The concept of censorship tends to get muddled often in public discourse, especially online. It’s become an even more prominent topic in the last year in the wake of bans, removals, and shutdowns of various public personas and companies.
However, not every action that results in stopping someone from expressing themselves is censorship.
So what is the difference, why is it important, and how does it apply to digital marketing? Let’s find out.
Moderation Is Not Censorship
Censorship often gets brought up in the same context as freedom as speech, but both concepts are usually misused.
Freedom of speech specifically applies to the government being unable to hinder you from self-expression and/or pursue legal action against you for speaking against it.
It’s a different situation for private entities.
They’re permitted to disagree, penalize, or even ban you for the views you express if they do not align with their own standards and values.
Legally, this is not considered censorship or a violation of freedom of speech, but moderation.
What is Internet Censorship?
True internet censorship only really occurs in countries with an authoritarian regime, and it consists of blocking access to the internet, blocking certain websites, banning VPNs and torrenting sites, blocking social media or heavily monitoring it, or stopping information from outside the country to trickle in.
The key thing to understand is that internet censorship can only be enforced by the government and while it can be put in place with the aim to limit information, or even disseminate misinformation, at times it’s necessary, in order to protect the innocent.
What is Internet Moderation?
Internet moderation, on the other hand, is when private entities – whether it’s a person or a company – exert control over the type of content, speech, or the people they allow on their platform.
A lot of things can be and are moderated, without being censored. These can range from a relative blocking you on Facebook or a forum moderator deleting your comment to your ISP refusing service because you violated the terms of your contract.
It is the right of every private entity to choose what they support, enable, or allow.
Moderation is not only enforced, but it is often necessary to facilitate the continuation of civilized speech or support a specific topic, image, philosophy, political stance, etc.
A forum dedicated to discussing movies will delete posts about cars because they’re off-topic. That “censors” speech, but it is moderation, and it’s necessary, in order to retain the focus on their chosen topic of conversation.
Use online marketing or PR as another example – a spokesperson cannot say whatever they want, their speech is inherently moderated beforehand.
Affiliate networks for instance have to engage in some moderation of the way affiliates promote the campaigns of advertisers; they are not free to say anything they want, in any way they want.
Companies moderate content to make sure it’s in line with their branding and other policies.
Moderation Can Look Like Censorship
Of course, when we’re talking about a powerful entity, removal is easier to overlook, because they still have the means to express themselves.
Let’s consider a private individual. Let’s say Mailchimp decides to ban an individual for expressing an opinion. A significant number of content creators, bloggers, and website owners – some of them non-profit – survive through affiliate marketing, as a means of avoiding ads or sponsorships.
When major companies withdraw their service, that leaves these small creators effectively silenced and starved for funds. The individual is effectively silenced since they are unable to operate independently. Censorship may not be the intent, but it is the result.
Despite what some may think, not every instance of a removal or silencing is censorship. Unless it’s done by the government, it’s likely just moderation.
Understanding the difference between the two can help affiliate marketers and other online individuals navigate an ever-changing digital landscape.