If 2017 was the year that corporate platforms were finally forced to recognize their outsized role on the Web, then 2018 should be remembered as the year that many such platforms began to reckon with it. From Facebook finally instituting an appeals process to Tumblr banning adult content, here are some of the ways that corporate platforms tried to take responsibility...with mixed results for freedom of expression.
Facebook improves on accountability
For years, advocates called on Facebook to implement a mechanism to appeal content takedowns...and in May, the company finally took its first steps toward doing so, announcing that appeals would first be rolled out for photos, videos, and posts in two categories. Also in May, the social media giant
, offering greater detail on how content decisions are made, and published its first Community Standards enforcement report
Later in the year—following a letter from more than 70 civil society groups from around the world and across the US led by several groups, including EFF—the company further expanded its appeals process to include other categories of content.
Sex takes a hit at Tumblr, Facebook, and YouTube
The passing of SESTA/FOSTA in early 2018 ushered in a new threat to free expression online, and pushed companies to take sweeping action against certain speech. Although not every instance of policy changes can be directly attributed to the law, it’s hard not to see its influence. From Tumblr’s early December to Facebook’s blunt new policy on sexual solicitation, it’s clear that we’re seeing a chilling effect.
Additionally, measures presumably intended to minimize takedowns—such as demonetization on YouTube—are appearing to have an outsized impact on users whose work deals with sex, such as sexual health educators and LGBTQ+ YouTubers. All in all, the window for sexual expression on the corporate Web narrowed in 2018.
Twitter offers more transparency in time for the holidays
In mid-December, Twitter proferred a holiday gift to users in the form of an expanded transparency report that includes a section on the company’s Rules enforcement. The report shows the number of accounts upon which various enforcement actions were taken across six categories of speech, a solid step in the right direction for transparency. Unfortunately, the company’s transparency report also showed an 80% increase in global legal demands for content takedowns, impacting more than twice as many accounts as the previous reporting period.
What’s yet to come…
2018 marked the inaugural year of our Who Has Your Back? Censorship Edition, in which we rated sixteen platforms across five categories. We look forward to seeing companies take more steps toward accountability and transparency in the new year!
This article is part of our Year in Review series. Read other articles about the fight for digital rights in 2018.
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