The web’s biggest content providers have started using automation to remove “extremist propaganda” videos from their sites.
YouTube (owned by Google) and Facebook are among the sites deploying systems to block or rapidly take down Islamic State videos and other similar material, sources said, though no company would confirm the action.
The technology employed was originally developed to remove copyright-protected content on video sites. It looks for “hashes,” unique digital fingerprints that Internet companies automatically assign to specific videos, allowing all content with matching fingerprints to be removed rapidly. Someone finds an offensive video, tags it, and then searches find other copies across the Internet.
Newly posted videos would be checked against a database of banned content to identify unauthorized information.
The system was kicked off in late April, amid pressure from an Obama White House concerned about online radicalization. Internet companies held a conference call to discuss options, including use of a content-blocking system put forward by the private Counter Extremism Project, a nonprofit controlled in part by George W. Bush Homeland Security Advisor Frances Townsend.
Get it yet?
Government and private industry will decide what content you (as well as journalists and academics) may see on the Internet. What is and is not allowable will be decided by a closed process, and will be automated. A database will be drawn upon for decision making.
Databases and tagging can be hacked/manipulated, perhaps by governmental intelligence organizations, maybe some bad guys, hell, even by advertisers to control what is available to you online.
Since content removed equals content prohibited, you’ll never know what you can’t see. The obvious slippery slope is in decisions about what is “extremist” and what is legitimate free, political speech that, while offensive, has a right to be heard and a place in the market of ideas.
So how about blocking all videos of police violence during say a Ferguson/Baltimore scenario, so as not to “inflame” a situation?
And even if Government A plays nicely, Government B may not, and dictatorships and oligarchies will have a new tool for repression. In the same way Western companies are forced now by China, for example, to adjust content, they will likely be forced to add things to the no-fly database of ideas. Corporations will be in a position to censor things on behalf of governments.
Via the Edward Snowden documents, we already know that many tech companies cooperate directly with the NSA and others, either voluntarily, or under pressure from secret national security practices and laws. It is not a matter of “it can happen here,” but one of “it is already happening here.”
But, some will say, Google, et al, are private companies. They can do what they want with their businesses, and you don’t have to use them.
Certain private businesses, such as power companies and transportation providers, have become clearly so much a part of society that they indeed can’t just do what they want. They become public utilities, and there is no doubt that organizations like Google are squarely in the category.
Lastly, for those who prefer dictionary things, do check up on the definition of true fascism: a collusion between government and industry.
Peter Van Buren blew the whistle on State Department waste and mismanagement during Iraqi reconstruction in his first book, We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People. His latest book is Ghosts of Tom Joad: A Story of the #99 Percent. Reprinted from the his blog with permission.