Censorship and EULAs

You’ve undoubtedly run across them.  If you’re like most people, it’s an additional box you check automatically in order to activate a software program.  Traditionally, End User License Agreements (EULAs) were rather bland and boring.  Few people bothered to read through them carefully, despite the fact that they delineated the limits of what people could do with their legally purchased software.

These days we click through such agreements to download applications or utilize social media platforms like Facebook.  We don’t own these things in any definite sense.  We agree to limitations of our rights, and to the rights held by the platform developers/owners, often without thinking about it.  Yet these agreements dictate a great deal about not only what we can do, but what we can see as well.

Consider Kendall Jones.  This privileged young woman has raised a fury through her posting of pictures on Facebook showing her over various exotic animals she has killed over the years on African hunting safaris.  Many people have found her pictures to be offensive.  So they complain.  The result is that Facebook has banned some of her photos, citing its usage policies.  Others have taken to posting death threats to her over Twitter.  

Fascinating.  Aren’t we all supposed to be duly outraged by people who use technology and social media to bully other people and make them feel small and threatened?  Hmmmm.

Facebook claims their policies include restrictions against posting things that encourage “poaching”, encouraging the use of animals in fights or extreme animal abuse.  None of which describe what this young woman has posted pictures of.  

Nobody is alleging that Ms. Jones killed these animals illegally.  Nobody is accusing her of poaching.  It would seem that she had the proper permits for the kills she made – permits issued by the African nations in which she hunted.  It also seems as though some of the photos aren’t actually of animals she killed.  At least one photo is of her with a rhino she claims was tranquilized so it could be treated for a leg injury.  

But there are some people who simply don’t like what she does.  Despite the fact that it’s legal.  And because they don’t like it, Facebook has decided to remove her photos even though they don’t directly do any of the things the Facebook policies are attempting to prevent.

We worry about protection of our freedom of speech in this country.  But ironically, our freedom of speech needn’t be curtailed by our government.  It can just as easily, and probably far more effectively, be curtailed by our media, whether social or otherwise.  Everyone likes Facebook and so Facebook gets to do what they want, arbitrarily imposing limitations on some content because some people don’t like it.  Facebook gets great exposure and free advertising for this,.  For at least Ms. Jones, she gets her freedom of expression limited simply because it isn’t politically correct.

I presume that Ms. Jones, based on reports of a possible reality show and other self-publicity works, is simply seeking to catapult herself into fame.  She’s doing an admirable job of it thus far.  Whether she’ll be able to sustain her 15 minutes of fame and convert it into something more lucrative remains to be seen.  But the fact remains that legal (at least as far as I can tell) hobbies have been ruled impermissible by Facebook.  

You don’t have to break a law to lose your right of free speech – you just have to tick off the wrong people, hold an impolitic opinion, or otherwise buck the boat of public perception that our various medias are trying so hard to impose on us as though everyone else is already in agreement.  

In a situation where our identities are held in check by corporate powers, perhaps our biggest threat isn’t Big Brother, but Big Business.  If a corporate officer can be fired for making campaign donations to a politically incorrect cause, what’s ultimately to stop mortgage companies for calling due your mortgage because they disagree with something you’ve said or done?  Or because enough other people disagree with it?  What’s to prevent our various corporate behomeths from adopting vague language that grants them increasingly broad powers of discretion when it comes to who they will and won’t provide services to?  

And if the press agrees with their actions, how many people will hear of abuses and injustices in this regard?  The State doesn’t have to do anything so crass as eliminate our freedom of speech.  It simply allows business to do it instead.




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