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User-Generated Censorship

Location: 2002 Level: Novice

Traditionally censorship has come from “on high,” via powerful institutions like governments, school boards, churches, and corporations. But over the past five years we’ve seen a reversal of this trend, as social media networks make it possible for censorship to come from below, via groups of users who flag content as “inappropriate” and get it removed or hidden.

Flagging is one way social sites create filters to eliminate noise and prevent harm. However, its implementation often mirrors the problems of censorship from on high: it can be arbitrary; it places a burden on unpopular speakers; and it is difficult for the censored parties to appeal when they’ve been unfairly silenced. Newitz will discuss how user-generated censorship works, and explore strange new trends in speech-eradication, by looking at examples from Flickr, YouTube, Craigslist, Digg, LiveJournal, and in a large wiki community. User-generated censorship has the potential to become a completely transparent process in a way that censorship from on high never is.

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Ars Technica

Annalee Newitz is a writer who covers the social impact of technology and science. She contributes to Wired, Popular Science, and New Scientist, and writes the syndicated column Techsploitation. She is co-editor of the book She’s Such a Geek, a former policy analyst at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and currently president of Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility.