Last updateFri, 22 Feb 2019 1pm

Twitter purges: Beware the F-word ... and the R-word?

Censorship is defined as the suppression or prohibition of any parts of books, films, news, etcetera. that are considered obscene, politically unacceptable, or a threat to somebody’s security. 

The practice was already long established even before Socrates was sentenced to drink a cup of hemlock in 399 BC, and the practice is alive and well online in the 21st century.  Fortunately for those of us who live in Mexico, our access to the worldwide internet is not subject to the strict governmental controls as is the case in totalitarian regimes such as China, Iran, North Korea or Cuba.

In fact, the main censorship that can be seen in Mexico is an increasing amount of self-censorship that some social networks are imposing on their users.  The practice, which is also known as “shadowbanning,” keeps some users from seeing some posts online while allowing others.

Twitter is thought to be actively purging their corner of cyberspace of usages of the F-word, the N-word, the B-word as well as the S-word, T-word, the A-word, and the R-word.  If you are not following what all those words are you are not alone.  In an effort to retard the use of unacceptable words … Oh-oh.  I just used the R-word and could have been suspended because it seems that Twitter has decided that the R-word “retard” has no place in civil discourse. Calling somebody a retard and sometimes even using the word in context could get your account blocked for 12 hours.  Notable here is the fact that Twitter does not close the accounts of those who violate its unpublished rules for politically-correct speech; its policy is to punish silently and keep users tweeting while controlling what can be said and seen.

This rule might be okay if it was used intelligently and uniformly to clamp down on users guilty of harassment or of promoting illegal activities, but the rules appear to be used on people simply for posting politically incorrect language.  The automated systems can be used to censor social media posts, and therefore limit what citizens can say online.  In China all social media posts are automatically censored depending on content.

In 2013 Harvard political science professor Gary King led a study to investigate specifically what caused social media posts to be censored.  Posts mentioning collective action were more likely to be deleted than those that had not mentioned calls to action.  So one of the things this study revealed is that social media censorship is a way to restrict users’ ability to organize protests.

Among the most notable of these protests organized via social media were the Arab Spring uprisings, starting in 2010.  Referred to as “Twitter Revolutions,” usage of social media by citizens organizing protests has led to governmental reprisals such as the alleged program of the Tunisian government hack of its citizens’ Facebook and Twitter accounts, which the government is accused of deleting.

Charles Miller is a freelance computer consultant with more than 20 years IT experience and a Texan with a lifetime love for Mexico.  The opinions expressed are his own.  He may be contacted through his web site at SMAguru.com.

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