Have you ever had a post removed from Facebook,Twitter or Instagram?
But this week, a group of researchers is launching a new tool for reporting instances of social media censorship.
'These companies now have as much control over our speech as the state or the church did in the past.' - Jillian York, Co-Founder of OnlineCensorship.org
OnlineCensorship.org was founded by Jillian York of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a group that advocates for internet freedom, and Ramzi Jaber of Visualizing Impact, a firm that designs visual tools for presenting data. The new censorship tracker is designed to collect as much information as possible about what content gets taken down from social media.
Although each social media platform has its own terms of service, the rules governing what is and isn't acceptable can sometimes be opaque. By collecting data on what is removed, researchers hope to get a clearer picture of what censorship looks like on the social media platforms we use to communicate every day.
"Basically these spaces are where our daily interactions take place, and these companies now have as much control over our speech as the state or the church did in the past," said York.
Think you've been censored? Fill out a report
Starting Nov. 19, you'll be able to file a report on the new website.
It'll ask you a bunch of questions such as:
- Which social network are you using?
- What type of content was taken down?
- What language was it posted in?
- Was a new event associated with the post?
According to York, the survey is in-depth but users can choose to keep their answers confidential. You don't need to submit any personally identifying information if you don't want to.
Bringing social media censorship into focus
Once they have enough reports, York and Jaber are going to crunch the numbers.
The plan is to do a bunch of data analysis, to create data visualizations, and show what censorship looks like on social media platforms around the world. Because social media companies have to comply with local laws, the researchers are interested in how censorship works on both a country-by-country and topic-by-topic basis.
The goal here is understand how social media services enforce their terms of service: how they decide what's acceptable and unacceptable.
"I think it's really important for us to think what sort of commitment these companies owe us — not necessarily on a legal level, but on a moral or ethical one — to hold up free speech."