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Censorship Businesses IT Your Rights Online

You Can't Say That On the Internet 432

Posted by samzenpus
from the watch-what-you-say dept.
hessian writes in with a story about the arbitrary and often outdated online decency standards being imposed by companies."A bastion of openness and counterculture, Silicon Valley imagines itself as the un-Chick-fil-A. But its hyper-tolerant facade often masks deeply conservative, outdated norms that digital culture discreetly imposes on billions of technology users worldwide. What is the vehicle for this new prudishness? Dour, one-dimensional algorithms, the mathematical constructs that automatically determine the limits of what is culturally acceptable. Consider just a few recent kerfuffles. In early September, The New Yorker found its Facebook page blocked for violating the site’s nudity and sex standards. Its offense: a cartoon of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Eve’s bared nipples failed Facebook’s decency test."
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You Can't Say That On the Internet

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 19, 2012 @09:53AM (#42026169)

    Must.

    Not.

    Offend.

    Anyone.

    (unless the target is white males)

    • Must.

      Not.

      Offend.

      Anyone.

      (unless the target is white males)

      You mad!

    • by poetmatt (793785) on Monday November 19, 2012 @10:54AM (#42026765) Journal

      I'm disappointed with the article headline: acting like you can't say something?
      Chick Fil-gay can and absolutely did say what they said. Freedom of speech is still alive and well, even if people don't like it (add NYT to that list for willingly censoring at the behest of the government). They simply deserved what they got in response as the market correctly responded. It's one thing to be against rights (which is repulsive to many, but still free speech), but it's another entirely to do what Apple does and willingly censor.
      Why do people start with bullshit headlines when the article is also crap?

    • by Darinbob (1142669)

      If it's a web site like Facebook, the rule is "must not offend people who earn us revenue".

  • filters (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Custard Horse (1527495) on Monday November 19, 2012 @09:55AM (#42026187)
    Perhaps if we could set our own content filters this would solve the problem? I'm uncomfortable with others deciding whose nipples I can and can't see.
    • Re:filters (Score:5, Funny)

      by Quakeulf (2650167) on Monday November 19, 2012 @09:59AM (#42026227)
      Yes, they might just have really bad taste in nipples too!
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Perhaps if we could set our own content filters this would solve the problem? I'm uncomfortable with others deciding whose nipples I can and can't see.

      I can't tell you how many times I have tried to post something only to have it marked "[Censored]"

      Words like: "orifice", "petcock", and other words that are used everyday in polite company.

      I don't know what software these websites are using (ericthecarguy.com, finehomebuilding.com) but their forums block the most innocuous shit. And it's not like automechanics and construction workers are known for their delicate sensibilities!

      And if anyone is offended buy words like that, they really need to get a grip.

    • That's part of it. But it's not like Facebook is obligated to carry stuff they don't like. They have a perfect right to be stupid and intolerant laughingstocks.
  • by vlm (69642) on Monday November 19, 2012 @09:58AM (#42026213)

    Silicon Valley imagines itself as the un-Chick-fil-A

    Eve’s bared nipples failed Facebook’s decency test

    LOL facebook is for middle aged women to check every 15 seconds for new pixs of their friends kids or pix of their "fur babies" aka over pampered dogs, and teenage girls to sling insults at each other and compete about friend counts. Guys mostly post "blackmail pixs" for fun of their buddies throwing up, getting high, or getting it on with a landwhale.

    "tits or GTFO" is not going to work on FB. Its middle aged woman / teen girl culture not online or whatever.

    Now if you posted a nice rack on a "internet culture" area like 4chan or maybe a link here on /., that would more or less work.

    • by jnelson4765 (845296) on Monday November 19, 2012 @10:45AM (#42026657) Journal

      Um, it's not just that. Me and my friends use FB for organizing social events - parties, performances, etc. The fire performance troupe I'm involved with does most of our organizing on Facebook too - we have jobs, and kids, and school, and live all over the area, so having quick discussions there makes life much easier.

      Look, I go to Burning Man. I've seen more people naked than anyone short of a doctor or a nudist tour guide, and I have to say the ban on nudity on Facebook is a good thing. There are creepers out there who post pictures of people having a nude stroll. Without the subject's consent.

      Being able to complain about it means that they get taken down.

