The increasing amount of online traffic forces the platforms to apply censorship. It’s a complicated matter, which ignites a debate in the society.

By Michael Kaas Christensen, Junior Reporter at Center of Digital Youth Care
Kristian Lund from Center of Digital Youth Care has also commented on the censorship debate.

Alongside with the development of the Internet, both possibilities and problems have emerged. As Web 2.0 and the social media came to this world, the use of the Internet has grown further. Many social platforms, such as Facebook and Google provide the unseen possibilities to communicate with the rest of the world and that is something the users “like”. The social media has become an efficient communication tool and everything from election campaigns to personal projects is advertised there. In addition, the question is what is actually allowed to show at these platforms and that’s where the users and the platforms don’t always completely agree. On November 14 Facebook and Google met at Europahuset, the hotel and conference center in the heart of Copenhagen, to debate the subject of the Internet censorship. They were accompanied by plenty of politicians, media professionals and subject experts and that turned out to be truly interesting.

It’s hard to legislate on what can be set online. The platforms have built their own empires and therefore some believe they have the right to determine the guidelines. The Danish newspaper Berlingske and the writer Peter Oevig are among those, who have been banned from Facebook. “They’ve got monopoly on communication and can control what’s allowed to be said– says Lisbeth Knudsen, the chief editor at Berlingske.  
She made an important point. There is freedom of speech in Denmark, but that very freedom ends all of a sudden if one gets banned from platforms like Facebook. Facebook has the power, which is hard to defy when you’re a user. “It’s truly hard to make the rules of communication for people across cultures.” – says Thomas Myrup, Facebook’s Nordic policy manager. He does not find their present practice of censorship wrong, but he emphasizes that it could certainly get better. As this statement was announced, people across the hall were nodding their heads, because indeed it can get much better.

Huge amount of data is hard to control

An enormous amount of videos is being uploaded on YouTube around the clock from all over the world, and on Facebook there are made at least just as many status updates each minute.
They are victims of their own success. It’s hard to check everything with such a huge amount of data and mistakes can happen. I don’t think the problem is the result of the wrong rules, but rather the wrong interpretation. Things that are normal in one country can be a disgrace in another and that’s something that also was discussed on November 14. As a user, it’s hard to reach the implementing platform if one has already been banned from it. It makes it hard to express opinion on the web. Who knows where to draw the line and how do I find out? That question will remain for most users, because nobody wishes to be banned from the Internet. I don’t know the answer to that question yet, but I guess I will one day. It is hard to figure out where they draw the line, and what makes it even more confusing is that different social platforms have different thresholds.

According to Christel Sandemose, a member of the European Parliament, it will be hard to control the giants of the web. “We can’t control them, but we can control the way we use it.” Morten Loekkegaard (MEP) agrees with her, he also thinks we should look over Google’s and Facebook’s shoulder. He personally suggested appointing a jury or an ombudsman, who can inspect the cases of the unhappy web users. It’s a fantastic idea, but they risk getting too many requests. Instead of, for example using Facebook’s ‘Report’ button, it will be more straightforward to contact an ombudsman or similar. The human aspect of being able to see a face will encourage many users to choose the direct contact.

Things can get much better

According to Google and Facebook there’s enough going on to keep the two companies busy, perhaps even more than enough. They’ve gained monopoly on the modern online communication, perhaps without even knowing it and that comes with obligations. The tools they generate are developed just as much by the users as by the companies themselves. Wherever they see possibilities, so do the users and unless you know the users really well, it’s hard to predict what they will say or do. I don’t have a solution to that, but listening closely to the users is a good place to start. Even though it requires resources, they should analyze particular cases, along with showing that they do pay attention whenever a user is criticizing content. The ‘Report’ button, which is available on Facebook and some other platforms, is not considered as an actual way of communication by the users. The more cases Facebook analyze, the smarter they become and that should gradually lead to better censorship. The ‘Report’ button itself is not censorship, but the cases that get flagged should serve as an inspiration to it.

However, that requires us to report more. After all, Facebook and Google have made the button available and if we experience something offensive, we should definitely report it. ‘Great power comes with great responsibility’ and I believe the big web companies are about to realize that. Let’s hope they won’t remove my article because frankly speaking that would be a bit of a drag.