How Not to Censor a Discussion Board

Posted on 09/01/2011 by

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The censor must, of course, read everything. By ‘the censor’, I don’t mean an individual, of course, but rather a system. Most likely this is composed of a passive and active level; the passive is a text crawler, which then sorts posts by user. From there, certain keywords and keyphrases are analysed, and reports are generated, describing the general nature of the user.

If sufficient ‘flags’ are raised by a particular user, the computer level of this system will alert the a human component. If the flagged user is of sufficient interest, the system will begin human tracking of that user.

Here the active monitoring process begins. The active human level takes over from the passive computer tracking; human components are tasked with following all posts from the flagged user.

I posit that active tracking has three classifications for flagged users: declining, stable, and rising. Declining means that the flagged user was a fluke of the passive computer tracking, and will eventually fall from active tracking. Stable means that the user is of a constant, most likely low, level of interest; tracking continues on human component levels. Rising is when the flagged user has increasingly ‘unauthorised’ posts, and shows a profile which is increasingly in need of censoring.

When the rising flagged user reaches a sufficiently critical level, the system decides that drastic action needs to be taken: the user must be shut down. The move is sudden and perhaps unprovoked — or on very slight pretences. A user’s account is terminated, thereby removing all offending content from easy access. Add onto this a scrubbing of Google cache pages, and in theory the user has been neutralised.

The flaws of this system are severe. First is the purely technological flaw: nothing can be purged from the internet. Computers all have their own cache pages, and information — obviously — can be extracted therefrom.

The biggest flaw, though, is simple: it shows without question the presence of the censoring system. It is no longer deniable that censorship is in process, because in its perverse illogic, the censoring system attempts to eliminate one of the most visible users. All other users are thereby warned of the censoring system.

Censoring systems only work in the context of discussion boards, when the system is invisible. Once its presence is revealed, it can no longer operate effectively, because all remaining users are actively examining what they write, and ensuring that it does not ‘go away’. In short, what the censoring system thought was “Mission Accomplished”, was actually the act which made it no longer effective.

Thus, how not to censor a discussion board.

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Posted in: Analysis