Saturday, October 28, 2017

Community Standards?

Community guidelines. Content guidelines. Toxic. Removed for security reasons. What do they mean?

Benjamin Weingarten on October 26 posted a lengthy and very informative column on Gatestone on the subject of social media’s ongoing campaign to exorcize all criticism of Islam from the Internet, “Facebook, Social Media, Aiding Jihad: Censoring Those Who Counter Jihad.” His column is peppered with the aforementioned terms, which exist to help censors direct the campaign to protect and insulate Islam from criticism, or to simply prohibit it.

For the past few years, large social media and other online companies have been seeking to restrict or even criminalize content that could be construed as critical of Islam or Muslims, including when the material simply exposes the words and actions of radical Islamists. [Italics mine]

Social media and online companies are doing the dirty work of governments committed to turning Muslims into a protected class, and to treating Islam as a sacrosanct ideology not to be vilified or questioned. Except for the German government, most Western governments are shy of being accused of censorship. So they farm out the task to the private sphere and hold its feet to the fire of punishing fines if it fails in its duty to regulate speech by proxy. These companies and social media receive the blessing and sanction of governments that will not excoriate or cast Islam into a bad light. (Parenthetically, the term “radical Islam,” which occurs almost a dozen times in Weingarten’s column, is an invalid, redundant term, as Islam is already “radical.” To call Islam, which is a totalitarian ideology and only secondarily a religion, “radical,” is as ludicrous as calling Nazism or Communism “radical.”)

Weingarten goes on:

In September 2016, YouTube released new "Advertiser-friendly content guidelines," according to which: "Video content that features or focuses on sensitive topics or events including, but not limited to, war, political conflicts, terrorism or extremism, death and tragedies, sexual abuse, even if graphic imagery is not shown, is generally not eligible for ads. For example, videos about recent tragedies, even if presented for news or documentary purposes, may not be eligible for advertising given the subject matter." It is easy to see how such rules could be used against people trying to counter jihad.

In March 2017, Google revealed that it was seeking to improve its search function by having its 10,000 "quality raters" flag "upsetting-offensive" content. The data generating the quality ratings will then be incorporated into Google's algorithms for monitoring and forbidding content. Two months later, Google updated the guidelines for "non-English-language web pages." One example cited by Google as "upsetting-offensive" is a post titled "Proof that Islam is Evil, Violent, and Intolerant – Straight from the Koran..." In contrast, Google calls a PBS Teachers Guide on Islam a "high-quality article...with an accurate summary of the major beliefs and practices of Islam."

In August 2017, YouTube posted "An update on our commitment to fight terror content online," which is sure to put counter-jihadist content in its crosshairs

Imagine spending days or years researching, for example, how perhaps two million Europeans were kidnapped from their homes or villages by Muslim pirates or corsairs and enslaved by Muslim caliphs or sentenced to Muslim harems in the Mideast or North Africa, never to escape, but to die in captivity – only to have your work spiked or consigned to the black hole of non-existence by an anonymous “quality rater.” The finicky Google wonk could work just as well for Facebook.

Imagine spending days or years producing a scholarly work that demonstrates that Arab slavers were responsible for the deaths of millions of black Africans captured and force-marched under the whip to the Mideast or northern Africa, to perish enroute, or to be worked to death building palaces for the powerful Arab sheiks – only to have it called bigoted or racist and a violation of “community standards,” and banished from the Internet by an ignorant “quality rater.”

What are “community standards”?

Wikipedia writes that:

Community standards are local norms bounding acceptable conduct, possibly going beyond legal minimum requirements in relation to either limits on acceptable conduct itself or the manner in which the community will enforce acceptable conduct. Sometimes these standards can be itemized in a list that states the community's values and sets guidelines for participation in the community. Alternatively, informal standards may be imprecisely described as "I'll know it when I see it."

And what are a “community’s values”?  There is no fixed, written-in-stone expression of them anywhere. Drexel University focuses on obscenity, but does not address issues of suppressing criticism of Islam. Most universities have published their own “community stanards.”

The perceived need to regulate information dissemination in order to spare certain individuals from ideas of questionable acceptance can be found as far back as ancient Greek civilization, when Plato urged the suppression of “indecency” in the creative arts and called for the censor of writers (Heins, 2001, p. 3). Today, our modern society grapples with issues of defining constitutionally protected speech. The definition of and laws regarding obscenity are issues that the United States has continually revisited in recent decades. This paper begins with an exploration of the definition of obscenity in the United States, providing an historic overview of laws that have molded our current definition of what is legally considered obscene material, and exposes problems relating to the “community standards” aspect of the current legal definition. Additionally, this paper explores how libraries are affected by obscenity law in the current information age, with specific focus on the controversy surrounding Internet filtering in public libraries.

