Last week, people posting comments about the lack of Canada’s second official language – French – at the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics on websites of major news organizations carrying the story. Suddenly, the words “COMMENT REMOVED” began mysteriously filling web space once held by someone’s comment.
From the Canadian government-owned and operated Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), to the privately held newspaper The Toronto Star, to many other big names in Canadian media, comments started disappearing.
Private companies have been retained by some media outlets to moderate the comments left on their web sites for what they call “illegal, invective, needlessly profane posts, or inanely offensive commentary.”
Granted, the ability for anyone, anywhere, at anytime to go online, and anonymously post whatever happens to pop into their head at the time of seeing something online can produce provocative, and possibly even offensive feedback.
But isn’t that part of what makes the free-for-all wild west of the Internet . . . well . . . uh . . . er . . . the Internet?
Yes, we’re bound to come across comments from people with less than a full deck of cards, and some of these comments may be just as far flung, and may even offend the majority of the population.
But who are we to decide what does and doesn’t appear on the net?
In the case of some of the major media outlets, looks like they didn’t want to answer that question either – they farmed out that mega-huge responsibility to a third-party company to do it for them. Maybe they figured if they weren’t directly involved in the so-called “moderation” of their websites, then they couldn’t be held accountable for the censorship which naturally would follow.
Which raises another sticky question – just who’s rules dictate what is and isn’t fit for public display? When you hire a third-party company to determine this, in many ways you give up the right to tell them how to do their job.
What if that third-party company has clients whose interests they want to maintain – say the International Olympic Committee?
Then even comments which may not really be all that offensive may be removed, just because they are negative comments about the Olympics.
Sounds very much like when China held the Olympics, and they banned media outlets, and actually cut off their Internet and phone access when they reported things which the Chinese government just didn’t like.
Funny, how when that happened, the first to stand up and scream about it were the very media outlets that suddenly lost contact with their news teams in China.
Now it appears the tables have turned, and it is the very same Canadian news media censoring people from saying anything bad about the Olympics here in Canada.
Perhaps the Canadian media needs to be reminded about their experiences in China during the last Olympics? But then again, the real victim is us all – because when the media starts to censor itself, the next logical successor to do the same, will be governments and other private corporations.
And then free speech won’t exist anymore, not online, not on the street, not anywhere.