Kevin Bae

Non-Social in a Socially Networked World

Brookings Institution continues its push to censor your podcast

The Brookings Institution is not calling it censorship. They’re calling it moderation. But anyone paying attention over the past 6 years knows moderation is newspeak for censorship. The litany of stories from the Charlottesville “very fine people” bullshit, the Trump Russian Collusion hoax, the SARS-CoV-2 not created/created in a lab theory, effective/ineffective COVID-19 mRNA vaccines, to the Hunter Biden laptop non-story/story shows content moderation didn’t help but hindered truth. Big tech and social media companies came out to silence people expressing opinions different from “official” government sources. The United States and the World were worse for it.

They floated their trial balloon last August. Now they’re making their plans more clear. They’re not just coming after the podcaster they’re coming after the podcast app developers. They’re only mentioning Apple and Spotify by name but it’s clear to me they’re targeting independent app developers.

For starters, podcasting apps need to develop far more nuanced and transparent policies for the kinds of content that users can download and play. Podcasting applications have long argued that because they typically do not host content themselves, they operate more like search engines than a traditional social media network or file-sharing service. That is undeniably true. But major search engines like Google and Bing still have well-developed guidelines for the kinds of content they will surface in search results, and those guidelines go well beyond blocking illegal content alone. By comparison, Apple’s podcast guidelines for illegal or harmful content are enumerated in a paltry 188 words. One of the guidelines includes a prohibition on “defamatory, discriminatory or mean-spirited” content but gives no indication of how these terms are defined. In stark contrast to YouTube and Spotify, there are no policies at all for managing election- and COVID-related misinformation. 

Podcasting applications should also have clear guidelines for what kinds of podcasts the app itself will recommend. Along with word-of-mouth, users tend to discover podcasts through a given app’s “most popular” feature (e.g., Apple’s “Top 100” list) or a “personal recommendations” feature (e.g., Apple’s “You Might Also Like” section). By definition, these features will not recommend content that has already been removed. But without further guidelines, they may recommend so-called “borderline” content that comes close to violating an application’s guidelines without actually doing so. By way of example, consider a podcast that falsely claims vaccines are responsible for mass infertility. Such a podcast would not violate, say, Spotify’s prohibition on podcasts that claim vaccines cause death—and therefore would not be blocked within the Spotify app. But that does not mean Spotify’s algorithms should still actively promote and recommend to its users a podcast linking vaccines to infertility. Just as YouTube and other platforms have developed separate guidelines for the kinds of content their recommendation algorithms can promote, so too major podcasting apps like Spotify and Apple Podcasts should develop nuanced policies around the kinds of podcasts they are comfortable playing in their app but not amplifying across their user base. 

Policy recommendations for addressing content moderation in podcasts (

Notice in the Brookings article they highlight Charlie Kirk, Joe Rogan, and Dan Bongino. While Rogan is not a conservative he’s been labeled as such because of his conversations surrounding COVID and free speech issues. They don’t seem concerned about speech having to do with Critical Race Theory, promoting transgender ideology to minors, or January 6 political prisoners. You know what thought and speech is being targeted here.

The main author of all these Brookings stories on podcast regulation is Valerie Wirtschafter. Look at this rundown of articles.

Ms. Wirtschafter teaches political science and social media to college students. She’s shapes the thoughts of young people. I never heard of her but she’s got to be someone to watch as our government overlords start muzzling us.

She’s smiling as she goes after your right to speak

If you don’t own your domain name, RSS feed, and know how to host files you won’t be able to say anything controversial. I expect a license to publish anything on the Internet to be the next step in the evolution of this new regulatory regime that’s coming.

I see three main areas that will make it easy to silence almost everyone.

  • App developers
    • Developers will be required to implement a standard set of moderation rules.
  • Hosting companies
    • Hosting companies will be required to remove content that violates the standard set of moderation rules.
  • ISPs
    • ISPs will be required to block violators of the standard set of moderation rules from posting content online. Or if they can’t prevent posting content they will be required to report the offenders to federal authorities.

This will be accomplished by instituting regulations through the FCC requiring anyone who wishes to publish online to get a license. It might be easy and inexpensive to get at first but within 10 years it will be cost prohibitive for anyone to obtain this license.

Image by 愚木混株 Cdd20 from Pixabay