I helped build ByteDance's vast censorship machine
Comment of the Day

April 26 2022

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

I helped build ByteDance's vast censorship machine

This article from Protocol may be of interest to subscribers. Here is a section: 

Our role was to make sure that low-level content moderators could find "harmful and dangerous content" as soon as possible, just like fishing out needles from an ocean. And we were tasked with improving censorship efficiency. That is, use as few people as possible to detect as much content as possible that violated ByteDance's community guidelines. I do not recall any major political blowback from the Chinese government during my time at ByteDance, meaning we did our jobs.

It was certainly not a job I'd tell my friends and family about with pride. When they asked what I did at ByteDance, I usually told them I deleted posts (删帖). Some of my friends would say, "Now I know who gutted my account." The tools I helped create can also help fight dangers like fake news. But in China, one primary function of these technologies is to censor speech and erase collective memories of major events, however infrequently this function gets used.

Dr. Li warned his colleagues and friends about an unknown virus that was encroaching on hospitals in Wuhan. He was punished for that. And for weeks, we had no idea what was really happening because of authorities' cover-up of the severity of the crisis. Around this time last year, many Chinese tech companies were actively deleting posts, videos, diaries and pictures that were not part of the "correct collective memory" that China's governments would later approve. Just imagine: Had any social media platform been able to reject the government's censorship directives and retain Dr. Li and other whistleblowers' warnings, perhaps millions of lives would have been saved today.

Eoin Treacy's view

The thing I find most interesting is how these kinds of stories are proliferating. It’s not like Chinese censorship of ideas is new. It is a measure of how much the West’s relationship with China has soured that the appetite for this kind of critical content is sustaining large numbers of articles.

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