How Online Censorship Works

Once free-wheeling, internet speech is now policed by Silicon Valley.

The first level of online censorship happens without the victims even knowing it’s happening. Tweets, posts, articles, videos, comments, and websites of political content are all uploaded without resistance. But they aren’t seen, aren’t suggested, and are swiftly buried under a pile of competing content.

After the 2016 election delivered a result that shocked Silicon Valley, the tech giants one by one came out with statements saying that as a result of the “misinformation” circulating around the election they were adjusting the algorithms that rank their content.

As Google’s Senior Vice President of Search Ben Gomes said after the 2016 election, “We’ve adjusted our signals to help surface more authoritative pages and demote low-quality content.” In addition, Gomes said it updated guidelines for “raters to appropriately flag, which can include misleading information, unexpected offensive results, hoaxes and unsupported conspiracy theories.”

There is a lot of content online, and if losing some disreputable content in the shuffle were a neutral process, that would be one thing. But Google, Twitter, Apple and other tech giants are not disinterested curators of online content.