3 Popular Online Services to Avoid If You Value Free Speech
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Free speech is under attack.

But in this case, it’s not under siege from a government. Instead, some of the most popular online services have made it clear that they don’t want certain types of speech on their platforms. If you’re someone who values the inalienable human right of freedom of speech, you may want to stay away from them out of principle, or to avoid having your accounts locked.

Let’s examine three of the most hostile companies towards free speech today, including examples of hypocrisy in applying their rules.

1. Microsoft

Microsoft is the most recent company to take worrying action against free speech. While the company has always had terms preventing use of its services for illegal content, recent updates to the Microsoft Services Agreement have left many feeling concerned.

Most of the changes are bland, except for one bullet that activist Jon Corbett pointed out:

“In the Code of Conduct section, we’ve clarified that use of offensive language and fraudulent activity is prohibited. We’ve also clarified that violation of the Code of Conduct through Xbox Services may result in suspensions or bans from participation in Xbox Services, including forfeiture of content licenses, Xbox Gold Membership time, and Microsoft account balances associated with the account.”

The relevant change reads as follows:

“Don’t publicly display or use the Services to share inappropriate content or material (involving, for example, nudity, bestiality, pornography, offensive language, graphic violence, or criminal activity).”

Don’t Be Offensive

The “offensive language” wording is what’s worrying here. With these changes, Microsoft has effectively said that if you use any of its dozens of services to say anything offensive, you could lose access to your entire account. And in 2018, nearly anything could offend someone.

If you’re a long-time Microsoft account user, losing access to your account could be catastrophic. You’d lose your Windows 10 account login The Pros and Cons of Using a Microsoft Account with Windows The Pros and Cons of Using a Microsoft Account with Windows A single Microsoft Account allows you to log into a wide range of Microsoft services and apps. We show you the pros and cons of using a Microsoft Account with Windows. Read More , Outlook mail, OneDrive files, Office 365 subscription How to Manage Your Office 365 Subscription How to Manage Your Office 365 Subscription Getting to grips with Office 365? Make sure you're in complete control of your account and subscription settings with this guide. Read More , and Skype account. Plus, if you didn’t notice, the Xbox “forfeiture of content licenses” means that you’d lose access to all digital games you own on Xbox Live Best Games to Play on Your New Xbox One Best Games to Play on Your New Xbox One Got a new Xbox One and need some games? You're in luck. Here are the games to get you started, no matter what genres you like. Read More .

All because you had a sexy call over Skype with your significant other, cursed at someone in anger in an online game, or used Office 365 to write an essay that offended a reader?

Further, it’s a bit hypocritical to include “graphic violence” as an offense, since Microsoft approves many video games with intense violence on Xbox. So playing Grand Theft Auto or Call of Duty is OK, but uploading a violent video to OneDrive isn’t?

Thankfully, Microsoft doesn’t plan to search through your data looking for offenses. But it does proclaim:

“When investigating alleged violations of these Terms, Microsoft reserves the right to review Your Content in order to resolve the issue.”

Thanks to vague terminology like “offensive language”, “publicly”, and “investigating”, Microsoft is essentially allowing itself to remove your account if it feels like it. What constitutes an “investigation”? You’re probably fine swearing in Skype chats with friends, but you’d better not “offend” anyone “publicly” or your account is gone.

2. Google

Microsoft’s vague wording is concerning, but it’s nothing compared to Google’s actions. You could choose from lots of examples of this since Google has so many services and products Google's Most Interesting: Apps, Projects, and Services You Must Know About Google's Most Interesting: Apps, Projects, and Services You Must Know About Google always has dozens of projects going at any given time and it can be hard to keep track of them all. Here are the most interesting ones that you should be aware of. Read More , but we’ll highlight a few.

Perhaps the best-known recent example of Google’s inability to deal with differing opinions is the firing of James Damore. Damore was an engineer at Google who published an internal memo, later leaked, that argued differences between men and women may account for some of the gender representation in tech.

