Blogger Will No Longer Allow Sexually Explicit Content. Here's Why This Is So Problematic...
Blogger - Google's blogging web service - just posted a message to all its users that on March 23rd it will "no longer allow certain sexually explicit content". When you read the details, they state that if a blog does have sexually explicit material, then on March 23rd the entire blog will be made private, only visible to individuals who have accepted an invitation from the administrator. It further states that, "We'll still allow nudity if the content offers a substantial public benefit".
There are several reasons why this is so problematic.
First of all, the new Adult content policy is unbelievably vague. What is their definition of "sexually explicit"? There was one case where Facebook deemed informative content about breast cancer whose purpose was to encourage mammograms as "sexually explicit". There was another famous case where they banned images of breast-feeding mothers. Once they protested, that group ultimately became known as "The Lacktivists", which may just be the greatest moniker for a group ever. But I think you get the point. There's not always a strong consensus over what is "sexually explicit", and websites have a history of frequently getting it completely wrong.
Second, in a similar vein, how will they determine what "offers a substantial public benefit"? It's a definitional problem once again. And it's worth pointing out that the new policy doesn't indicate whether it will be human beings or an algorithm making the final judgment. Both methodologies have their flaws, so how comfortable should we be with either of them?
Third, the practical question for millions of Blogger users with a long posting history is: How will I know ahead of time if my entire blog will suddenly be taken offline? For example, The Nerfherder has been using Blogger since its inception in 2006. This is clearly not a blog dealing in sexually explicit content, however occasionally this blog has reported on news events related to the regulation of such material. For instance, we once wrote a post about the outing of a troll on Reddit named "Violentacrez". In our post, we reported on how he had created forums titled "Jailbait" and "Rapebait", to name only a few. PLEASE, read the post for yourself and decide whether, in any way, shape, or form, you believe this should be considered "sexually explicit content". Should The Nerfherder now fear that this entire blog is about to be taken offline by Blogger because an algorithm might discover those phrases located in a post? It would at least be helpful to know if it was going to be taken offline ahead of time.
Private companies certainly have the right to remove sexually explicit content from their service. There's no problem there. The problem is that Blogger should have 1) provided more detailed criteria for what would be deemed "sexually explicit", 2) offered additional criteria for what would be considered as having "substantial public benefit", 3) been transparent in whether this new policy was being implemented by algorithm or by human beings (in order to know who should be held accountable for egregious overreaches), and finally, 4) informed its users ahead of time if their blog was about to be taken offline so that they could take preemptive steps in order to avoid the takedown, as Blogger itself suggests.