Censoring the Internet

I’ve always found China’s approach to the internet fascinating. Or at least based on my understanding of it to control content and messaging, mainly through censoring and propaganda. This means China restricts access to certain sites, domains, and social media options. They also employ, likely thousands of people, to monitor, delete, and scrub messages that don’t align with the government’s message.

Recently, protests started to erupt due to the strict covid limits. However, protestors, aware of the censoring that happens to posts, have started using creative workarounds to get their messages seen and heard. For example, some protestors hold up sheets of blank paper. Others may use code names and words, or certain emojis that will not flag unwanted attention, to escape detection. Or use something innocuous to send a message so that it will pass through the censors.

Now it’s a race between the censors and the content creators. It would be easy for censors to become overwhelmed and fall behind. Keeping up with the ever changing and various coded messaging is constant. Messaging moves fast in the digital world. And once something is out, it can be hard to contain.

In some ways, China’s desire to control the internet and social media content mirrors some of the challenges faced by social media companies. Meta, Twitter, etc. all have been trying to track, monitor, and deal with unwanted content. Now, their definition of unwanted, or problematic content, is different from China’s. But in the end, they all need to have some oversight and control of how people use the platforms. For the social media companies, it’s challenging because they also deal with operating in different jurisdictions, social customs, cultures, and languages. China is at least one country with the same laws, but they have over 1 billion people.

It’ll be interesting to see what happens. Will China be able to contain the protests in the digital universe? Will the government succumb to the pressure and relax the covid restrictions? Or will the limits become even more strict and enforced more strongly? Will news about any of the protests be seen outside of China?

Of course the nerdy archivist in me is thinking about who will preserve the digital trail from all this social unrest. Will there even be anything available to preserve? Or will the censors get to it first?

The Return of Trump to Twitter

Shortly after purchasing Twitter, Elon Musk decided to reinstate Trump’s account. To clarify, the decision wasn’t Musk’s alone. Musk used Twitter to tweet out a poll for platform users to vote. The poll received about 15 million votes, 52% in favor of Trump’s return. However, it makes me wonder how many of those 15 million votes were from actual people.

Some people use chatbots and fake accounts to boost ratings and popularity on social media. Sometimes people even purchase fake followers to make themselves seem more famous than they really are. Was this taken into account when tabulating the results of the poll? And why are platform users making this important decision anyway?

The social media platform, in this case Twitter, is responsible for determining what sort of content can be tweeted and disseminated. In the last few years, Twitter made some moves to regulate content or restrict certain types of information on the platform. Trump’s removal from Twitter, following the events of January 6, 2021, is one result of these efforts.

However, Trump’s recent reinstatement is one example, of many, illustrating how social media companies like to have it both ways. Social Media platforms are fond of promoting themselves as a place for free speech, without any regard to what that actually means. On the other hand, they also love to use algorithms to control what kind of content gets promoted and circulated.

Based on my understanding, Musk’s idea is to allow anybody to tweet anything. Then use algorithms and other means, to restrict who actually gets to see inflammatory, or discriminatory, content. Is there a difference between telling a user they can’t post certain things? Or allowing them to post it and then keeping it hidden?

Content is available with the latter scenario for someone to find it. Or retweet it. Or favorite it. All of which help to disseminate that content. Whereas if the platform bans certain kinds of content in the first place, this can help to keep it from spreading. Or at least not on that platform. When one platform restricts content, users often use a different outlet. Sometimes if can even be worse when these types of users are “Lurking in the Dark Web.”

I’m not looking forward to hearing about Trump’s tweets again. Though it will probably be different now that he’s not the president.

Manipulated Media

It’s becoming increasing easy for people to manipulate media in ways that are both damaging and undetectable. It used to be pretty obvious when a video, or photos, were altered. Now, with improved technology it’s difficult to discover some of these modifications without a lot of backend detecting work. Accessibility to these new technologies has also increased, meaning more people can now use them.

Platforms are also catering to this “mix and match” method of creating content. Tik Tok, for example, allows content creators to take bits of audio or video from other content creators to seamlessly create new content. In doing so, new memes, videos, and interpretations of audio clips can be re-invented continuously. The creativity of these mash-ups often impresses me, especially when they are clever or funny. However, there is a downside. Sometimes these mash-ups can be harmful, resulting in discrimination, defamation, or harassment.

The realistic nature of the new content, combined with the volume, makes it nearly impossible for people to do anything more than view it and move on. Meaning some of the damaging content isn’t getting verified, fact-checked, or sourced. With so many outlets all competing for our attention, it can also be difficult to know where to look for a source of truth.

Having high-interest, short snippets of information is a proven method for getting a lot of clicks. Thus, many people use catchy headlines, promote false stories, or exaggerated titles to gain an audience. Or to have their content shared broadly. This also feeds into the algorithms working silently behind the scenes to constantly suggest new content for us to view. Some of this is based on what we have liked, or viewed, previously. But mostly, they aim to keep our attention focused on the social media site. I blogged about this before a few years ago in “Social Media: Fanning the Flames.”

As mentioned earlier, people don’t have time to check everything. In fact, some people don’t even read the articles attached to sensational headlines before sharing it. Given the direction technology and social platforms are moving, I’m not sure what the future holds. Legislation and ways to control damaging technologies are often slow to develop, usually in reaction to something that has already happened. For now, be mindful of sensational content and how it grabs your attention, perhaps for longer than necessary.

