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As society becomes more integrated with the internet, we find that more and more of the content we consume is being controlled by organisations and governments to benefit their own interests.
While censoring some content is of course a positive thing, where do we draw the line? Should you be allowed to see sex toys on Facebook? Hear conspiracy theories on reddit?
Learn more about the ways your online content is controlled in this article!
Section 230: Freedom of Speech Online
Ironically, one of the best ways the internet is protected is through law. Section 230 of the Communication Decency Act (in America) protects online businesses and services from liability if their users post inappropriate content.
Let’s use an example to explain things more clearly.
User A purchases a vibrator from our store. They leave a review for the product, and in their review say something inappropriate.
User B sees this review and is offended by it. Without Section 230, this user could start legal proceedings against our business, even though we had nothing to do with the offensive content.
Instead, user B can contact us, and request that we remove the offensive review, but they can’t hold us liable for it.
The Problem with Section 230
In an ideal world, many would prefer that there is no offensive content on the internet at all. In the real world though, this just isn’t realistic.
Some advocates for change believe that S230 is protecting the large tech companies from liability, and it should be changed to force them to moderate the content found on their websites.
The problem with this is the sheer volume of content that would need to be manually checked every day. Imagine how many YouTube videos or Facebook comments are uploaded each day.
While changing S230 seems like a good idea, it would just further shift the balance towards massive companies that have the resources to check all these things, and further punish smaller business and make it more difficult for them to get started.
Social Media Censorship
Another area where censorship is beginning to rear its head more and more is in our social media use. Where originally these websites were thought to be free havens for anyone to share their views, now our content consumption is carefully moderated by companies which claim to have our best interests at heart.
But do they?
Obviously the most prevalent criticism is that these websites will control content in a way that benefits them, just like any other online entity. But when so many people consume this content, any kind of control must be questioned.
Throughout 2020 and early 2021, we have seen endless examples of misinformation being spread through social media, much to the detriment of parts of society.
While controlling social media sounds like a noble goal, it is impossible to say where we should draw the line. As a sex toy store, we constantly face this kind of battle, as it is often unclear where sexual content should be censored.
Lots of people would complain (quite rightly!) if their Facebook and Instagram feeds are filled with pictures of boobs and penises, but shouldn’t we be allowed to advertise a butt plug?
It can even get to the point where an individual can post a picture of a dildo, but if we were to post the exact same picture it could be removed.
Why should some companies be at a disadvantage compared to others, simply in the name of censorship?
Censorship in Advertising
The issues around censorship in advertising are not exclusive to social media though. Even in the wider advertising issues, companies can face many problems when trying to market their products.
You may have seen a variety of products labelled as novelty items even though it’s clear what the product is and what it does. Often this is done due to advertising censorship, and companies must go to great lengths to sell some of their products.
Take a BDSM collar for example. There’s nothing inherently sexual about the product itself, it’s a collar. But due to the simple fact that Lovegasm is a sex toy store, we may face significant difficulties trying to advertise even non-sexual products.
Once again, this puts businesses selling products that may be deemed “unacceptable” at a disadvantage compared to other companies.
FOSTA and SESTA
A great example of the difficulty that comes because of censorship are the FOSTA and SESTA bill, passed by the American government.
These bills were intended to help against online sex trafficking and made it so that websites would be responsible for “promoting or facilitating prostitution”. What resulted was a blanket ban by the online community of anything related sex trafficking and prostitution.
It sounds good, until you realise that many websites also enabled sex workers to communicate with each other. Now they were completely alone, and even more vulnerable than before.
Ultimately, the bills didn’t help at all with sex trafficking, and were also harmful in other areas. With most laws relating to online activity, the wording tends to be problematic. In this case, “promoting or facilitating prostitution” could be vaguely interpreted to mean all kinds of things.
For example, is selling a strap on to a lesbian prostitute “facilitating prostitution”. This is quite a basic example, but there are many complex ways laws can be argued, especially if the language is vague.
Thanks to this language, many online communities and websites would rather play it safe and censor any content that could be interpreted this way.
Punishing Online Businesses
All these elements tend to favor the larger online businesses and punish the smaller ones. But even large sites are not immune.
Tumblr is a website which has been struggling since it chose to ban all adult content. While the ban was to deal with reports of child pornography, many communities were shut down as a result.
In the following years, Tumblr has struggled to retain its former popularity, and may eventually close completely.
Those that can weather the storm are free to take advantage of the situation. Dating sites, for example, face many of these issues and are often forced to close. Meanwhile Facebook is able to create its own dating app and have the sheer manpower to control their content and not fall foul of the law.
It is crucial that any restrictions placed leave everyone in the same position they were before, not give advantages to certain parties.
We must question this kind of censorship, not just because we sell sex toys, but because sex censorship is just the beginning. A future where we all use entirely segregated bubbles of the internet is entirely possible, and censorship is the first step towards our use being highly controlled, like the situation in China.
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