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Technology Thoughts

China silences its bloggers

I’ve written a couple of times on freedom of speech on the Internet and how its going to be taken away.

Here

And here

The threats of regulating and licensing speech are real and we’ve heard the increasing drumbeat of it in the last year. With Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and more de-platforming people for what they say, entire sites like Parler getting de-facto removed from the web by Amazon, Apple, and Google, and the blackballing of a sitting President of the United States (yes Trump was still President when he got blackballed) from all of social media, we have moved dangerously close to increasing the cost of speech on the Internet. I suspect we will follow China’s lead as we did with COVID-19 lockdowns and it will have a chilling effect across the Internet that will only benefit existing media, social media, and Internet giants.

Beginning next week, the Cyberspace Administration of China will require bloggers and influencers to have a government-approved credential before they can publish on a wide range of subjects. Some fear that only state media and official propaganda accounts will get permission. While permits have been needed since at least 2017 to write about topics such as political and military affairs, enforcement has not been widespread. The new rules expand that requirement to health, economics, education and judicial matters.

Associated Press

The culmination of COVID-19 and the controversy of government lockdowns and rushed vaccines caused social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube to either flag posts as misinformation or outright remove content from their platforms. It wasn’t done by government but by these organizations privately. Is it legal? Sure. Is it right? Absolutely not.

But how is this going to get applied to the rest of us? The push for “net neutrality” will mean a government takeover of the Internet with regulation. The push has been on for years. I suspect the FCC at some point will step in and nothing will be safe. They will eventually require everyone to have a license to publish content that is publicly accessible from the Internet. That means websites, blogs, social media, and even podcasts.

Podcasts, the last bastion of free expression. It’s the hardest to moderate (because there are no moderators for independent podcasts) and the hardest to regulate and will come under increased scrutiny. We already have media organizations like ProPublica and The Verge posting stories about this. So-called journalists are advocating for less free speech because they believe that some speech is right and other speech is wrong. What they don’t get, and I blame our piss poor education system, is that one day it will be applied to them.

While social media companies have become more willing over the past few months to censor accounts that engage in hate speech, podcasts are still largely unmoderated. Part of that has to do with the industry’s structure: The main podcast portals merely index the shows, like Google indexes websites. Despite canceling Bannon’s YouTube channel, Google Podcasts still indexes “War Room.” (Apple accounts for more than half of the number of podcast streams, with Spotify a distant second.)

ProPublica

A disparate network of companies makes up the podcasting world, including apps, hosting services, sales teams, and networks. Moderation will need to happen across these companies to be effective, and in this current moment, that effort doesn’t work the way it does at tech monoliths like Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube, which can remove someone with a push of a button. Put simply, podcasting isn’t ready for full-scale, widespread moderation — if that’s even what the industry wants.

The Verge

Broadcast, print, cable, big tech, and big social media will align forces to raise the barrier to entry for independent content producers (“creators” if you like). I believe they will put pressure on the government to introduce regulations over the Internet in order to prevent Joe Schmo from publishing his thoughts and gaining an audience. Their motives won’t be to prevent “misinformation” or “fake news” it will be to protect their advertising revenue and prevent competition from being able to gain a foothold.

Right now absolutely anyone can start a website, blog, or podcast with virtually no extra money than they already spend every month. You can get your own domain name, host your site, and launch your podcast for less than $20/month using services such as Dreamhost (where this blog is hosted) and using a laptop or a phone. That’s literally all you need to start. If you want to do it for nothing you can use free services like WordPress to host your site and use a public computer at a library.

Once the heavy hand of government comes down all that goes out the window. I used to be in broadcasting. The book of regulations is huge. The cost of licensing, maintaining your license, and complying with regulations is huge. Bring that model to the Internet and independent voices will be relegated to dark corners of the Internet or be found on local street corners or town centers handing out pamphlets.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay
Image by harshahars from Pixabay

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