Last updated: How censorship is shaping the evolution of the web

How censorship is shaping the evolution of the web


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It can seem – not without reason – that my parent’s generation thought and did more about civil liberties, censorship and The Man than we ever will. In most of the developed world, the fight seems to have gone out of people. The outrage and righteous fury is still there, but instead of getting physical our first stop is usually the web.

Here’s where the people have the power. We’ll shame wrongdoers by telling the world about their misdemeanors, sign online petitions, and post daily our outrage to Facebook, but we’re probably less likely to actually leave the house and join a picket line to support a cause.

When what you’re saying comes under focus, the vox populi is the only one that counts – and woe betide you if you get it wrong or overstep the mark. Ask any comedian from Lenny Bruce to Chris Rock, the audience is barometer, judge and jury. If you cross the line from obscene to offensive, you’ll soon find out, and you don’t even have to say a rude word to do it.

If you’re going use social media, then embrace it. Listen to what your customers have to say – don’t shut them down

This is exactly what I love about social media. You can go as far as the rest of the users allow you to, but there’s a cut off. It’s largely self-regulating. If you don’t want to see certain language or rhetoric, don’t go to sites that welcome them. Thanks to the ‘block’ button, you can rant and rave until you’re blue in the face, but if I’ve chosen to ignore you, I simply won’t see it.

Censorship on top of this is not only unnecessary, but heavy-handed and ultimately self-defeating.

For companies and individuals alike, it also shows a certain lack of robustness, a fragility. A mate of mine had his Twitter account suspended recently after he insulted David Cameron over a certain tabloid rumor. But all that does is make whoever handles the Tory social media look weak and petty for complaining in the first place – and tells my mate he scored a point. When you respond to a troll, you feed it. It’s like Vito Corleone says in The Godfather: “Never tell anyone outside the family what you’re thinking.”

So how should you handle an attack? Try just rising above it. I see more and more cases of companies effectively censoring their social media. It’s a small thing, but this micromanagement is insidious and dangerous – and lacks authenticity. To remind you of “sticks and stones” is a tad simplistic, but I think we can afford to have confidence in our audiences to spot the idiot in the room.

Recently I wrote a LinkedIn post that touched on politics. Nothing too hairy or controversial, but while comments were almost entirely positive (or at least the argument was civilized), a couple of bad apples soured the mood and some pretty inflammatory things were said.

The audience did a great job of regulating the debate, but when it moved from forthright opinions to abuse, I simply took the piece down. It’s not something I did lightly, but I didn’t need to get my hands dirty only deleting certain comments, or take it personally and have people blocked. The Big Bad Wolf isn’t half as scary when you’re the one with the axe.

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