Censorship

TWITTER:
 
I don’t tweet. I think I have a Twitter account and may have tweeted once, so I can’t and won’t comment on whether the President is tweeting garbage or not. I saw a news item where Social Media companies have started fact-checking.
 
Here is some historical perspective.
 
In the 90’s I used to run a computer Bulletin Board for many years. It was a dialup system prior to direct-connect internet. We used modems and telephone lines and the most number of people (besides myself) who could be on the system at any time was one. I offered shareware for download and there were message forums with specific topics where you could discuss things such as software or car maintenance, etc. It was not unlike online forums you may access now.
 
I also offered email service before it was widely used. Our distribution system was hierarchical where my system connected to a another system up the line and passed messages along. I also might connect to another system long-distance, but generally we consolidated messages to avoid that when possible.
 
Since we owned the computers where some people entered messages, We had the opportunity to read many of them and know who was behind them. We had the ability to delete messages which we deemed objectionable to ourselves or in our opinion. We were cautioned against that.
 
In a way we were a common carrier, not unlike the post office, moving messages around the world for other people.
 
The caution we were given by those wiser than us was this. If we began to censor some messages, we would have to censor all of them. That does not mean that we would have to deleted them all, but if we started to decide whether some were appropriate we would need to do that for all of them. We would need to offer rules and guidelines as to what was appropriate and what was not. We could not show favoritism to one person over another.
 
I think the difference in what we were doing vrs today online forums is that we were not an island of information, we were disseminating the messages to the world. Was it popular? Estimates were that systems had an average of 200 people. Of these 4 million users in total, 2 million users commonly used echomail, the shared public forums, while about 200,000 used the private netmail system. At its peak, FidoNet listed approximately 39,000 systems. When hardwired internet became popular, there was less a need for these systems to store and forward messages and the idea of online forums became easier to host on a central computer. Some countries without high speed internet still use this old BBS system to this day however.
 
So if you are in charge of a forum or social media platform, you can approach it in a number of ways. Neither are pretty. If you leave things alone, people will post wild ideas, hurtful comments and dangerous posts. If you start picking out certain messages to administer it starts a slippery slope. Let’s say that you decide to censor talk of sex. Do you eliminate any mention of it, just salacious talk, and where would you place sex education? There is software that can do this automatically, yet might block someone from a forum whose name is Jesus (a popular boys name in Mexico). You can build rules but it is not a perfect system. You can also act as moderator, however that becomes a heavy task as people question your actions as to why a particular post was deleted yet another similar was not. Suggestions of favoritism will arise as the moderator winds his way through the thicket. Having multiple moderators will ensure that these complaints increase as each moderator will moderate or even interpret the rules differently.
 
So, I don’t have an answer, but I have been there, done that and gotten the T-shirt as it were. When you own a system, you can decide how it is run, up to a point. When it becomes very popular, it will take on a life of its’ own. The owners will have heavy decisions to make.
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