The Rise of Social Media Censorship (and why Exorde will be a critical tool for protecting free speech)

May 16, 2024
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Imagine for a moment that you run a news website and you’re tipped off to a story about the misbehaviour of a prominent politician.

You do your due diligence by finding two credible sources and inviting the subject of the story to comment. After which you publish the story.

The next day, the payment processor that handles subscriptions and donations to your website, emails you to inform you that you have, in their opinion, been responsible for spreading misinformation. As a result they’re taking $2,500 in damages out of your account.

If that sounds like a far-fetched Black Mirror story pitch, you probably missed the flurry of news stories in October 2022, accusing a popular payment provider of setting themselves up to wield exactly this level of censorship powers.

This may turn out to be a toothless story, since PayPal were very quick to claim that the policy update was an error and that they had no intention of implementing it.

But the appearance that they may have even been considering such a policy has left a sour taste.

And the very fact that this felt all too plausible is an indication of a growing awareness of efforts to censor online activity, especially on social media platforms.

Here are a few more recent examples…

The fear is that this is an attempt to get around First Amendment rules on government censorship.

Regardless of whether you believe this was warranted, this illustrates the massive power these private companies have to significantly silence someone they disagree with.

Those examples barely scratch the surface of a growing debate on who should be taking responsibility for illegal or harmful content, how to engage in censorship without removing legitimate content and how to prevent governments and private companies from running roughshod over the general public.

Whatever happens over the next few years in this arena, we believe that Exorde has the potential to be a critical tool on both sides of the argument, by providing a unique service that, until now, was technologically almost impossible.

Is censorship even justified?

Exorde, by default (and for reasons that will be the subject of a future article), aims to remain neutral on all subjects. But if there’s an exception to this rule it’s a belief that transparency and decentralisation of information is critical to protect free speech and to hold powerful organisations to account.

Which is why the growing use of online censorship has caught our attention.

There are strong arguments both for and against censorship, and whichever way the social media platforms and authorities lean in coming years, it is crucial that the consequences are clearly measured and documented.

It’s easy to assume that proponents of free speech and internet freedoms would be resolutely against any form of censorship. Equally, it would be easy to characterise those in favour of censorship as being draconian right-wingers who want to control the conversation.

In practice, most people reside somewhere in the middle.

Those who are mostly anti-censorship will still likely want to see illegal content, threatening behaviour and fake news, removed or at the very least challenged. And those who are pro-censorship will likely want to protect people’s right to a minority opinion, especially on social, political and religious opinions.

There are few who would be enamoured with the notion of the worst excesses of the internet being allowed to grow and thrive unchecked. And equally few who would relish unaccountable people and organisations taking it upon themselves to decide what is and isn’t acceptable content.

The most likely outcome is that censorship will continue to happen, and that, as a result, some bad actors will get away with posting deeply unpleasant content, and some valuable contributors will find themselves marginalised.

And it’s this unfortunate middle ground that Exorde is primed to tackle. In three ways…

Exorde is the best disinfectant

Ok, technically, the best disinfectant, it is said, is sunlight. But if that is true, think of Exorde as the magnifying glass that directs the sunlight to where it most needs to shine.

If you’re unfamiliar with the Exorde protocol, it is a decentralised tool that allows anyone to select a topic and then harness a network of computers that can rapidly crawl and compile all recently posted content on that subject.

Exorde’s machine learning technology can then review this content, assess the tone in which the content is written (neutral, excited, angry, nervous, etc.) and output reports that summarise the study.

The crawled content is stored in a public archive so any public or private person or company can access the raw data and, if they wish, perform their own analysis.

There are a myriad of ways in which Exorde can be used, both commercially and for matters of public interest, but in the area of censorship, there are three key ways in which Exorde is going to prove invaluable.

Exorde can record online activity before it’s removed.

If censorship is going to have any hope of being successful and of receiving broad acceptance, transparency is going to be key. This is going to be particularly important when social media companies remove content using their own judgement and/or that of their AI. Because once it’s removed there’s no record of it ever existing outside of what the social media platforms themselves are willing to admit to.

It would be very tempting for a social media platform to downplay the level of content being removed, lest it reflect badly on the audience they are attracting and supporting.

However, because Exorde can rapidly crawl information posted on social media, it has the ability to record and measure information BEFORE it is removed. The results of the research will sit in the public domain, not in its full, original format (for obvious reasons), but in a form that is useful for research purposes and for monitoring exactly what censorship actions are being carried out by individual social media platforms.

Exorde can reach any publicly accessible platform

One of the arguments against censorship is that it simply moves illegal or harmful speech onto lesser-known platforms where like-minded people can get sucked into bubbles containing no alternative points of view.

If these sites go ignored or unnoticed, there is the potential to underestimate the popularity of certain views and content simply because it isn’t present on the most popular platforms.

Exorde, because of its decentralised nature, does not have to limit itself to a small number of platforms. If a website is publicly accessible and contains significant amounts of content, Exorde can crawl, assess and measure any topics that it is requested to locate.

Exorde can identify censorship that social media sites may not even be aware of.

In the introduction to this article, we highlighted a story about private companies being requested by government agencies to remove what they believe to be inaccurate political information.

If this is indeed happening, it is potentially occurring without the knowing participation of the social media platforms. The news item suggests that, in practice, these private companies are locating content they’d like to see removed, and simply reporting it to the social media platforms as a breach of their terms of conditions.

The implication is that the social media platforms are potentially unaware of the actors or the motivations behind these requests, and are simply treating these reports as they would any other complaint from a regular user.

The Exorde protocol can be requested to research a particular topic and continue to crawl through data on an ongoing basis. This will allow for the use of software that can review the output and note whether the volume of information on a particular topic is increasing or decreasing. A sudden drop in the volume of content on a political subject, for instance, could be an indicator that an active censorship program is taking place, possibly without the knowledge of the social media platform.

The decentralisation of Exorde is critical in the age of online censorship.

Removing dangerous or illegal information from the internet is a legitimate goal.

So is protecting minority opinions from egregious censorship.

To balance out both goals, transparency is key. And since some governments and some private organisations cannot be trusted to act in this arena in a genuinely disinterested manner, it is critical that we have a way to monitor censorship and that ANYBODY with the mind to do so can get involved.

The decentralised nature of Exorde — meaning no organisation can control, limit or censor its activities — is what will allow it to perform this very function.

Holding people, governments and private companies to account for their actions is in everyone’s interests. This is just one of the reasons why we believe Exorde is one of the most critically important projects that currently exists today.

If you have questions about the Exorde protocol, please feel free to contact us or visit our Discord:

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