Tuesday, September 13, 2016

On the Facebook Content Control System's Imposition of American Values

Scrapbook #2:  On the Facebook (FB) Content Control System's Imposition of American Values, regarding the Telegraph UK article, "Facebook is Imposing Prissy American Censorship on the Whole Rest of the World," by Jane Fae

Link to the article, which appeared in the Telegraph UK: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/2016/09/12/facebook-is-imposing-prissy-american-censorship-on-the-whole-res/

PDF of the same: https://drive.google.com/a/csumb.edu/file/d/0B3hQr_XgIHuEMjBEbEg0bDF2eE9uUS0tZ1lPX0E5SlRmN2c0/view?usp=sharing

Summary of the article:

Telegraph writer Jane Fae recounts the censorship that resulted, over the last week, in the summary removal of multiple FB posts in Norway of Nick Ut's iconic Pulitzer-prize winning, Vietnam war era photograph, "The Terror of War," which shows children, including a naked nine-year-old Kim Phuc, fleeing a napalm attack.  

The historical image continues to be deeply disturbing to this day and is poignantly recognized for its importance in revealing the harrowing reality of the war.  

Norwegian author Tom Egeland's FB account was suspended after he posted the photo with regards to a status concerning photos that "changed the history of warfare." Facebook has implemented algorithms for reviewing user-reported images in order to address accusations of bias, and child nudity is prohibited, in any case.  Protests over the suspension that were made on Egeland's behalf followed from prestigious places, firstly the editor-in-chief of Norway's largest newspaper, Aftenposten, and the Prime Minister of Norway, Erna Solberg.  Their posts were summarily censored, as well, causing outrage and resulting in accusations of abuse of power on the part of FB.

Fae describes the content control as haphazard and summary in nature. She further decries the imposition of American values on the rest of the world and particularly her native Britain via the editorial control FB wields, which she describes as "middlebrow frat boy liberalism."  Similarly, she writes, "So yes, laugh, but understand that Facebook's immense cultural influence is pervasive and pernicious: an anaemic American liberalism dressed up as high-mindedness which few people in government, until recently, have been prepared to stand up to."

Reason article was selected:

The impact of a globalized social network on a country's society and culture raises ethical questions.

Personal/social values at stake:

While it's acceptable to me that there should be some automation in censorship, based on guidelines, there should have been some humanized, thoughtful intervention made before the newspaper editor and prime minister had to get involved, and then, certainly, once they did, rather than a continuance in their posts' summary removals.

FB had good intentions when it attempted to prohibit publication of paedophilic images.  In this case, it should have thoughtfully considered that such does not apply, and that this image is one that must not be censored due to its historical importance.  However, I can see why there could be some doubt on the part of a censor who does not appreciate the context, and think it is understandably controversial.  The image is terrible.

I think it's unreasonable to request that FB go uncensored.  The company has no choice to then make the best guidelines it can or grant each country its own panel who can best determine what is right within their own locales.  Since FB is American and a company, however, they'll have to protect their legal interests and our nation's mores will undoubtedly shine through in rudimentary guidelines.  We are not as comfortable with nudity as the Europeans, who neither would accept this of children, which is not at issue.  For example, many Americans approve of and others object to the display of breastfeeding, while violence is depicted here with less qualms than in other parts of the world.  These are fair observations that the writer makes.

Currently, many Europeans charge that they are being beset by an onslaught of forces that are threatening their historical and cultural makeup, and to these claims I am very sympathetic.  I don't want to dismiss the writer's concerns as being a result of this general sentiment of late, and I am usually the first to criticize America when that criticism is due because I think we have a tendency to rest on our laurels and deny it when we are in the wrong, yet I can't agree with the reasonableness of these charges.  Our values are defensible and acceptable, in any case they are what they are, and the characterizations made are too harsh.  But, I can respect the need for localized censorship on a country by country basis, as well as a more personal censorship process that is less authoritarian, offensive or Kafkaesque.

Yet, I think FB's handling of the situation acknowledged that these issues are difficult, and that they are doing their best to protect, in this case, a value that we are proud to stand up for anywhere in the world, which is the vileness and wrongness of paedophilic images.  Furthermore, they should differentiate between countries who share our values to some extent and those that we consider repressive and unethical.

Credibility of sources:

The article is an op-ed from a reputable news source.

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