This idea proved too radical for the management at Google, with CEO Sundar Pichai claiming that Damore’s memo “advanc[ed] harmful gender stereotypes”. Pichai then stated that Damore’s memo caused problems with other employees because “[p]eople must feel free to express dissent.” Apparently this freedom didn’t apply to Damore.

Clearly, Google’s creed for diversity is only based on superficial characteristics like skin color and sexual orientation. Diversity of ideas is not a priority.

Google’s Hypocrisy

With Google being so holy as to crush any tidbit of diversity injustice, you’d think that it expands those protections to its service, right? That would explain why Google fought to protect a law that allows Backpage, a service notoriously used for the sex trafficking of children, to continue to serve as a place for enabling horrific crimes.

So stating that men and women have biological differences is unforgivably offensive, but Google is happy to spend money to make it easier for pimps to purchase teenage girls to sell for sex. Is this really the company you want deciding what shows up in search results?

On its Play Store, the marketplace for Android apps, Google banned alternative social network Twitter Is Dying! 7 Alternative Social Networks to Join Now Twitter Is Dying! 7 Alternative Social Networks to Join Now Twitter is struggling, weighed down by trolls, extremists, and over-exuberant censorship. The only answer is to jump ship, but where should you go? These Twitter alternatives might be your best bet. Read More Gab’s app. Google explained the reasoning to Ars Technica:

“In order to be on the Play Store, social networking apps need to demonstrate a sufficient level of moderation, including for content that encourages violence and advocates hate against groups of people.”

Gab’s offense is that unlike most other offerings, it’s a social network “for creators who believe in free speech, individual liberty, and the free flow of information online.” Google doesn’t like this, so it simply removes the app. Thankfully, you can sideload it How to Sideload Any File onto Your Android Phone or Tablet How to Sideload Any File onto Your Android Phone or Tablet You may have come across the term "sideloading" before, but what does it mean? And how can you go about sideloading apps or files? Read More if you’re interested.

Again, Google’s hypocrisy is clear. The company allows a multitude of Reddit apps on the Play Store The Best Reddit Apps for Android The Best Reddit Apps for Android If you want to use Reddit on Android, there's an app for you. Read More , all of which enable access to many of the service’s “hateful” subreddits, various explicit content, and depictions of brutal violence. But since Reddit’s politics align more with Google’s than Gab’s do, it’s not a problem.

YouTube Censorship

YouTube is rampant with censorship. After the recent advertiser scares It's Now Harder to Make Money Making YouTube Videos It's Now Harder to Make Money Making YouTube Videos Aspiring YouTubers now need to reach 10,000 views before they can even think about making money from advertising. Which sucks for smaller YouTubers, but is a win for everybody else. Read More , it’s understandable that Google would want to tighten its controls on what ads appear where. As it states:

“[W]e’re taking a tougher stance on hateful, offensive and derogatory content. This includes removing ads more effectively from content that is attacking or harassing people based on their race, religion, gender or similar categories.”

Given Google’s episode with James Damore, who can guess what it will say is “harassing”? PragerU, which provides instructional videos about history and politics, has seen many of its videos demonetized. Whether or not you agree with the channel’s videos, it’s hard to argue that their content is not suitable for advertisers. Many conservative channels simply discussing ideas have seen similar demonetization.

A video comparing Nazism and communism from PragerU is demonetized, while BuzzFeed’s “Porn Stars Teach Couples Sex Moves” still has an ad.

YouTube has announced that it plans to ban videos promoting guns or providing instructions on how to make legal modifications, yet videos on how to build bombs remain.

A creator who uploaded a video on how to help victims of a shooting was demonetized, with YouTube explaining on Twitter that it had a policy not to run ads on videos about tragedies. However, late-night host Jimmy Kimmel’s video on the shooting still featured ads.

What’s scary is that Google effectively serves as many people’s gateway to the internet. A staggering 75 percent of all web searches are made through Google. If Google removes something from its search index, it’s almost as if it doesn’t exist. And as we’ve seen, Google is both rampantly hypocritical and happy to remove content that it doesn’t agree with from its services whenever it feels like it.

