The Great Equalizer. The Great Democratizer. Many such phrases have been used to describe the internet over the years—mostly focusing on the rapid dissemination of uncensored information.
Even social media sites (such as Twitter) have played critical roles in real-world revolutions. The ability for the average person to spread ideas, news and information—without corporate or government censorship—has brought about massive power and freedom to the people of the world.
But what happens when the key websites and services—the ones we rely upon to spread those messages—censor that content? That’s a bad thing, right? Well, this seems to be happening a lot recently, especially in relation to leaked content (regardless of the type of content or the source from which it originated).
GitHub, a service primarily used for open source and free culture projects, recently completely censored a repository that contained information proving the NSA developed malware targeting numerous systems.
Maybe there’s a legitimate reason for this. But if there is, GitHub is staying quiet. I reached out to GitHub’s press department for comment one week ago, and as of today, I have not received any response of any kind.
And WordPress.com, the company that runs the popular blogging platform, censored content posted by “Guccifer 2” that was potentially damaging to the reputation of the Democratic party.
In fact, WordPress.com completely removed an entire post (with links to multiple files). That post was replaced with the following statement:
“Some content on this page was disabled on August 13, 2016 upon receipt of a valid complaint regarding the publication of private information. You can read more about WordPress.com’s private information policy.”
I reached out to a few contacts at WordPress.com—including Matt Mullenweg, the founder and CEO of WordPress.com—to get a little more information on the reasoning for this censorship and to give them an opportunity to make a statement expressing their side of things.
That was, as with GitHub, a week ago. As of the writing of this article, I have yet to receive a single response, of any kind, from WordPress.com.
I can’t stress this enough: This is very strange.
Why don’t WordPress.com and GitHub respond?
Both WordPress.com and GitHub are built on free software and have deep ties to the free and open source communities. Typically, when someone like me reaches out to companies in the “FOSS” world, a response comes quickly. When I email the big open source companies, I get a response. Often from the presidents and CEOs themselves—even when my questions are combative.
GitHub and WordPress.com have gone completely dark on their censorship of leaked and/or hacked content that could paint particular organizations and portions of the United States government in a bad light. In the absence of communication from both organizations, all we can do is speculate as to their motives.
Censorship on Twitter and Facebook
Even Twitter reportedly has censored leaked information (and discussion of leaks), having removed the dominantly trending hashtag “#DNCleaks” from the trending section of its site—until Twitter users staged a mini revolt. After that Twitter restored the hashtag to the trending list.
And Facebook was for a time blocking links to Wikileaks. Of which, Facebook’s chief security officer, Alex Stamos, stated (in a short, simple tweet): “It’s been fixed.” No additional information was given.
This article is not to point fingers. Nor is it to suggest a coordinated censorship effort that spans multiple companies—or even to tell you what to think about the contents of any of those leaks (or the discussions around them).
But it is worth thinking about this: When something that many people feel is important to their lives occurs and the major online platforms for disseminating that information censor them, what does that say about those platforms?
Should we, as freedom-loving people, opt into using services that not only censor content, but fail to talk publicly about their motives for doing so? Wouldn’t using those services be a massive and potentially catastrophic mistake on the part of us (their users)?
I am hopeful that Twitter, GitHub and the rest can find a way to be more public, open and transparent about their censoring activities. And that they do so not just by making statements to journalists—though that’s a great start—but by engaging in active discussions with the public about what’s happening and, even more important, what should be happening in regard to this type of content.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go post this article to Twitter and marvel at the irony of me doing so.