Thursday, February 09, 2017 by Randall Wilkens
Social media has taken many various twists and turns throughout the past few decades. Some would say it began all the way back in the days of Prodigy, the precursor to the now virtually defunct America Online. For the first time users could not only access the remarkably less vast internet (given the time period), but they could also interact with other users from all over the country. As the years passed, and users were no longer confined to using dial-up connections as cable and phone companies began offering high speed connections to their customers, the internet really began to explode.
Actual websites began appearing that would allow an even higher degree of connectivity to people spanning the entire globe. Sites like Friendster, and then MySpace, allowed people to communicate about current events in real-time as opposed to after the fact. Soon, other more specific social media sites began blooming. Snapchat and Instagram allowed users to broadcast their lives (and meals) via pictures and other images. Twitter allowed for people to express themselves 160 characters at a time. LinkedIn offered users their very own space to have their resume visible for staffers and human resources departments worldwide. Sites even began popping up that catered to the dating community, sometimes correlating to a specific denomination or creed.
Probably the most famous, most robust, and most universally renowned of the current social media giants would be Facebook, launched in 2004 by Mark Zuckerberg along with some of his fellow Harvard alumni. At the time of its inception, MySpace was the leader of the pack, but was soon left far behind as Facebook continued to build a bigger and better social media experience for its users. Since then, not much has been able to stand in the way of Facebook’s global march to universal social media acceptance.
That is, until Facebook began encountering countries where the laws do not permit as much liberty as in the United States. Following the Chinese riots that broke out in Urumqi in 2009, the Chinese government implemented a nationwide ban on the website. This was done as a means to keep information regarding the riots from being shared freely not only among Chinese citizens, but to the outside world as well. Ultimately, the riots left over 140 people dead with many other casualties and injuries in a country that boasts the world’s largest amount of internet users.
Suppression of information is not a new game for Facebook, though. In the past Pakistan, Russia, and Turkey have all voiced demands at one point in time or another that Facebook limit the content that citizens of those countries can see, particularly that of people critical of their respective governments. Some reports claim that between July and December of 2015 alone, Facebook made it impossible for almost 55,000 bits of information to be seen by people in countries who don’t want that knowledge in the public domain. [READ censored stories at censored.news]
The difference in this instance is that while Facebook is designing the software, they will not be implementing it themselves. Instead, the software will be presented to a third party (in this case, the Chinese government), who could then monitor articles and events as their acclaim grows. The decision to suppress or allow this information would then be solely in the hands of the monitor, who would decide which stories would populate a user’s news feed and which ones would be visible. While this takes at least some of the pressure off of Facebook, particularly in light of recent claims that it unjustly removes content, it does little to assuage fears that people need to protect themselves from corrupt technologies.