It’s a funny concept, borderline content. Where’s the border? Where’s the line? Who get to decide these things? Evidently, social media platforms like YouTube and Facebook are the arbiter of what user should and shouldn’t see, as they’re using underhanded means to filter out what they consider unsuitable for viewing.
They certainly have the right to “filter” or censor their hosted content as they see fit: sure, we have the First Amendment to protect free speech, but websites like YouTube and Facebook are essentially treated as private property – and in their house, they set the rules.
But it’s a heck of a big house and a whole lot of social influence, as YouTube has around a billion users and Facebook has roughly 1.74 billion users. Thus, getting “shadow banned” (having your content hidden from searches, recommended videos, etc.) is the equivalent of a social media death sentence.
As a YouTuber myself, I know firsthand that turning up in people’s search results and recommended videos is everything – without that, hardly anyone will even know your videos exist. And for Facebook posters, it’s all about getting your stories spread through the news feed.
In what appears to be an effort to become more “family friendly” (i.e., advertiser friendly), large social networks have been shadow banning what they consider to be “borderline content.” That’s a vague term, and good luck trying to determine how their algorithms separate the acceptable from the not-so-acceptable.
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On November 15, Mark Zuckerberg posted his “Blueprint for Content Governance and Enforcement,” wherein he openly admitted, “We train AI systems to detect borderline content so we can distribute that content less.”
And for us visual learners, Zuck included a graphic displaying how the so-called borderline content will be “discouraged” (i.e., will receive less engagement because it won’t be shown in news feeds) as it approaches the “policy line”:
Courtesy: Mark Zuckerberg
Again, the issue of where he’s drawing “the line” remains unsolved. In a largely parallel move, YouTube announced on January 25 that it, too, would stop recommending borderline content. (And people say Trump is obsessed with borders…)
Unsurprisingly, how YouTube’s programmed algorithms will detect and determine what’s borderline and what’s not is left to our collective imagination. You’d probably have an easier time getting military secrets from the Pentagon or KFC’s chicken recipe than YouTube’s algo.
YouTube did, however, give us a few examples: “We’ll begin reducing recommendations of borderline content and content that could misinform users in harmful ways – like videos promoting a phony miracle cure for a serious illness, claiming the earth is flat, or making blatantly false claims about historic events like 9/11.”
Frankly, I’m not super comfortable with any of those examples. Will the YouTube algo consider alternative medicines a “phony miracle cure”? Will it consider alternative theories to the government’s narrative on 9/11 “blatantly false”?
And, regardless of whether or not we agree with Flat Earthers, why would YouTube make it a policy to shadow ban all of them? Are they targeting content that’s actually harmful, or just that which is unpopular?
Despite my misgivings, I will continue to use YouTube and Facebook as avenues of expression – for now. In the meantime, I’ll also be taking a serious look at promising decentralized alternatives like BitTube and Dtube. And of course, I’ll continue to express myself here on Crush the Street, where I’m free to be my “borderline” self.
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