US Legal writes:

The term contemporary community standards is a standard used to test descriptions or depictions of sexual matters, which was first adopted by the United States Supreme Court in 1957 in Roth v. United States, 354 U.S. 476. In the Roth case, the Court put forth its test for determining whether a work is obscene as "whether to the average person, applying contemporary community standards, the dominant theme of the material taken as a whole appeals to prurient interest."

This will normally permit the use of county standards or federal district standards, if a federal case. In fact community standards may be utilized without reference to a precise geographical area.

Jurors are the judges of contemporary community standards, based upon their knowledge of the norms of the community from which they may come. The juror must also decide whether the "average person" in applying such standards would find that the disputed material appeals to "prurient interest" or is "patently offensive." Experts testimony may be used to testify about the nature of the contemporary community standards,' but such testimony is not constitutionally required.

Perhaps a better question might be: What is a community? Using the Google “definition,” a “quality rater” just might be an “average person.” He and his colleagues, none of whom could have an ounce of intellectual acumen, would constitute the “community” that sets the standards. These anonymous individuals would be of a finite number, working in specific geographical areas. They would decide what violates “standards” with the assistance of computer-generated algorithms, which would be determined and set by other anonymous individuals higher up the censorship food chain.

This community would be in constant conflict with outside communities, such as identified groups of counter-jihad writers or filmmakers. These groups would have individual names or would be corralled or labeled into arbitrarily assigned collectives identified as “hate speech groups,” or “Islamophobic” groups or “right-wing” groups or just plain bigots or racists. Echoes of The Southern Poverty Law Center. “Quality raters” would be the judges and juries – not any law – of whether or not certain speech or disseminated information violates vague, amorphous “community standards,” or “norms,” which could be applied to anything a “quality rater” and his supervisor may disagree with or just not like.

Weingarten comes to his main point, about how Internet censorship aids and abets jihadists, and writes:

That major technology companies are openly stifling the free speech of people trying to counter jihad is bad enough; what is beyond unconscionable is that they simultaneously enable Islamic supremacists to spread the very content that the counter-jihadists have been exposing.

According to the legal complaint, the names and symbols of Palestinian Arab terrorist groups and individuals were known to authorities, and "Facebook has the data and capability to cease providing services to [such] terrorists, but... has chosen not to do so."

A separate lawsuit claims that Twitter not only benefits indirectly by seeing its user base swell through the increase of ISIS-linked accounts, but directly profits by placing targeted advertisements on them.

When jihadist content is permitted to spread unchecked across the globe via cyberspace, it is a matter of national and international security. Tragically for Western civilization, its tech and media icons have been colluding -- even if unwittingly -- with those working actively to destroy it.

For the past few years, large social media and other online companies have been seeking to restrict or even criminalize content that could be construed as critical of Islam or Muslims, including when the material simply exposes the words and actions of radical Islamists.

Meaning that truth is the new “hate speech.”

The recent attempt by the digital payment platform, PayPal, to forbid two conservative organizations -- Jihad Watch and the American Freedom Defense Initiative -- from continuing to use the service to receive donations, is a perfect case in point. Although PayPal reversed the ban, its initial move was part of an ongoing war against the free speech of counter-jihadists -- those working to expose the ideology, goals, tactics and strategies of Islamic supremacists, and who are trying to defeat or at least to deter the Islamic supremacist global agenda.

I’m especially amused when I read that some speech has been deemed “toxic,” as though words, images, or ideas have the power of a dangerous chemical or gas to physically hurt or kill someone. Words, images (such as cartoons), and ideas, however, have no metaphysical, innate, or intrinsic power of toxicity, as mustard gas and  ethyl bromoacetate (tear gas) had in World War I. Further, the notion of “hate speech,” is similarly impotent, but then truth-telling has been deemed toxic “hate speech” purely on the hypothetical chance that some hyper-sensitive, Muslim snowflakes might be “offended,” or “insulted,” or feel demeaned or threatened by it.

Weingarten concludes his column with:

Yet one cannot deny the global reach and scope of Facebook, Google and the other Internet giants, which make it extremely difficult for dissatisfied customers to find or create an alternative. The fact is that in today's world, individuals and businesses barely are seen to exist without having a presence on these platforms. If such platforms wish, they can cripple those who dissent from their ideological orthodoxy.

This is problematic not only for political conservatives and counter-jihadists who are treated negatively by the major media firms. It is also worrisome from the point of view of freedom of expression. When jihadist content is permitted to spread unchecked across the globe via cyberspace, it is a matter of national and international security. Tragically for Western civilization, its tech and media icons have been colluding – even if unwittingly – with those working actively to destroy it.

Not to mention the FBI, the State Department, and other federal agencies dedicated to shielding Islam.

1 comment:

Edward Cline said...

There were two comments here. But they've disappeared.