Microsoft to Gab.ai: Censor User Content or You’re Toast!
The free-speech focused cryptocurrency social media site Gab.ai is being forced to potentially self-censor by Microsoft. According to a Tweet posted by the company’s official Twitter account, Gab has been threatened with having their hosting service suspended if they do not delete postings made by one of the site’s users. The site is currently hosted by Microsoft Azure.
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Censorship the New Normal?
For the last few years, censorship of legally protected speech by private companies has become increasingly common. One disturbing trend is that all of the major tech companies and social media sites like Google, Facebook, and Twitter seem to hold left-wing liberal biases. This is demonstrated by the fact that an ever increasing number of conservative and alternative viewpoint holders have been censored, “shadowbanned”, or flat out removed from these services.
One recent major example of this is the widespread and unilateral banning of self-described libertarian and paleoconservative alternative media personality Alex Jones and his Infowars empire. Nothing that Jones said was illegal, and so the censorship and removal of him from these platforms appears to be politically motivated. The sites that removed Infowars all claimed the site violated their terms of service.
With Gab, Microsoft Joins the Political Fray
In terms of politically motivated censorship, Microsoft has usually stayed out of the fray. This could be for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that Microsoft does not currently have any serious social media platform, as do bigger competitors like Google.
Regardless, Microsoft appears to have laid its cards on the table.
In its original Tweet on the matter, Gab included screenshots from the original message that came from Microsoft Azure. The message stated in no uncertain terms that, unless the content that Microsoft found objectionable was removed within 48 hours, all web services will be suspended and Gab could be knocked off-line for weeks or months, according to the post. What makes things even more odd is that the threat from Microsoft claimed the offending poster shared “phishing URLs”.
BREAKING: Gab’s hosting provider, Microsoft Azure, has given us 48 hours to take action on two posts or they will pull our service and Gab will go down for weeks/months. pic.twitter.com/dIfaeTr2Go
— Gab.ai (@getongab) August 9, 2018
In a subsequent post, Gab denied the presence of phishing URLs. They claimed the offending posts were text only and contained no links of any kind.
— scott budman (@scottbudman) August 9, 2018
The posts in question both came from the same user, who on brief examination appears to be an open holder of anti-semitic views. And while such views may be distasteful, harmful, or downright disgusting depending on your perspective, such opinions are not illegal in the United States.
The User Self-Censors
Shortly after making the announcement, the user in question who posted the offending content appears to have voluntarily deleted it. Specifically, the individual who posts under the name Patrick Little, said:
UPDATE: Patrick Little has voluntarily removed the posts cited by Microsoft. pic.twitter.com/1ywwcvaqKb
— Gab.ai (@getongab) August 9, 2018
An argument could be made that Microsoft is a private company and can do business with whomever they choose. Unfortunately, things become a little less clear when major Internet companies get involved. Companies like Microsoft and Google hold virtual monopolies in their respective domains. As such, if they choose to censor someone for their ideas, there could be widespread consequences.
Gab is a site that exists primarily as a means of allowing users to post without fear of political censorship. As such, those who fear censorship flock to these platforms to share their unpopular or distasteful ideas. Microsoft should have known from the beginning that when dealing with a free-speech site, controversial posts will be inevitable.
Further, as Gab is a small company, they need to rely on service providers that can take advantage of economies of scale to provide affordable hosting. The company is currently in the process of raising funds to move to their own servers. But that is likely a process that could take a long time to complete.
Is Decentralization the Only Defense from Censorship?
One of the main tenets of cryptocurrency networks, including Bitcoin and Ethereum, is that they are designed to be as censorship-resistant as possible.
If a country makes Bitcoin illegal, for example, there is basically nothing it can do to actually stop the use of BTC within its borders, short of completely shutting down all access to the Internet. And even that might not be enough to stop bitcoin transactions as paper wallets would still work.
Satoshi Nakamoto very intentionally created a system that exists outside of the control of powerful groups that would aim to subvert its ownership and control. This has so far proven to be highly successful. Bitcoin has never fallen victim to any individual or group that aims to control it.
This prompts the question: why do we work so hard on making decentralized and censorship-resistant currencies, but still allow a few elite corporate gatekeepers to control and manipulate our public discourse to such a degree that they decide what we see and what we don’t see through intimidation and threats of account suspensions and takedowns?
Perhaps the only solution to this is to simply decentralize everything. That way no one person or group controls the keys to an entire critical social system.
Should private social media platforms censor their users’ speech? Does Bitcoin provide a solution at all? Let’s hear your thoughts in the comments.
Images via Gab.ai, Pixabay