3. Twitter

Twitter (our guide explains how to use it) doesn’t have nearly the authority of Google, but the social networking service has been happy to censor dissenting opinions nonetheless.

One of the biggest censorship concerns with Twitter is its verification system. Users who are deemed to be “of public interest” receive a blue check mark next to their names so others know they’re authentic. This lets you know that you’re really following Justin Bieber or another popular account, and not a parody or impostor. These users also receive prominence in searches and replies.

For a long time, Twitter only verified accounts on its own volition. A few years ago, Twitter started allowing anyone in certain spheres, such as entertainment, sports, or journalism, to apply for verification. This was never intended to show that Twitter endorsed the person’s views, but simply that they were actually who they claimed.

After this change, many users claimed that Twitter was endorsing racial supremacists and other “hateful” accounts via verification. Thus, Twitter announced in November 2017 that it was revamping verification. The company is still in the process of doing so, but the verified FAQ page states that reasons for removal may include:

“Promoting hate and/or violence against, or directly attacking or threatening other people on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, religious affiliation, age, disability, or disease. Supporting organizations or individuals that promote the above.”

As a result of this, several controversial accounts lost their verification status. However, verified accounts from users like Kate Morgan receive no punishment for tweeting that all men should be murdered.

Note that these rules state you can lose verification for behaviors outside of Twitter. That means the company can watch what you do and cut you off if you do something it doesn’t like. So Twitter lamented that verification was seen as an endorsement by some, then proceeded to turn it into an endorsement.

Dropping the Twitter Ban Hammer

Aside from verification, Twitter regularly bans users for questionable offenses. Popular YouTuber Bunty King has been banned several times for “abusive behavior,” the most recent incident of which being a text-based meme intended as a joke.

Writer Milo Yiannopoulos was also banned by Twitter in 2016 for “targeted abuse” of actress Leslie Jones shortly after the release of the remade Ghostbusters film. The actual offense? Yiannopoulos commented on Jones’s tweet about receiving hate mail after the movie’s release.

Yiannopoulos-Jones-Tweet

While fans of Yiannopoulos may have taken more hostile actions, he didn’t do anything “abusive” other than ridicule Jones’s tweets. This might have been in poor taste, but it certainly wasn’t abusive.

Shortly after, Twitter permanently banned Yiannopoulos. If public figures are responsible for their fans’ actions, what about fans of Justin Bieber who cut themselves? Jones, on her own volition, decide to quit using Twitter because of the incident (though she returned a few days later).

After this, Twitter stepped up its rules to prevent these scenarios, with its updated enforcement philosophy stating:

“While we welcome everyone to express themselves on our service, we will not tolerate behavior that harasses, threatens, or uses fear to silence the voices of others.”

Leslie Jones’s voice was not “silenced”—she voluntarily stepped away from Twitter for two days. Ironically, permanently banning someone does silence their voice. Twitter also states the following:

“When determining whether to take enforcement action, we may consider a number of factors, including (but not limited to) whether the behavior is directed at an individual, group, or protected category of people”

What’s a “protected category of people”? Only Twitter knows the secret behind its identity politics. Protected groups certainly don’t include white people, as racist website The Root is allowed to continue on Twitter with tweets like this:

Online Free Speech Is Important

We should stress that private companies have the right to do as they please—if you don’t like a company’s policies, you can use another. And we’re not objecting to these services taking action against terrorism, child abuse, and similar crimes.

However, the blocking of ideas that these companies don’t agree with is worrying. Free speech is a vital component of our dialog today because it’s how we sharpen our ideas. The best way to shut down a bad idea is to present a better one, not to silence the ones voicing the bad idea.

This also isn’t meant as a political article. While we’ve mainly discussed censorship of conservative ideas here, it’s simply because companies like Google and Twitter don’t usually step in to censor ideas from the other side. The double standards are a problem.

