Wednesday, February 25, 2015

New policy for Blogger a sign that service providers may become more pro-active in policing content; but what about the "one strike" problem?

The sudden announcement by Google late Monday that it would no longer allow most sexually explicit images on its Blogger platform (even under interstitial warnings) after just one short month is a sign that service providers are becoming more wary of public pressure to police their users, despite the obvious retort that they can’t prescreen every post for every possible problem (or we would have no “user generated content” as we know it now).  Again, right now these images do seem to be allowed under “interstitials” on YouTube, so there is still some question as consistency, and as to how of the problem is really about images, and especially third-party embeds. Hopefully more details are forthcoming. (Sorry, "Interstitial" is not synonymous with "Interstellar").  
Some of the pressure might indirectly come from overseas (and in fact, the stories in the British news sites Tuesday were particularly energetic).  Providers face all kinds of issues, like the “right to be forgotten” in Europe. Furthermore, in the US and overseas, the stake of families with children, from less tech-savvy parents who can’t possibly monitor their kids all the time, certainly matters.  The leniency of the environment in the past is blamed for encouraging cyberbullying, especially of women and of less “competitive” high school teenagers (again, often female).  And now some social media platforms seem to be a convenient recruiting tool for overseas terrorists, who seem to broadcast their mind control before the social media companies can find their videos and take them down and close accounts. 
Pornography is perceived as part of the “problem”, but indeed the issue is much bigger.  There are many possible objections that could be raised to postings made by higher-volume bloggers, myself included.  We can certainly sit around and say “what if….”   Many of the issues, from a moral viewpoint, were vetted in the COPA trial (in Philadelphia – I went for one day) in 2007 (including the nefarious “implicit content”);  so even though service providers like Google, Facebook, Wordpress and Twitter are all privately owned, all of these companies ought to become familiar with what was argued in that case.  
Indeed, as I’ve noted here in numerous postings, many of the abuses of social media seem to come from people who “take it for granted” and don’t seem to have a lot of personal accountability to others, or live in denial of this responsibility (more often the case).
There is a real problem with making a policy retroactive, to content that was already posted and that has been out for years, under different circumstances.  Among my blogs, the Movie Reviews is the most likely to have an issue with a few trailer embeds, from smaller companies that didn’t submit their films to MPAA (or couldn’t afford to).  A few of these trailers may have isolated moments (or Final Cut Pro frames) that would “cross the line”, even though they haven’t been labeled as adult to YouTube.  It would be helpful if there was a tool in Blogger and Youtube that could disable inappropriate embeds for non-adult, public embeds.  In most cases, another suitable video exists (like a director interview) that could be used instead. One possible symptom of unsuitability is that when you look at the blog posting in Blogger, the embed won’t expand (it leaves a huge white space), even though it still will show when played in a browser (and not give an interstitial warning).  That sounds like a programming issue (in Blogger) that could be addressed.
I can’t tell yet how large blogs with only very incidental, accidental or very isolated “adult” content in a few postings would be handled.  Without some tools (especially with respect to embeds) and some more specifics on what violates policy, it isn’t possible to guarantee that there can’t be a problem with previously accumulated and now searchable posts. Will Google actually be able to warn established bloggers about new TOS issues with specific older postings?  We all know that “adult content” and “sexually explicit” can be floating standards and somewhat subjective around the edges (“I know it when I see it”).  Even the Supreme Court, when considering COPA (in 2002 and 2004), wondered what a “national community standard” really means.  The Movies blog brings the largest number of page requests (it views with Books for separate visitors).  The other blogs, the content is such that this exposure, from third party materials from companies or entities behaving according to the norms of their own communities, really doesn’t pose this kind of risk.  Given the workload on new content (fiction, screenplays, music, my own video), there really isn’t time to move a large blog like Movies to another platform quickly and keep all the links intact (the easiest might be hosted Wordpress, probably), so as of now, I don’t want to do this.  I hope Blogger and YouTube come up with some better tools if the want us to have retroactive responsibility for content, if “one strike” is out (like one time in tenth grade physical education, when I pitched a “shutout”).  

A blog like one of mine (or those of probably most others) that isn't "public" is pretty useless.  Blogs no longer attract followers since newer forms like Facebook and Twitter (and Google+) have taken over the "friend" and "follower" concept. Blogging, as such, could decline, or at least retreat to being part of flat sites with a lot static material, always hosted.  Perhaps a small number of companies could make "private blogs" devoted to sexually explicit material work with "membership" requirements, but normally they would to this with their own sites, not free blogs.  
As an added note, I see in the Forums that "Nitecruzr" gives some general guidelines on content complaints (adult classification), at least through 2014.  I suspect he will add some more material to this soon.  
Note (Feb. 27):  The "no porn" policy has been deferred.  See the product forum mentioned in the Feb. 24 posting. 

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