Silicon Valley Censorship
I recently found that taxpayer dollars are being used to censor my website -- on taxpayer-subsidized Amtrak. Their nannyware wouldn't let people riding the train onto my site.
There's a whole lot of pre-emptive nannying going on. In The New York Times, Evgeny Morozov writes in an op-ed:
A BASTION of openness and counterculture, Silicon Valley imagines itself as the un-Chick-fil-A. But its hyper-tolerant facade often masks deeply conservative, outdated norms that digital culture discreetly imposes on billions of technology users worldwide.
What is the vehicle for this new prudishness? Dour, one-dimensional algorithms, the mathematical constructs that automatically determine the limits of what is culturally acceptable.
Consider just a few recent kerfuffles. In early September, The New Yorker found its Facebook page blocked for violating the site's nudity and sex standards. Its offense: a cartoon of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Eve's bared nipples failed Facebook's decency test.
That's right -- a venerable publication that still spells "re-elect" as "reëlect" is less puritan than a Californian start-up that wants to "make the world more open."
And fighting obscenity can be good for business. Impermium, a Silicon Valley company that helps Web sites deal with unwanted reader comments, has begun marketing technology that identifies "all kinds of harmful content -- such as violence, racism, flagrant profanity, and hate speech -- and allows site owners to act on it in real-time, before it reaches readers." Impermium will police the readers -- but who will police Impermium?
Apple, too, has strayed from its iconoclastic roots. When Naomi Wolf's latest book, "Vagina: A New Biography," went on sale in its iBooks store, Apple turned "Vagina" into "V****a." After numerous complaints, Apple restored the title, but who knows how many other books are still affected?
True, these books are still on sale. Unlike the good old United States Post Office, which once confiscated "Lady Chatterley's Lover" and other books it deemed too lewd, Silicon Valley does not engage in direct censorship. What it does, though, is present ideas and terms that have gained public acceptance as something to be ashamed of. Silicon Valley doesn't just reflect social norms -- it actively shapes them in ways that are, for the most part, imperceptible.