      Facebook is for real life, and some people (myself included) like having an area where there isn't soft-core porn all over the place. See, if I had to deal with that, I'd return fire with some of the better pictures from /r/gaybears - not everyone is into the same thing, and you get rather tired of being shown something you're NOT IN TO.

  • by aicrules (819392) on Monday November 19, 2012 @09:59AM (#42026231)
    go use some other internets! Oh wait, you mean to say it's not the internets that is being censored? It's actually company or privately-owned websites that are accessed using the internet? And these companies and people who own these sites are able to set the bar for what is allowed on their site? There are many wonderfully open sites out there that will gladly let you post whatever you want despite you not being owed anything by them. Why is this a problem? And kerfuffle? Seriously?
    • by Chrisq (894406)

      go use some other internets! Oh wait, you mean to say it's not the internets that is being censored? It's actually company or privately-owned websites that are accessed using the internet? And these companies and people who own these sites are able to set the bar for what is allowed on their site? There are many wonderfully open sites out there that will gladly let you post whatever you want despite you not being owed anything by them. Why is this a problem? And kerfuffle? Seriously?

      Because everyone knows that there are no alternatives to Facebook .... at least where your 1010 friends can discuss "Big Brother" and "Pop Idol" (but not "Big Brothel" and "Pop your blow-up doll")

    • by Hatta (162192)

      Why are these companies censoring their sites? Because they don't want to offend their customers. But I find censorship offensive, and I might want to be their customer. If they care about avoiding offense to their customers, shouldn't I at least let them know?

      Yes, they're well within their rights to censor anything they want on their websites. That doesn't mean it makes sense for them to do so, and it doesn't mean we can't complain about it.

    • by DrgnDancer (137700) on Monday November 19, 2012 @10:57AM (#42026803) Homepage

      This guy isn't saying that these companies are violating the law, or that they should be somehow forced to change their algorithms. He's simply pointing out the hypocrisy of their advocating for free access to information while simultaneously directly and indirectly censoring the content they present. Whether the hypocrisy is a problem or not probably depends on who your are, what your goals are, and what level of censorship the company is presenting you with. Google for instance doesn't censor its results (except in rare cases where it's required to by law), but does censor indirectly through blocking certain search terms in auto-complete. Arguably that's a pretty mild and indirect form of censorship (you can after all simply type the your search terms out completely), and it may not bother many people. Facebook is more explicit in its censorship, but also arguably has a greater legal compliance requirement.

      It's a discussion that's worth having, even if the most we can do about it is avoid or support companies that either support or reject our own opinions on the matter. It's certainly not as important a subject as some others, but it's not trivial either. It's worth looking at.

    • It is kind of silly sometimes, though. For a relatively obscure example, the PS3 game "Infamous 2" allows users to create and upload their own missions, with text and cutscenes and everything. But the words are censored. Any word that's 'bad' in any language. For example, you can't use the word 'after' in your missions [suckerpunch.com], because apparently it's a swear word in Dutch or something. Other censored words include "original", "cul", "pipe", and "bite".

      (Although, if you spell it "aftèr" you can get through t

  • Interesting (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Chrisq (894406) on Monday November 19, 2012 @09:59AM (#42026233)
    Some Google autocompletes are almost comical. Enter "peni" and you get "penicillin", "peninsular", and "panistone paramount". Who would have known that a small town cinema would appear to be more important to Google than the male organ!
    • by Aqualung812 (959532) on Monday November 19, 2012 @10:07AM (#42026303)

      That's because digital wang comes along free with most searches. It is like the parsley of Internet search results.

      Who orders parsley?

      • by Chrisq (894406) on Monday November 19, 2012 @10:11AM (#42026347)

        That's because digital wang comes along free with most searches. It is like the parsley of Internet search results.

        Who orders parsley?

        For more conjectures on the Parsley/Wang metaphor please ask Parsley Wang [facebook.com].

        don't really or she'll be justifiably pissed at Slashdot

      • The scent of parsley is more pleasing on the breath than the meal you've just eaten, especially after garlic or onion dishes. Treat it like a mint.
    • by TheSpoom (715771)

      Google knows the bad PR that would come with a kid looking up information on penicillin being presented with penis as a possibility. Of course, it wouldn't offend the kid (who would probably see it as reasonable), it would offend their PTA office-holding parents (who would probably just see dollar signs).