While it’s easy enough to look the other way when the speech being silenced is something you don’t like, who’s to say that these giant corporations won’t come after your opinions next? Their demonstrable hypocrisies show that they’re not fair, so you should think twice about using these services if you value freedom of expression.

If you’re interested, we’ve covered more about why you should stop using Google Stop Using Google Search: Here's Why Stop Using Google Search: Here's Why Google has unrivaled access to your browsing habits. Giving everything to Google isn't such a good idea. Here are some excellent Google alternatives that still get the job done. Read More .

Image Credit: londondeposit/Depositphotos

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  1. John Smith
    April 22, 2018 at 11:10 am

    Also Facebook, anything run by Apple too. Check the complaints about their comments section on their support pages.

  2. JGM
    April 19, 2018 at 9:55 pm

    What a minute... no mention of Facebook? Really?

  3. DBClayton
    April 18, 2018 at 8:18 pm

    You seem to be minimizing just how bigoted the individuals mentioned are, and are not acknowledging the truly terrible things they have said and done, and are distorting the truth for your own agenda. Google wasn't the only company to put restrictions against Gab-- so did Apple, because it violated the company's policies. It was a racist
    I agreed about the offensive language X-Box thing, but you lost me after that.

    Google's firing case wasn't an attack on other views, it was excising a member of their company who was toxic towards other employees. Damore believed his female colleagues were inferior to himself, and felt comfortable enough to openly share that information. By keeping him on, not only would the company be in a PR nightmare, they would be telling the female employees at Google that they support Damore.

    All of your examples are cases in which powerful (white men) are 'punching down', targeting women, minorities, etc. Your counter examples, meanwhile are women and minorities 'punching up' by targeting the 'establishment'. Something can be wrong and biased, but there's a difference between that and oppression. (i.e. Misandristic women are not a threat the way misogynistic men are.)

    Technical note-- the end of your Google argument is accidentally at the bottom of the youtube segment, probably a copy and paste issue, but figured you should know.

    P.S. Thank you for posting this. Now I know to avoid this site. Not because you are conservative, but because a site I turned to for tech information posted opinionated drivel. If I wanted political opinions, I'd go to a real news outlet.

    • Ben Stegner
      April 19, 2018 at 2:50 pm

      What about the "bigoted" views of the woman who said everyone with a penis should be murdered, or that the entire white population in America is a problem? Are those not issues to you?

      It'd really be a shame if you stopped visiting us because of one article. We don't normally write pieces like this, but I felt that it needed to be said from a free speech in technology point of view.

    • John Smith
      April 22, 2018 at 11:12 am

      Yes, please avoid "this site" and others.
      One day, you'll end up off the Internet since someone DARED to post something you don't like.

      No, those people are not "bigoted" since they have a different opinion or an opinion you disagree with. Do your homework and find out who is Milo, you are calling bigoted.

      In fact, you are supporting censorship because you disagree with that person's opinion, that makes you the bigoted one.

  4. xaviavant
    April 12, 2018 at 4:19 am

    So basically, as I understand it, this article is arguing that people should have the right to say hateful, offensive, and/or vitriolic things online without consequence.

    I might be reading it wrong, but from my personal experience, a lot of people who cry "CENSORSHIP" also tend to have a lot of hateful, offensive, and/or vitriolic stuff to say.

    • drak
      April 12, 2018 at 9:44 am

      The article addresses hypocrisy (we allow for one group what we disallow for another), vague terms and conditions of usage, selective bans, biased approach and similar methods.

      Why one might not agree with certain politics and rules, the lack of conistency and eye-stinging examples of double standards is even worse problem.

    • dragonmouth
      April 12, 2018 at 2:17 pm

      "as I understand it, this article is arguing that people should have the right to say hateful, offensive, and/or vitriolic things online without consequence."
      That is YOUR interpretation and that highlights the problem. Freedom of Speech means ALL speech, not just Politically Correct speech or speech approved by the Thought Police. If we were to forbid all statements that somebody deemed "hateful, offensive, and/or vitriolic", nobody would be allowed to say or write anything because in today's world, especially in the US, no matter what one says, it is considered "hateful, offensive, and/or vitriolic" by somebody somewhere.

