their search revenues, and this redirection, if it really did happen as dramatically as some suggest, would probably be testing ways to gather data on how well Baidu monetizes search compared to the agreements they have with other players.
Wait – here’s a blogger in Beijing, China saying that he’s getting to places TechCrunch says have been sent to Baidu, like Google. Not sure what’s up …
Is this a false alarm? I think so, though it might be another example of how China’s centralized socialist economy can create power and monopoly conditions the most ruthless old style US capitalists could only dream about. Increasingly control of the online landscape is control of the business landscape, and as China’s massive economic expansion continues it will be very interesting to see how the China wields her power.
Note – I just edited this post quite a bit thanks to the new info. Still dunno what’s going on.