  • Simple (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 19, 2012 @10:00AM (#42026241)

    You can show any type of violence. You can't show any kind of nudity. And it's not the "digital culture" in general that imposes anything. It's the religious fundamentalists of the USA who are responsible. I think the world would be a better place if we allowed children to watch porn and didn't allow them to watch violence.

    Captcha: morale

    • Re:Simple (Score:4, Interesting)

      by BVis (267028) on Monday November 19, 2012 @10:30AM (#42026499)

      Logged in to say this. The 'moral majority' (which is neither) has decided that they know what's best for the rest of us. They terrorize politicians into implementing 'decency' rules that reinforce this belief. They pay hordes of lawyers to sue media companies that don't toe their line.

      They're a bunch of fundamentally insecure white males (and their chattel) that are so terrified of the concept of female sexuality that they move to oppress any expression of it outside of... well, actually, any expression of it at all.

      Fundamentalist Evangelical "Christians" are a plague on the United States. Hopefully the drubbing their meat puppets took in the last election will disarm them a bit; if the politicians know they can no longer win elections just by pandering to the fundies, they'll stop doing it.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Here's all I wanted to see: http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/cartoonists/stevens-cartoon%201.jpg

  • by L4t3r4lu5 (1216702) on Monday November 19, 2012 @10:02AM (#42026271)
    "We train young men to drop fire on people, but their commanders won't allow them to write "fuck" on their airplanes because it's obscene."
    - Colonel Walter E. Kurtz, Francis Ford Copolla's Apocalypse Now!

    What about sexualised imagery (not just the videos; Some of the lyrics are plainly obscene) in pop music, when showing just a boob gets a show an adult cert in the US. Not a problem seeing real boobs at the beach, though!
    • by ATMAvatar (648864) on Monday November 19, 2012 @10:10AM (#42026339) Journal

      "If you suck on a tit the movie gets an R rating. If you hack the tit off with an axe it will be PG." Jack Nicholson

      What's particularly disturbing is that the prudism is getting worse over time. A good example is the original Andromeda Strain. It has a G rating on it, but features (briefly) a naked woman in it. Were it to come out today, it would get an instant R rating for that scene alone.

      • The rating system was wildly different when the first Andromeda Strain was released. The film was released to theaters in 1971, but I'd be willing to bet that the MPAA applied its 'G' rating the year before in 1970 when the only choices were G(eneral audiences), M(ature audiences), R(estricted), X. And the nudity in Andromeda Strain is fleeting and utterly non-sexual, even today it wouldn't force the movie out a PG rating. At absolute worst Andromeda Strain would land a PG13 rating today (a rating that s

      • by Rakarra (112805)

        What's particularly disturbing is that the prudism is getting worse over time. A good example is the original Andromeda Strain. It has a G rating on it, but features (briefly) a naked woman in it. Were it to come out today, it would get an instant R rating for that scene alone.

        Or Walt Disney's G-Rated Fantasia:
        http://www.tumblr.com/tagged/night-on-bald-mountain?before=1337222899 [tumblr.com] (the furies in Night on Bald Mountain were bare-chested, as were the centaurettes in the opening of the Pastoral Symphony).

  • by sco08y (615665) on Monday November 19, 2012 @10:04AM (#42026281)

    A bastion of openness and counterculture, Silicon Valley imagines itself as the un-Chick-fil-A.

    When has Chick-fil-A ever called for censorship? Last I checked, progressives were abusing government power [washingtonpost.com] to silence Chick-fil-A, not the other way around.

    • by aicrules (819392) on Monday November 19, 2012 @10:21AM (#42026421)
      Summary writer is clearly a progressive bomb thrower. Maybe not actually a progressive him/herself, but the whole summary is meant to be pot shot after pot shot at conservative ideals while trying lamely to appear as a real discussion on the topic. The use of the term kerfuffle sealed this assessment for me. Tries to sound like a terminally serious issue that evil people like Chik-Fil-A are on the wrong side of and then uses the term kerfuffle which, RIGHTLY, puts the topic back in the "no one really gives a shit about this because it's not actually an issue" category.
  • Go ahead. I'll wait right here.

