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Social media and the internet might feel a bit like the Wild West these days, but in reality, there are a lot of different forces that control what gets to be seen and published. More recently, hackers, cultural movements, and violence have led tech and social media companies to grapple with their policies on gatekeeping and censorship. But what does that mean for businesses and creators who use social media regularly? Here, we’ll discuss the pros and cons of gatekeeping and censorship in social media and what social media companies can do to ensure accountability and transparency in the process.
Gatekeeping and Censorship on Social Media, Explained
Platforms that practice gatekeeping and censorship aim to filter out content that violates their set guidelines. Censorship is a means of determining whether or not to publish information based on its value or harm to society. However, it can be biased or lead to lesser equity online. On the other hand, Gatekeeping is less about managing societal impact and more concerned with whether or not the narrative is accurate and evidence-based. There are pros and cons to these methods:
Pros: They limit the spread of misinformation, disinformation, and dangerous speech – pushing platforms to be more transparent about their policies and algorithms.
Cons: Algorithms used to identify wrongful acts or information are relatively new and a work in process. Gatekeeping and censorship can often restrict the wrong individuals due to algorithm biases, diminishing the diversity of content and voices.
The Unintentional Effects of Gatekeeping and Censorship
Gatekeeping and censorship policies vary for each social media platform as both the internet and its users continue to evolve. The differences in guidelines and biases in algorithms have unintentionally created problems for some creators and users on social media.
Social-community activist and scientist Dr. Kimya Nuru Dennie shared that after being banned from multiple social media platforms, Dr. Dennis no longer maintains a social media presence. She blames censorship — specifically, the injustices that fuel it. Dr. Dennis opens up about her experiences with social media in this Forbes interview. She used her platform to speak on social justice issues but was ultimately banned from social media for not speaking on social justice issues “using a smiley face.”
Additionally, it’s possible that algorithms meant to detect bias are, themselves, biased, which to the problem they seek to remedy. Let’s take a look at some examples below.
In a recent Instagram story, Head of Instagram Adam Mosseri acknowledges that algorithms can be biased, attributing that possibility to the fact that classifiers are trained on data – typically labels created by people – and all people have biases. Carolyn Wysinger, an activist who runs The C-Dubb Show, a podcast that frequently explores anti-black racism, is no stranger to this bias. She reports that her posts calling out racism are often removed and marked as racist hate speech.
What Can We Do About It?
For many creators, social media isn’t just a hobby – it’s a career. People rely on social media platforms to distribute their content. When content is censored or removed, creators can submit appeals and escalate issues when they’re able. If users and creators continue to ask for more details on why their posts were removed, social platforms may shift towards identifying more clear guidelines or greater transparency.
We can all work together to encourage social media platforms’ transparency regarding their back-end operations. Brands and creators with larger followings can also combat censorship by lifting smaller creators’ voices. We can help censored creators by urging social media platforms to be more transparent by stepping into timely discussions and live streams on censorship and gatekeeping on their platforms. Mosseri does a good job of addressing this topic as it arises in his weekly Ask Me Anything Stories (AMAs) and through the @creators Instagram page as well. We hope that other influential leaders and platforms can continue to work towards improving these guidelines.
Gatekeeping and censorship on social media is a continuously evolving landscape. As with anything, these social media platform’s algorithms are a work in progress. The work social media platforms do to prevent dangerous or hateful speech from reaching audiences is important, but it also needs more transparency. Creators and the social media platforms alike should continue to escalate gatekeeping and censorship issues as they arise and work together to establish transparent guidelines.