I had my own small brush with corporate censorship this week. It came as an email from Google Adsense with this subject line:
“You have 3 working days to make changes to your site”
That got my attention.
It seems Google suddenly objected to an August 2010 post on the policy issues raised by street fights involving groups of men in Waikiki and elsewhere around the island. It included an embedded YouTube video of a late night fight on Kuhio Avenue.
This is a warning message to alert you that there is action required to bring your AdSense account into compliance with our AdSense program policies. We’ve provided additional details below, along with the actions to be taken on your part.
Issue ID#: 19511303
Affected website: ilind.net
Example page where violation occurred: http://ilind.net/2010/08/24/another-waikiki-street-brawl-getting-lots-of-views-on-youtube/
Action required: Please make changes to your site within 72 hours.
Current account status: Active
VIOLENCE: As stated in our program policies, AdSense publishers are not permitted to place Google ads on pages with violent content, including videos or images of fights. More information about this policy can be found in our help center ( https://www.google.com/adsense/support/as/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=105954 ).
How to resolve:
If you received a notification in regard to page content, please either remove the content from your site or remove ads from the violating pages.
Apparently these guidelines don’t apply to newspapers that document violence every day. It also apparently doesn’t matter that my post was highly critical of the failure of city officials to respond effectively to the ongoing issue of street fighting.
In any case, Google holds all the cards here. They provide most of the ads that bring a small revenue stream to support this site. Eliminating the ads means having to dig even deeper into my own pocket to keep this site going. So, despite my misgivings about this brand of corporate censorship, I deleted the video.
An ACLU blog last month had a good discussion of the issues raised by private corporate censorship. It was triggered by Apple’s rejection of an app that maps the locations of U.S. drone strikes (“Apple, Drone Strikes, and the Limits of Censorship“).
This latest incident, the suppression of the drone-strike app, might be just another example of the capricious stupidity that censors the world over always seem to display at least partly because of the inherent difficulties of their “art.” But in this case the repeated rejections, their shifting rationales, and the alignment of this action with the interests of our government, cannot help but create suspicion of darker possibilities—that the company in some way has agreed to start protecting the interests of our national security establishment (if not necessarily our national security). Similar questions were raised when the company allowed and then three days later removed a Wikileaks App from the store, at a time when the U.S. government was pressuring numerous companies to financially blockade the reporting organization (a blockade that companies are striving to maintain).
That brings up a final disadvantage of censorship: it always ends up being misused. By blocking the drone-strike app, is Apple helping their customers—or the national security agencies? They’re certainly not helping their country.
And so it goes.