18 April 2018

'Digital frontier is hierarchical', content creators don't have the power - @bkampmark

Social networks and websites built upon user-generated content are becoming increasingly hostile to users, as governments and indeed website owners take greater and greater interest in what is appropriate content.

The trend is particularly visible on the Google-owned video-hosting website YouTube, where political dissidents, gurus and amateur journalists have seen their content demonetized. Content creators subjected to this can no longer make money from advertisements with their videos.

Channels like Representative Press and even some of the very earliest and most successful YouTube channels like The Amazing Atheist have complained of demonetization. The former moved some content to BitChute as one possible alternative to the video-hosting giant.

Demonetization drew great attention among many in the aftermath of the shooting at the YouTube headquarters by Nasim Najafi Aghdam on April 3, 2018. Nasim had been one of the users affected by YouTube demonetization, claiming it was because the company showed preferential treatment for big business rather than individuals and activists, whom it has turned against.

Reacting to the shooting in an article for Countercurrents, RMIT University lecturer Dr Binoy Kampmark warned "the digital frontier, far from flat in its egalitarian access, is vertical, hierarchical in its hold.  Power only devolved to the mass community of users in an artificial sense, giving that charming impression that the plebs controlled the production and creation of content."

Similarly, in Twitter's "purge", users have complained of sudden and unexpected requests for account verification or simply having their entire profile deleted from the site without warning or provocation. Some of the users had spent years building their following. According to those complaining, they were targeted for their conservative views. But the fact the company is allowed to target anyone so arbitrarily is bad news for people on either side of the political spectrum.

The trend being observed suggests that the future of many social networks is bleak for political dissidents of all camps. The paranoid US government and its close partnership with Google play a key role in making that outcome certain. After going after Facebook, Twitter and Google in Senate hearings for not actively combating alleged Russian influence on the US 2016 election, US lawmakers can be expected to pressure social networks in a desire to punish people who don't agree with them, e.g. who don't hate Russia enough or just aren't very loyal to the US regime. Targets for sanctions could be picked without regard for their political camp or geographic location, only for their disloyalty to America.

Although US lawmakers may ultimately shelter themselves from dissident voices by bullying social networks to sanction content, such an approach turns a blind eye to the way social networks rely on their uninhibited international scope and freedom of speech to maintain their appeal to creators.

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