Should Freelancers be Concerned About Internet Censorship?

Article written by the talented: Guess Who! :face_with_raised_eyebrow:

Might Chinese style Internet censorship be just a few short years away? While the question might sound conspiratorial, 1984 alarm bells are ringing louder by the day.

Upcoming changes to copyright law in the EU, threaten to undermine independent journalism. Attempts to tackle online hate speech, also threaten to undermine freedom of speech as we know it. The only question is, do all freelancers and creatives need to be concerned about Internet censorship? Or do just those with political leanings need to be worried?

When is Freedom of Speech not Freedom of Speech?

Imagine being a blogger and waking up one day with a bounty on your head. Recently, or maybe even several years ago, you said something online which upset someone. Now that person wants revenge, and they are not just going to sue you.

Instead of just taking you to court, the person you have offended has petitioned the social media accounts you use to de-platform you. Worse, because they don’t know your real name, they have issued a $5,000 reward to anyone who can divulge your identity.

It sounds like a dystopian nightmare. However, all of the above recently happened to an independent cryptocurrency blogger.

What Happened?

In 2009, Bitcoin was created by an anonymous software developer, known only by the alias, Satoshi Nakamoto. Then in 2014, an Australian computer scientist called Craig Wright stepped forward to claim that he was Satoshi.

To prove that he was Satoshi Nakamoto, Craig Wright confirmed that he had access to a cryptographic key, which it was believed could only be known to Nakamoto. Later, though, it was revealed that the same key was publicly available online.

Since 2014, several prominent cryptocurrency figures have openly stated that they do not believe that Craig Wright is Satoshi Nakamoto. However, when an independent Twitter user known by the handle Hodlonaut did the same this April, Craig Wright took umbrage with his remarks.

At first, Craig Wright threatened to sue Hodlonaut. CoinGeek, a blog owned by sports betting tycoon and Wright supporter Calvin Ayre, then published details of a $5,000 bounty offered by Wright, to anyone who could divulge Hodlonaut’s real-world identity.

Internet Censorship & The Era of Facts Vs. Feelings

Could someone put out a bounty on your head if they disagree with what you say online?

Governments and corporations have historically called for Internet censorship to tackle extremism, copyright fraud, and obscenity. However, Internet and social media censorship in 2019, often sees individuals censored as a result of others considering what they say offensive.

Popular independent journalists and content creators like Lauren Southern are routinely targeted by (supposed) public interest groups like UK based group, Hope not Hate. When this happens, groups like Hope not Hate scour the past social media posts of targets, in search of content which can be considered offensive.

If a content which some might consider offensive can be identified, groups like Hope not Hate petition social media platforms to ban individuals. In many cases, groups also petition online payment processors like PayPal, to withdraw service from targets.

Is it Time to Step Away from Social Media?

Equating Internet personalities like Lauren Southern, to everyday freelancers and content creators might seem like a reach. However, if you use social media, you neither need to be famous nor say anything political to be censored in 2019.

As demonstrated by the case of Hodlonaut, all anyone needs to do to be socially witch hunted in 2019, is upset someone with enough influence to do them harm. Moreover, for freelancers, this is particularly problematic.

All freelancers clash with clients from time to time. Most also use social media as one of their primary marketing tools. Is it possible, though, that a client you upset one day could use that tool against you?

To stay safe from doxing and trial by social media, the answer, of course, is for freelancers never to say, share, or follow anything which anyone else might find controversial. The only question is if you have to be so careful about being yourself on social media, is there any point being on social media in the first place?