When Twitter and YouTube removed photos and videos of the beheading of an American Journalist, James Foley, from their channels Dan Gilmore, in a recent post for The Atlantic, debated whether this was editing or actually censoring? The reason given by both the channels was that they refused to be a part of the murderous propaganda of irrational religious fanatics. Gilmore agrees that since it was the private decision of the channels (as far as we know) and not an order by the government it could not be considered as censorship.
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I tried to make sense of the actions of the channels and what Gilmore had said in response.
I felt Twitter and YouTube had done the right thing. But did they really edit or was it actually censorship? For me there is no doubt as I associate censorship with government actions, and censorship reminds me of China and Baidu or of the North Koreans who are monitored by VICE cameras and would be sentenced to life imprisonment or even executed if they were seen using Google. I associate censorship with threatening implications, but in this case, it did not seem so. But, if someone were to disagree with me they would be right as censorship is not always government interference.
But Gilmore wanted to differentiate between editing and censorship. He wanted to take on the precedents set when channels would be able to do as per their whims and fancies. Had it not been for the intensity of the videos, this decision of theirs would have been considered more of editing than of censorship.
When we allow social media like Twitter, YouTube and Facebook to decide what information can be released to the public, we allow the rise of “a concentration of media power that will damage, if not eviscerate, our tradition of freedom of expression.”
That is where I am confused. What tradition is that? In the days gone by, there were only a few major newspapers and television networks that had no other agenda than to present to us unfiltered world news.
With the amount of news source expanding exponentially, concentration of media power in this country is on the decline. In fact, with news sources growing we only need to find out the good one from the ones present.
When The New York time loses 80 million homepage visitors, it means visitors have found a better source elsewhere. When The Wall Street Journal cuts down its staff daily, it does not mean media power is being centralized but actually signifies that media power is being decentralized.
So, when we are questioning the amount of power that we have given the social media platforms, we are justified. But we are wrong when we doubt that information is being withheld from us, that news has become less transparent or that media power has become centralized. On the contrary, the opposite has taken place.
I agree that now, for better or for worse, we have more meaningless information and more copycat outlets in news, in music and publishing. This is the outcome of giving everyone the right to speak and also the platform to speak from. But these are the fundamental qualities of freedom and not the beginning of the end.
So, if users of a social media feel that the network has curated the content unsatisfactorily, they can try other networks. If the work that one has done is unacceptably filtered from news feeds, then it is not to be taken personally. Rather it is to be taken as a compliment since it means that the non-click bait nature of one’s work has not been sensationalized. In that case, share it elsewhere.
But if we feel that the power and the willingness to edit or censor or whatever way we define the filtering of news by the social media platforms “will damage, if not eviscerate, our tradition of freedom of expression”, it is reacting to a situation which does not exist.
It is obvious that I do not agree that media power is becoming centralized as I believe that the exact opposite is happening, but there were some other references in the post.
After going through a few more paragraphs, Gilmore made an excellent point with which I agreed wholeheartedly – that the attraction that journalists and media outlets have for the social media would backfire on them. In some cases it already has.
In their eagerness to use the social networks to dissipate their information journalists have been using third-party services which are not controlled by them and who are getting the best of the bargain in the long run. For the journalism companies, Facebook will be their biggest competitor eventually. Twitter also is a media company while Google is already a winner in this field.
It is funny but the biggest media outlets are not the best social media platforms, or for that matter mobile. The New York Times is still trying to find out means to reach the mobile-first audience which is the audience of the future and have still not managed to reach out to them. They are hoping that a new app will solve it all which it might or probably not.
We are living at an exciting and crucial time of media history. Objections are being made as to what makes up a legitimate outlet, journalist or source and these are again being defined. Both the creator of contents and consumers of the content are active players in the building up of the future. Along with the need for clicks and shares, the creator of contents also needs to combine quality while the consumers need to contemplate what they support since that is what will last. The investors are also struggling with the moral dilemma of what to finance. The public is going to be affected eventually depending on what media outlets they invest in – thought-provoking or mind-numbing. If we carefully use the numerous opportunities available in front of us, information will be more meaningful, transparent and its affect permanent.