Death of the Home Phone

When I first started carrying around a cell phone, I also maintained a landline. Over time, like most people, I eventually cancelled my landline, using my cell for everything instead. At the time, I didn’t give it a second thought. Having a cell phone meant never having to remote call an answering machine for an important message. It meant I could reach people on-the-go if plans changed last minute. The best perk was never having to use a (shudder) public pay phone. Using pay phones was both disgusting, even before covid, and required one to have the right change to use.

Twenty years later, I still hadn’t given it much thought until I heard a few things recently. I was listening to an old murder story on one of my favorite podcasts. In it, the host mentioned that the murderess had been receiving anonymous calls, as part of the storyline leading up to the murder. Apparently the person behind the anonymous calls is still unsolved. The host speculated that couldn’t happen today because we all have caller ID.

It brought me back to a time when the phone simply rang. Caller ID didn’t even exist yet. Or how we could *69 right after the call to see if we could trace where the call came from. Then there were ways to block your number if you didn’t want someone to know you were calling. With landlines shared by multiple people, or even using a dreaded payphone, it was easier to remain anonymous, or untraceable. Not that this was always a good thing, but could be useful if you didn’t want someone to have your name and number yet needed to call them.

I recently read an article discussing how children lost out on opportunities to practice basic conversation and communication skills by not having landlines. Growing up, I risked having to speak with my friend’s family members if I wanted to call her. Though I didn’t think of this as a necessary life skill at the time, I suppose it taught me how to be polite to other people. Or make small talk with someone or exchange pleasantries.

Another lost benefit of a landline is you were able to reach multiple people with a single call. You can replicate that by passing around one device. However, it means the device owner can’t use it until everyone is finished.

Technombie 7: The Feed

Everybody knew Feeds started to replace personal wearable devices. Or at least that’s what they were told. Or hinted at every so often when it came up during an infoozian. Most people found the feed extremely convenient, especially when combined with a ScreenSpace. It removed decision making for some people by providing them with timely biometric stats, all the time. A whole bunch of biometric data points and algorithms silently connecting the dots behind the scenes decided everything.

However, most people failed to see the real potential of the feed. At least until the pandemic surged across the world. Initially, governments hacked into wearable devices and phones or convinced people to download apps to keep them healthy. It was a way to monitor the health of the population. They installed checkpoints at entries and exits for buildings, mass transit stations and vehicles, retail outlets, pretty much everything. The checkpoints scanned the devices. If the person “passed” they could enter or exit. If they “failed,” any number of things could happen.

Yet, a flaw remained in the system from the government’s oversight. People could simply remove their devices, or leave phones off, moving silently and unnoticed through ports of entry. Though strongly discouraged, it was almost impossible to enforce. This left another option, harder to enforce, but available with the right persuasion and manipulation tactics employed. Enter, the feed, a small finger-sized device inserted directly into a person’s forearm and attached to the nervous system.

Once inserted, the possibilities were endless. Complete control, tracking, and dominance were a mere algorithm, or two, away. The feed enabled continuous monitoring. More importantly, through the feed consequence could be doled out in a series of tremor-inducing jolts. Or by causing entries and exits to lock automatically, containing the offending person. Sometimes the feed communicated secretly with authorities who could track the violating individual and take immediate corrective actions. Often this resulted in isolation or lockdowns in designated facilities.

Equally important, the feed could transmit information cleverly disguised as “infoozians” or regular system upgrades. Nobody could ever really be sure what was going on. And once installed, the feeds were tricky to remove, dangerous even.

The pandemic ended but the feeds raged on, causing a new type of affliction to spread across the globe.


Jasmine scurried out the Baby Designer Studio’s back entrance. She desperately needed fresh air to combat a wave of nausea. Was it from the baby or the thought of the marsupial pouch option? She just couldn’t tell. In her haste, she almost knocked down another pregnant woman clearly in her final months, weeks? Jasmine could never really tell.

“Watch it,” the pregnant lady growled, putting her arm out to regain her balance.

“Excuse me,” Jasmine mumbled. She glanced back to see the woman disappear through a discreet side door. A muted orange light cast a soft, glow over this mysterious entrance. Though if you weren’t looking for it, it was easy to overlook.

The pregnant lady, Wanda, took a quick breath to steady herself once the heavy door shut and latched behind her. Her job was hard enough without annoying, privileged, whiny, wanna-be moms from the Baby Designer Studio trampling her down. She ambled slowly to the comfort room.

When Wanda signed up for this job, she had no idea what it would entail. The pitch made it sound like a way to help aspiring parents realize their dreams. Wanda liked to help people, plus the pay was decent. She liked the idea of making dreams happen. Even her job title, “Innovative Dream Consultant, Thrinter,” had originally sounded fancy and important. Until the real work actually started.

Wanda had been approached and convinced to give this job a try under orders of secrecy. Thus she hadn’t consulted anybody else about the job, nor did she fully understand what it involved. All she knew was that she was getting paid to eat properly, attend exercise classes, and live in luxurious accommodations, complete with housekeeping, rent free. A dream come true, at first…

However, the work began. After a few months of pampering, Wanda started treatments. Initially, she didn’t realize what the pear-shaped 3D printers she passed on the way to the treatment rooms signified. As she lay on the table for one of many treatments, her mind hazy from the drugs, the words slowly fit together. It was like a children’s show, sounding out a new word. Three-D + printer, thrinter. That’s what she was now. The pear-shaped ones were trying to replicate what her body did naturally.

The drugs wore off. Wanda emerged from the treatment room, a “thrinter,” certain this last treatment would make somebody’s dreams come true.