Frequently Asked Questions
While “censorship” is often used to refer to the suppression of public speech by government, the Internet as we know it is no longer a truly public space. Most online platforms through which we choose to express ourselves—and upon which many of us increasingly depend—are privately owned and operated. With these social media platforms replacing a truly open ‘public sphere,’ we need to be asking some serious questions about the role of companies in defining what is or is not ‘acceptable’ public speech.
We believe that Onlinecensorship.org can play an important role in holding Internet companies publicly accountable for the way in which they exercise power over people’s digital lives, especially as the need for transparency surrounding content removals and corporate policies around regulating speech has become increasingly important.
Onlinecensorship.org was originally conceived as a research project. We launched in 2015 with a user survey, and produced two full-length research reports, in 2015 and 2016. Although we still accept user submissions, the site has refocused to serve as a resource for users, companies, and journalists, featuring a guide to appeals, a resource kit for journalists, and more.
When we first launched the site in 2012, we focused on the biggest platforms at that time: Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, Google+, and YouTube. We added Instagram for our relaunch in 2015. Today, users can report their experiences with any social platform.
The companies included in our guide to appeals represent some of the largest social media platforms based in the U.S. If you would like to see your company represented in this guide, get in touch.
We will use the information submitted in several ways:
-To learn more about how social media companies enforce their terms of service.
-To understand how content takedown and account deactivation practices affect the lives and work of individuals in different parts of the world.
-To engage with companies on how they can improve their regulations and reporting mechanisms and processes.
-To raise public awareness about the ways that social media companies regulate speech and how users are affected.
If you can’t access the service at all, most likely that company is not trying to block you. Instead, the problem could be caused by one of any number of things. Perhaps the site is experiencing technical problems. Otherwise, it might be the result of filtering, which can come in many forms. A site may be filtered by whoever controls Internet access at your office, school, café or wherever you are currently using the Internet because they don’t want you accessing certain sites or content. Or perhaps your Internet service provider (ISP) is blocking the service. In some countries, government authorities block certain social media services or instruct ISPs to do so. All of these are forms of filtering.
If you would like to file a report about the fact that you cannot access a social media website from your location, please visit Herdict.org, which specializes in tracking Internet filtering around the world.
While much of our work focuses on large popular platforms, this phenomenon is not limited to large companies. Similar issues are experienced by users of smaller, startup social media platforms as well. We allow users to report their experiences on any social platform.
Copyright and trademark-related takedowns are outside the scope of Onlinecensorship.org, but are covered under Lumen, a project that collects and studies legal complaints and requests for removal of online materials, including trademark, defamation, and privacy content removals.