The Fastest-Growing Job Category of the Decade?

In Robert Heinlein’s SF novel Revolt in 2100, American society fallen under the rule of a rigid theocracy.  The protagonist is introduced in the following passage…

It was cold on the rampart. I slapped my numbed hands together, then stopped hastily for fear of disturbing the Prophet. My post that night was just outside his personal apartments-a post that I had won by taking more than usual care to be neat and smart at guard mount . . . but I had no wish to call attention to myself now.

I was young then and not too bright-a legate fresh out of West Point, and a guardsman in the Angels of the Lord, the personal guard of the Prophet Incarnate. At birth my mother had consecrated me to the Church and at eighteen my Uncle Absolom, a senior lay censor, had prayed an appointment to the Military Academy for me from the Council of Elders.

Uncle Absolom:  a senior lay censor…In the real America in 2017, ‘censor’ is no longer a role restricted to the pages of science fiction novels or to a limited military activity in time of war, but is rather becoming a mainstream occupation, and a fast-growing one.

Facebook, for example, is hiring 3000 people to add to its existing 4500 on the team “reviewing posts with hate speech, crimes, and other harming posts.”  (The illiterate phrasing of the preceding sentence was evidently perpetrated by the professional journalists at TechCrunch, not by FB itself)  YouTube (owned by Google) also employs many people to review videos which are believed to be inappropriate or worse.  There are also programmers and system designers employed in creating and tuning software to facilitate the censorship function, and there are actually startups focused on this area.

It has often been observed that the number of college administrators is growing much faster than the numbers of college faculty.  A nontrivial number of these are engaged in what are basically censorship functions.  Even in business, the censorship of wrongspeech has become a major function of Human Resources and a consumer of management time.

There are also plenty of volunteer censors, eager to report people of whose speech they disapprove and get them fired or instigate mob action against them…for example, Lena Dunham, who sent the following Instagram message directed to airline travelers (and possibly flight crews as well)..

I’m at the airport. And I think people now know, when I’m at the airport, they have to f—ing watch out for me, because I hear and I see all.

There are multiple reasons for the censorship boom:  (1) With social media, communications that were once private are now semipublic and mediated by the social media company (2) Content that was once created and distributed by a relatively small number of media companies..who in effect conducted their own internal censorship process…is now created by a much larger number of individuals and distributed via social media, especially Twitter (3) Many of the previously-generally-accepted standards of behavior and speech have eroded (4) There appears to be growing hostility toward free speech, driven partly but not entirely by academic theorists  (5) There are a lot of people who are just plain sadists and bullies, and shutting other people down gives them pleasure.  Social media gives them new scope for this activity.

With regard to (1), the social media companies…especially FB…really do have a dilemma.  There is an obvious public interest in preventing the dissemination of terrorist propaganda and operational plans, and an obvious human interest in responding to desperate cries for help, as with the suicides that were pre-announced on Facebook.  And the semipublic nature of FB communications implies that individual and group posts can have an impact on FB’s brand, whereas phone conversations and emails would have no such impact on the brand of the carrier involved.  Meanwhile, the Leftist orientation of most of these companies, combined with Silicon Valley groupthink, does not tend toward policies that are particularly supportive of free speech.

With regard to (5), I am reminded of a passage in Goethe’s Faust….Gretchen, after finding that she is pregnant by Faust, is talking with her awful friend Lieschen, who (still unaware of Gretchen’s situation) is licking her chops about the prospect of humiliating another girl (Barbara) who has also become pregnant outside of marriage. Here’s Gretchen, reflecting on her own past complicity in such viciousness:

How readily I used to blame
Some poor young soul that came to shame!
Never found sharp enough words like pins
To stick into other people’s sins
Black as it seemed, I tarred it to boot
And never black enough to suit
Would cross myself, exclaim and preen–
Now I myself am bared to sin!

There’s a lot of this…”sharp enough words like pins to stick in other people’s sins”, combined with the pleasure of preening…in the amateur censors of our day.  And the amateur censors often operate by activating the professional censors.

See also my post Freedom, the Village, and the Internet.

9 thoughts on “The Fastest-Growing Job Category of the Decade?”

  1. As long as SF has been introduced with Heinlein…

    Larry Niven’s stories of “Gil the Arm” suggest that in the near future all other obscenities, blasphemies, scatologies and maledictions will have been replaced with the word “censored” — which then itself becomes a dysphemism. “Censor you! You censoring censored son-of-a Censor! I’ll Censor your censored so censoring hard your censored will censor its own CENSORED!”

  2. Interesting piece here:

    In her essential 1993 book Rights Talk, Mary Ann Glendon worried that the language of legal rights was displacing the pleasantries of everyday social interactions. Glendon wrote that “the highly colored language of advocacy flows out to the larger society through the lips of orators, statesmen, and flamboyant courtroom performers.” Since the language of legal rights is often absolutist, Glendon predicted that its adoption for everyday use increases “the likelihood of conflict and inhibits the sort of dialogue that is increasingly necessary in a pluralist society.”

  3. Ugh. Well, it seems like about 99% of campus hate crimes are hoaxes, so hopefully these cameras will eliminate this issue completely. Of course, in practice the cameras will conveniently not be working during hoaxes, and/or the fraudster’s “privacy” will be used to shield them from being named publicly.

  4. Google, FB and all of the other “free” mass platforms have painted themselves into the same corner. Their business models depend on eliminating human interaction with their “customers”. They now have to read every post and, even worse, watch every video and sanction in some way anything that anyone anywhere might find offensive. 10,000 censors won’t even scratch the surface.

    Until they all come crashing down, I hope everyone enjoys social discourse policed by whoever is willing to do it cheapest. Free exchange of ideas was great while it lasted.

  5. They now have to read every post and, even worse, watch every video and sanction in some way anything that anyone anywhere might find offensive.

    Or they will lobby for blue sky carvouts to legal liability, analogous to those that exist for inadvertent copyright violations. As long as Google et al complied with whatever formal procedures were set up they would have no liability and thus could continue using mostly automated filters.

    What might pressure the Googles to back off on censorship is a loss of traffic that significantly reduced advertising revenue. Perhaps this will happen if the public tires of overly politicized media.

  6. They had the DMCA safe harbor in the U.S. but that didn’t apply outside. The E.U, especially, has institutionalized the head in the sand. As long as a company wants to do business, it has to play by local rules.

    As far as “overly politicized media”, that ship sailed about 1950 if not before as news papers ceded the coverage of national and international news to three networks. They then died when the internet eliminated advertising revenue and readers simultaneously.

    How is someone who thinks Face Book IS the internet, going to know what they’re missing. FB sure won’t tell them. I wonder if the World Wide Web will last much more than 30 years. Most governments see concentrating all of the content into a few companies beholden to them as a feature not something to be discouraged.

    If the E.U. and others can effectively intimidate Google, they won’t have to go to the trouble and take the political heat of implementing their own “Great Wall”. This is all in order to protect their citizens from “HATE” don’t you know, it’s for the children.

    For now, they don’t have any leverage against a site like this that is more or less self contained. What happens if the Eurocrats take exception to something posted here and apply pressure to Amazon or start making lists of people to be detained if they enter the E.U. The F.I.S.A. has already made the point that the most effective laws are those that are enforced in secret.

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