    Related webcomics [duelinganalogs.com]

  • by Revotron (1115029) on Monday November 19, 2012 @10:08AM (#42026315)
    Sorry, I just can't approve of a company that doesn't support delicious chicken sandwiches.

    But no, really - I see what's going on here. "We're tolerant of everything - unless it's something we don't find culturally acceptable." Yep, that passes liberal scrutiny.
  • by concealment (2447304) on Monday November 19, 2012 @10:09AM (#42026319) Homepage Journal

    We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

    The original idea behind free speech was that no one could prevent you from making a political statement.

    Then, by popular demand, free speech got cheesed out to mean "any public statement," whether relevant or not.

    This blurred the line between important speech and everyday raging around with emotions through words.

    Now, we the people see all speech as a matter of flavor. Don't harsh my buzz with your unkind words, man.

    As a result, the free markets are responding and are removing words that generate expensive customer complaints.

    They're removing them whether there's validity to them or not.

    Good work, We the People.

    • by dkleinsc (563838)

      The original idea behind free speech was that no one could prevent you from making a political statement.

      Actually, it seems like the basic goal of the anti-Federalist faction (led by Thomas Jefferson, although James Madison was also involved) was to prevent a government from attempting to control thought. Of any kind. That's why freedom of religion, press, speech, and assembly go together: The idea is that a free person should be able to think what they will, believe what they will, and spread their ideas around by written word or speaking privately and publicly.

      Then, by popular demand, free speech got cheesed out to mean "any public statement," whether relevant or not.

      Who gets to decide what kind of statement qualif

    • No, the original idea behind the First Amendment was to constrain government from restricting speech. It says nothing nor has anything to say about an individual right to do so.
  • by dkleinsc (563838) on Monday November 19, 2012 @10:10AM (#42026343) Homepage

    In parts of the Middle East, a woman showing her hair is considered harlotry, while in parts of Polynesia a woman going topless is not. In some areas of sub-Saharan Africa, women going topless is ok, but showing her thighs is obscene. If you're operating globally, who's cultural norms do you use for censorship? Because about the only pictures of women that are universally acceptable would have everyone in burqas.

    It gets even more complicated than that: Do you allow Eve topless, but not the Virgin Mary? Do you allow Venus de Milo or Michaelangelo's David, but not modern nude art? If you allow nude sculptures or paintings, do you censor nude photographs? If you allow nude photographs, what's the line between works of art and porn?

    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 19, 2012 @10:25AM (#42026459)

      Personally I find burqas obscene.

      • by N1AK (864906)

        Personally I find burqas obscene.

        I was already going to respond by pointing out that there are plenty of racist cunts out there who'd bitch about burqa's; thanks for providing a well placed example. For the sake of avoiding indignant responses, I appreciate that some people object to burqa's on idealogical grounds to do with oppression of women and not because of it's link to Islam.

        • by Raenex (947668)

          Funny, somebody says they find burqas obscene, and you acknowledge that oppression to women may be a valid reason, but then you immediately assume its racism. The problem is with you, not the parent post.

          I find burqas dehumanizing and repulsive. The human face is one of the fundamental instruments of society, allowing both expression and identification.

    • by ceoyoyo (59147)

      Everyone here seems to think this is a bad thing. I disagree. Facebook et. al. are just applying what the majority THINK is their moral code, strictly. Most parents don't want pictures of boobies posted where their children can see them. Fine - no pictures of topless women, drawings of Adam and Eve, or the Venus de Milo ( Aphrodite de Milos). Oh wait, that's not what you meant?

      The summary says the policies are arbitrary. They're not. Just the opposite. And it exposes the ridiculousness of our double

    • Kinda shows you how arbitrary it all is, eh?
  • Not algorithmic (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Ronin441 (89631) on Monday November 19, 2012 @10:14AM (#42026371) Homepage

    That bared nipple in a cartoon thing? Not an algorithm (at least not one implemented on a computer) -- that was censored by a plain ol' minimum-wage human.

  • by cerebralpayne (96960) on Monday November 19, 2012 @10:14AM (#42026373)

    Those are the things you can't say. Not without getting soaked, anyway.

