'Online Censorship' Site Aims to Track Removal of Controversial Content


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By Devin Coldewey

Social media sites that host images and video, like YouTube and Facebook, have to keep an eye out for content that might be illegal or offensive — but well-meaning posts and innocent users can get caught in the crossfire when controversial content is accidentally or deliberately suppressed.

A new site called Onlinecensorship.org lets users report when they think material they created or shared has been taken down unjustly.

"By collecting these reports, we’re not just looking for trends. We’re also looking for context, and to build an understanding of how the removal of content affects users’ lives," said Ramzi Jaber, co-founder of the site, in a press release from the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which collaborated on the project.

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An example of this occurred just last week, when a woman named Isis Anchalee had her Facebook account reported by other users, and subsequently temporarily suspended. That this happened during a spate of ISIS-related online "hacktivisim," in which thousands of social media accounts were being reported as linked to the Islamist militant group and suspended, seems no coincidence.

Online Censorship looks to track situations like Anchalee's, as well as others along these lines, such as photos or politically charged posts that don't break terms of service but are nevertheless removed — often because of user complaints.

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"The data we collect will allow us to raise public awareness about the ways these companies are regulating speech," said the EFF's Jillian York in the release. "We hope that companies will respond to the data by improving their regulations and reporting mechanisms and processes."

The site will also guide users through the processes of appealing a content takedown, which is not always an easy one. You can report any perceived censorship or questionable takedowns here.