Algorithmic Censorship by Social Platforms: Power and Resistance

42 Pages Posted: 7 Sep 2019 Last revised: 3 Mar 2020

See all articles by Jennifer Cobbe

Jennifer Cobbe

University of Cambridge - Computer Laboratory

Date Written: August 14, 2019

Abstract

Effective content moderation by social platforms is both important and difficult; numerous issues arise from the volume of information, the culturally sensitive and contextual nature of that information, and the nuances of human communication. Attempting to scale moderation, social platforms are increasingly adopting automated approaches to suppressing communications that they deem undesirable. However, this brings its own concerns. This paper examines the structural effects of algorithmic censorship by social platforms to assist in developing a fuller understanding of the risks of such approaches to content moderation. This analysis shows that algorithmic censorship is distinctive for two reasons: (1) in potentially bringing all communications carried out on social platforms within reach, and (2) in potentially allowing those platforms to take a more active, interventionist approach to moderating those communications. Consequently, algorithmic censorship could allow social platforms to exercise an unprecedented degree of control over both public and private communications. Moreover, commercial priorities would be inserted further into the everyday communications of billions of people. Due to the dominance of the web by a few social platforms, this may be difficult or impractical to escape for many people, although opportunities for resistance do exist.

Keywords: social platforms, content moderation, automation, surveillance, algorithmic governmentality

Suggested Citation

Cobbe, Jennifer, Algorithmic Censorship by Social Platforms: Power and Resistance (August 14, 2019). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3437304 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3437304

Jennifer Cobbe (Contact Author)

University of Cambridge - Computer Laboratory ( email )

15 JJ Thomson Avenue
William Gates Building
Cambridge, CB3 0FD
United Kingdom

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