  • Cost (Score:4, Insightful)

    by bill_mcgonigle (4333) * on Monday November 19, 2012 @10:16AM (#42026381) Homepage Journal

    Many more people will complain about offences to their Victorian sensibilities than will complain about removing cartoon nipples. So, these policies keep their administrative costs lower. If you want this to change, attack their cost assumptions. Complain about their intolerance. I'm not typically one to advocate for being a complainer, but if these companies are putting in systems based on complainers, then those are the rules as constructed. Worst case: the rules about complainers are decommissioned.

    The main problem with that strategy is that tolerant people tend to not be complainers. You won't find a Million Moms against Intolerance marching on the Capitol. But as the saying goes, "only be intolerant of intolerance."

    The other approach is to accept that these services will reflect the Xth percentile opinion and the only way to change that is to change the X position in society. I can't see kids raised on today's Internet being particularly offended by cartoon nipples when they're in their 50's.

    My hope is that we can move to a society where posting a war photo of a blown up baby isn't more socially acceptable than posting a picture a baby being born.

  • by westlake (615356) on Monday November 19, 2012 @10:19AM (#42026403)

    Silicon Valley imagines itself as the un-Chick-fil-A. But its hyper-tolerant facade often masks deeply conservative, outdated norms that digital culture discreetly imposes on billions of technology users worldwide.

    Silicon Valley is tech. It enables. But it is not in control. There is no such thing as a unified "digital culture."

    Online communities --- like any other --- form around people who share the same interests and values. The geek is not always going to like what he finds out there.

    • The geek is not always going to like what he finds out there.

      In related news, the city of San Francisco, a mere 40 miles from Silicon Valley, is considering a ban on public nudity [ap.org] in reaction to the infamous (minimally pixilated, but still may be NSFW) San Francisco naked protests [pjmedia.com].

      San Francisco's Congressional representative, Nancy Pelosi [house.gov], has made no comment.

  • That

    There I just did.

  • un Chick-fil-A? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 19, 2012 @10:40AM (#42026593)

    The un- Chick-fil-A?? Who did that company try to silence? No one at all.

  • The example in TFS is stupid. In what sense is technology or Silicon Valley responsible for the way in which information or opinion is suppressed?

    Individual companies set their own content standards, tune their own algorithms and make their own bad decisions. There's no digital conspiracy here.

    TFA complains about Google's selective autocomplete. What's the big deal? It doesn't actually stop you from searching for terms that will potentially turn up material that some people might find offensive. It simply m

  • wtf is un-Chick-fil-A some American cultural assumption and why is it so un-American?

  • by Infernal Device (865066) on Monday November 19, 2012 @11:04AM (#42026855)

    The New York Times got caught in the same filter that catches everyone else while posting in corporate forum. Their problem is that, for some misguided reason, they, being the NYT, believe that they have some sort of free speech rights in a private space. Facebook is not a public space - it's corporate-owned and controlled. It's private space, open to some members of the public to post in, but with whatever restrictions FB feels like applying.

  • by Cid Highwind (9258) on Monday November 19, 2012 @11:10AM (#42026921) Homepage

    "Dour, one-dimensional algorithms" didn't decide cartoon nipples are taboo in Texarkana. People did.

    Don't like it? Start making as much noise when something is censored as the prudes do when they see a bare boob on the boob tube.

  • by T.E.D. (34228) on Monday November 19, 2012 @11:37AM (#42027229)

    ...it happens to a New York media person, instead of by them like God intended.

    The author has three examples for his "censorship" arguement: Facebook blocking a page containing cartoon nipples (but it was the New Yorker's page, so that's bad!), Apple asterixing out some letters in the name of a book, and various autocorrects not helpfullying filling out dirty words for you. That's it.

    The first two are pretty damn obvious. iTunes and Facebook operate walled gardens. Monolithic control of the content, whether you like it or not, is exactly the problem with such systems. The only thing annoying about this is that Evgeny and his buddies at the Times saw no problem with this until it inconvienenced other New York media types like themselves. The obivious solution here, which I and a good portion of the rest of us here on Slashdot implement, it don't use them.

    The third is just plain sillyness. Of course you don't want autocompletion software to fill out explitives for you. You have to look at how things fail here. Autocomplete is a prediction, but it isn't perfect, and the last thing you want is the damn thing changing innocuous words to one of the Carlin 7 when you are texting your family or employer. Duh.

    If I want a "bad" word, I'll go through the effort to manually spell it. It's typically only 4 letters anyway. :-)

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