LOS ANGELES — From moves by the U.K. and other governments to mandate online age verification, to fears over potential restrictions on adult entertainment by the incoming U.S. administration, a range of content consumers and creators are eyeing the future of digital media freedom.
While these issues historically focused on fringe and unlawful materials, such as images of child sexual abuse and “extreme” hardcore pornography, an increasing effort is underway to tailor all content to the whims of consumer’s locality — suppressing cultural, political, and social discourse seen as unfavorable to (or un-favored by) the local regime.
One easy example comes from Facebook’s reported development of an automated censorship tool that will cleanse its feeds of objectionable content on behalf of the Chinese government and other entities emanating from what it calls “specific geographic areas.”
Banned from China in 2009, with that audience exploding in volume in the ensuing seven plus years, Facebook has ample motivation to do whatever it takes to gain a foothold in this vital market in hopes of finding the social network’s next billion users, while protecting access to its existing worldwide user base.
In the U.S., the company portrays its content censorship initiatives as battling “fake news,” and an effort to suppress individual views on current events in favor of acceptable, official versions of the truth — an effort of concern to freedom of speech and journalistic rights advocates.
For its part, Facebook offers an interactive “government requests” map that reveals global censorship actions it has taken on behalf of lawmakers.
The report reveals Facebook squelched “97 items in compliance with legal requests from the [U.K.’s] Gambling Commission,” along with 56 items “allegedly violating the integrity of the Russian Federation and local law which forbids activities such as mass public riots and the promotion and sale of drugs.”
While it presented no U.S. data from 2016, Facebook reveals it received more than 19,000 requests from U.S. law enforcement agencies covering more than 30,000 users in 2015, with the company providing data for more than 84 percent of these requests.
One thing is certain, as we prepare for a New Year, a new set of restrictions are on the way, both from the governments that rule us, as well as from the companies that purport to serve us — with adult’s freedom of information hanging in the balance.