Networks, Activism and Censorship


Yesterday in our Social Networks class, Kate Milberry raised the issue of ‘personalization’ by sites like Facebook and shared an article from Tech Crunch that revealed the way that Facebook had censored a comment by prominent blogger Robert Scoble.

I tweeted it to my friend Jodine Chase, who is passionate about promoting breastfeeding and has been at the vanguard of the battle to stop Facebook from censoring photos of moms breastfeeding their babies.

Here’s what she had to say this morning on Facebook:

“For every Robert Scoble, Roger Ebert, (or Emma Kwasnica [the Vancouver woman who first raised the issue of breastfeeding censorship]) with a high profile, lots of supporters and the ability to get mainstream or social media coverage, there are thousands of others who are harmed by Facebook’s actions and have no recourse. If the rest of us want to live in Facebook’s world without sanction we find increasingly we need to modify *our* behaviour. And that means less sharing, less commenting, less liking… less of the things Facebook WANTS and NEEDS us to do to sell advertising.”

She went on to blog about the issue today, pointing out that Facebook risks the support it counts on through its flawed algorithms – mathematical models that aren’t as discerning as they need to be to read the nuances of our lives . Users will – and are – self censoring and sharing less on the Facebook platform for fear of being blocked because of “Facebook’s sloppy follow-through and arbitrary sanctions”. She and others are asking Facebook to put a human interface between its algorithms and its users. You can read more at

Jodine’s concerns relate to the issues of privacy on the web and the need for us to be vigilant about what I think of as privacy creep and what we allow our social media tools to do in our lives. While I tend toward the belief that nothing is truly private anymore other than what we do not share, we do need to question how many sites we allow access to our online information and how they can use our information.

It also raises the need to be unafraid to take on an activist role and more than ever, question authority when it is, as Jodine says, arbitrary and unfair. Perhaps it’s a good thing that the barriers to group formation have been radically lowered by the web, as Shirky points out in “Here Comes Everybody”. Because with the concomitant power of social media sites to regulate discourse, we will need to be ready to organize and protest, even in person, as women around the world did on February 6 this year

Jodine and I are two nodes in our social networks. We are connected through children, through issues, through cooking, through love of family and at the bottom of it all, a passion for communications, which is what first brought us together. We have a lot of connections in common and so can be characterized as sharing the same social circle, but we also are bridges for each other, providing access to networks we otherwise wouldn’t be able to access.

For another inspiring story about how women are using web tools to change their world, check out to see how women are using social media to share breast milk.

P.S. If you haven’t done so yet, you should check your account settings on Facebook (downward arrow beside ‘Home’ on the upper right hand corner). In particular, take a look at the Apps connected to your Facebook account.  Facebook Privacy Controls You might be as amazed as I was at what organizations and sites had permission to access me on Facebook. It’s relatively easy to delete those with which you don’t really want an ongoing relationship.


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