Editing or censoring? Editing, argued Dan Gillmor in a recent post for The Atlantic. By removing photos and videos of James Foley’s beheading from their channels, Twitter and YouTube actively refused to participate in the spread of murderous propaganda carried out by irrational religious fanatics. Because (as far as we know) they were not ordered to remove the content by a government, it should be considered editing, not censorship, Gillmor said.
I was onboard at that point, following along, nodding my head, briefly pausing now and then to consider semantics.
Did Twitter and YouTube do the right thing? I think they did. Should we consider it editing instead of censorship? I don’t take issue with the distinction since I do usually associate censorship with government censorship and immediately think of China and Baidu, or a room full of North Koreans staring at Google’s homepage, keyboards untouched, while the VICE cameras roll, knowing full well that hitting “enter” would result in life imprisonment, maybe even execution (at 15:45). Censorship has a sinister connotation, and that just didn’t seem to be the case in this particular instance. However, if someone were to disagree, they’d be justified in doing so since censorship, by definition, does not require government intervention.
There was a reason Gillmor distinguished between editing and censoring. He wanted to address the precedents set when we appoint these mammoth platforms as unchecked gatekeepers. Usually, in less intense circumstances, the decision-making process would be more akin to editing than censoring.
When we allow the likes of Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook to dictate what information we consume, we give rise to “a concentration of media power that will damage, if not eviscerate, our tradition of freedom of expression.”
That’s where he lost me.
What tradition is that? It’s a good ol’ days way of looking at an issue. Oh, how we miss the days when a few major newspapers and three television networks from which we consumed all news had no agenda and presented an unfiltered worldview! (more…)