So, the Great American Satan alerted us here on FtB to the existence of a brief “Youtube Walkout”. For the next four days, until the 14th, we encourage you not to watch, embed, or especially upload content to YouTube. This is in response to their new terms of service which include the chilling clause saying that they reserve to right to “delete any account they deem commercially unviable”. That’s laying the groundwork to kick out anything they don’t deem to be pulling in ad revenue for them, which of course disproportionately affects small channels and marginalized voices. See Marcus Ranum’s analysis of this for more details and some useful links.
I agree with everything Marcus said there, but in fact… he didn’t go far enough. You see, it’s not just a matter of Youtube being even worse youtubery garbage than usual, which is saying something for a company that so egregiously polices, demonetizes, and hides queer content that they’re being sued for it. Twitter just announced new restrictions on content. Last December, Tumblr banned NSFW content and thereby took a chainsaw to their userbase and traffic. Facebook (and therefore Instagram) has always been shitty about queer content but now they’re willing to delete anything that even HINTS at queerness or sexuality.
Some of these companies have gone so far as to ban or restrict the use of “sexually suggestive” emojis! Newsweek’s own attempt to debunk this contains a quote proving it:
“[Content] will only be removed… if it contains a sexual emoji alongside an implicit or indirect ask for nude imagery, sex or sexual partners, or sex chat conversations. We aren’t taking action on simply the emoji,” a Facebook company spokesperson told Newsweek.
Note the weaselry here. “Implicit or indirect” means “anything we can decide to interpret that way”, and even assuming it’s true… why is this supposed to be a good thing? Why are they happy to be seen as “taking action” on this?
The answer is simple. It’s bigotry, prudery, and yet another intrusion of American puritanical conservatism into other people’s lives.
Most of these policy changes are directly or indirectly in response to SESTA/FOSTA, the American federal law nominally intended to curb sex trafficking. I say “nominally” because I believe the EFF is giving the US Congress – the March 2018, both houses controlled by Trump’s Republicans Congress – far far too much benefit of the doubt. It’s no secret that sex workers – the people directly affected by these laws, the ones purportedly protected by it – objected strenuously to it and have protested mightily against it ever since. This fact alone is enough to call the legitimacy of the intention into question: it’s pretty hard to argue you’re doing something in the interest of a group of people when that group of people keeps telling you not to do that something and you flat-out ignore them.
The other side of the pincer is advertisers, but… indirectly, whereby social media companies restrict content to what the believe the advertisers want. This is hardly new; that article with its now hilariously-ironic-with-age #YouTubeIsOverParty hashtag is from 2016. But this is the same thing, in practice! Just today, YouTube’s content policy includes describing as as non-advertiser-friendly:
Controversial issues and sensitive events
Content that features or focuses on sensitive topics or events is generally not suitable for ads. This policy applies even if the content is purely commentary or contains no graphic imagery.
… and sure that sounds totally innocent and reasonable… until you start considering exactly what sorts of things qualify as “sensitive topics” in a Republican-controlled world, with its Overton window shifted so crazily to the right that it’s fallen entirely off the rails. Businesses are generally conservative, big business more so, ergo “sensitive topics” is… queer rights, sex workers’ rights, BLM, climate change, etc. Anything challenging the patriarchal status quo. Meanwhile, stuff that doesn’t make them uncomfortable – which includes transphobic and homophobic “jokes”, “race realism”, anti-
semitglobalism, and so on –falls obviously under “free speech”. Some of this is unconscious process; some of it is deliberate as all hell – you don’t get an algorithm that decides any word mentioning queer, gay, or trans people is instantly adult content without deciding to train it to do that.
The platforms have been eaten, folks. And the one grand problem with the Internet, the first one, was how to find anything out here. That’s the problem that several companies jumped in to solve, and Google subsumed into itself, and then social media obviated. Youtube, as Marcus said, is the ‘stuff cloud’. But so is Facebook/Instagram. So is Twitter. Even if you try to leave those behind SO IS GOOGLE, who de facto controls what we see in the rest of the ‘Net, and they all serve the same oppressive corporate masters, who have a common desire to go back to the good old days when all these marginalized voices were completely out of public view, where they belong.
What the hell do we do now? It is at all possible to harness those parts of the Internet’s nature that are egalitarian to get around this? A new social media site pops up every few weeks and as it stands is soon washed away by the incumbents. The latest appears to be MeWe, which PZ Myers recently joined, but did any of the rest of us? Should we? Does it matter? I’m a relatively slow adopter, so my urge is not to waste time on yet another not-going-to-be-there-in-six-months site. I hope they are… but does this even help? Mastodon’s a whole different ballgame, with its separable instances, but winds up recapitulating a lot of the problems inherent in the siloing of individual forums or UseNet. We need some kind of central FIND STUFF clearinghouse in order to make all this usable, but is it even possible to have a ‘stuff cloud’ that is centralized enough to let us find and share but at the same time decentralized enough to not bow to the prejudices of bigoted rich old white people?
“Don’t Be Evil” my ass.