      If you say "Good morning/afternoon/evening" to some who is having a bad day, that person might consider you offensive and insensitive to their suffering.

      How many times have you heard/read Windows proponents say "Oh, you're only saying that because you HATE Windows!" when others point out its shortcomings? Should the word HATE really be used in this context? How may times a day do we label an opposing opinion as HATEFUL?

      Let me remind you that almost everything American colonists said about England was considered hateful, offensive, vitriolic AND treasonous by the English.

      "a lot of people who cry "CENSORSHIP" also tend to have a lot of hateful, offensive, and/or vitriolic stuff to say."
      From my personal experience, a lot of people who object to hateful, offensive and/or vitriolic stuff want just their opinion to be heard and count. They do not consider that their opinion might be hateful, offensive and/vitriolic to other people.

      BTW - are my comments "hateful, offensive and/or vitriolic" just because I do not share your opinion? Would you want MUO moderators to delete them?

    • John Smith
      April 22, 2018 at 11:16 am

      Who decides what is "hateful, offensive, and/or vitriolic things"? You?
      What you consider "hateful, offensive, and/or vitriolic things" others don't consider them as such.
      In fact, you can be considered as posting "hateful, offensive, and/or vitriolic things" if you are not in power and the other side has control over it.

      See how that works?
      It is that simple, if you support censorship and demand "consequences", that would be one day used against you and you have to expect consequences.

      Or, you can stop being a hypocrite and if if you don't what you read, skip, use filters, or ignore. The problem is, this is a generation of entitled snowflakes. You will scream and protest, take it to the streets if you remotely detect censorship of your views, but you are happily support censorship of others.

  5. Gazoo
    April 11, 2018 at 8:34 pm

    Google News allows configuring your news sources. You can lean Left or Right and/or select specific news organizations. I noticed that during the Presidential Elections, Google turned off the ability to configure news sources. In the process, they deactivated my preferences.

    They only displayed sources from the Left with no ability to configure. After the elections, they re-enabled news sources (last time I checked) so a sense of (biased) balance has been restored.

    I think this is another extreme example of censorship that few people noticed at the time. It took me a while since I was visiting other sites directly but everytime I accessed Google News, the same left-sources displayed.

    I like getting my news from various sources - both left and right. Extreme and unapologetic bias is everywhere. Google's manipulative and censoring tactics on both their news feed and searches finally forced me off both services for good.

    With all the data Google collects for "advertising" and to "improve" services, they decided that they were going to push their agenda (whatever that is) on me regardless.

  6. tojen1981
    April 11, 2018 at 7:29 pm

    Wow! One of the most well written tech articles I've read in a long time. The tech industry needs to start calling this what it is: Internet "cops" for the Democratic party.

    Bravo Ben!

  7. dragonmouth
    April 11, 2018 at 7:28 pm

    "3 Popular Online Services to Avoid If You Value Free Speech "
    Only three???

    • Ben Stegner
      April 12, 2018 at 2:25 pm

      I had to cut it off somewhere :)

      • dragonmouth
        April 12, 2018 at 5:21 pm

        LOL!

  8. Adam
    April 11, 2018 at 6:24 pm

    Yes, good article. Thank you.
    Please follow up with a list of those networks/services that do not prohibit free speech. Something that isn't also a privacy/data threat would be nice. ;-)
    I'd love to find something like Twitter where I don't have to be afraid to speak my mind.

    • Ben Stegner
      April 12, 2018 at 2:25 pm

      Unfortunately there aren't too many of them (especially free ones) but I'll see if we can dig up enough for a follow-up article!

  9. Howard A Pearce
    April 11, 2018 at 5:09 pm

    Pretty good artcile for once

    • Ben Stegner
      April 11, 2018 at 5:17 pm

      Thanks, I think?