MySpace Accused of "Online Censorship" by MoveOn.org
Note: After posting this item on my ZDNet blog earlier today, I thought it would be appropriate for here as well.
A pamphlet was to be distributed by MoveOn.org to an early afternoon panel featuring MoveOn's Executive Director Eli Pariser and MySpace's main spokesman Jeff Berman .
The non-final draft of the pamphlet says:
More and more speech in our society is moving into online public squares like MySpace. But, as detailed on the back of this sheet, MySpace increasingly abuses its gatekeeper role – censoring user-generated speech.
Not only does MySpace censor specific points of view (like those opposing Rupert Murdoch) but they are creating a "walled" public square – disabling links to sites they don't like. This includes blocking links to video sharing sites like Revver that compensate video producers, so producers get corralled into MySpace Video.
Online public squares like MySpace are entirely dependent on their users, so users can demand rights. MySpace currently reserves the right to unilaterally change their rules without consent of their community members. But there are real "switching costs" to leaving MySpace – if an independent band has 50,000 friends and then MySpace changes the rules and starts censoring, those friends can't be taken somewhere else.
MoveOn.org's censorship accusations against MySpace next gets down into specifics. Here's how they are elicited on the pamphlet:
Why was Common Cause's ad against media consolidation (which featured Rupert Murdoch as the face of big media) not accepted by MySpace? Does MySpace think it's acceptable to censor political ads?
When a company builds an online public square, shouldn't Internet users have rights, and be able to demand that the company not censor legal speech within that public square?
MySpace explains much of its censorship by claiming violations of it's "community's terms." But those terms are one-sided, saying, "MySpace.com may modify this Agreement from time to time and such modification shall be effective upon posting by MySpace.com." If MySpace is going to cite the "community's terms" when censoring content, shouldn't the community have some power over amending those terms? And some power in the adjudication of profile takedowns and link disabling?
MySpace justifies blocking Revver – a video sharing site that compensates video producers – by claiming Revver's short ad frame at the end of videos violates MySpace's prohibition on commercial activity. But countless bands and managers blatantly advertise on MySpace. Isn't MySpace selectively enforcing the rules in a self-dealing way? Sidenote: MySpace rules clearly prohibit "selecting a profile with a commercial purpose as one of your 'Top 8' friends." But Tom (the symbolic head of MySpace) has Cingular as his #1 friend. Isn't that a tad hypocritical?
In January 2007, MySpace temporarily disabled all Flash embeds, including YouTube videos – later calling it a technical glitch. But Techcrunch reports MySpace may be "testing the waters…preparing to block all widget providers over time and will let only those who pay a 'toll' back in."
Will MySpace commit today not to disable Flash embeds or require other sites to pay a toll to be linkable from MySpace profiles?
Next come the actual examples of what MoveOn.org feels has been examples of censorship by MySpace:
- In January 2007, MySpace refused to run a Common Cause ad about a political issue – urging people to send letters to the FCC opposing media consolidation. In that ad, Rupert Murdoch was pictured as the symbol of big media. Murdoch's NewsCorp owns MySpace. (Source: Common Cause)
- On April 13, 2007, MySpace deleted the most popular Rupert Murdoch parody profile on the site – with no explanation. It had nearly 5000 friends, and lived here: http://www.myspace.com/murdoch_rupert (someone else has since claimed the URL). A cached copy is here: http://foxattacks.com/rupertmyspace/
- In 2007, MySpace deleted the profile of an openly homosexual band, Kids On TV, with no explanation other than violation of MySpace's Terms of Service. The band set up the MySpace Censorship Profile to see if others had similar experiences. "Out of the woodwork came a number of queer artists and organizations who had also fallen victim to deletion for reasons as vapid and unspecific as possible photo captions." (Source: BlogTo) Rupert Murdoch has openly opposed homosexuality, "I'm considered homophobic and crazy about these things and old fashioned."
- In 2005 and 2006, MySpace reportedly turned off a MySpace blog forum where MySpace users were discussing the censorship issues. (Source: CensorSpace.com)
Next, the pamphlet refers to accusations that MySpace has been "Censoring speech on non-MySpace products," creating in effect, a 'walled' public square:
- In December, 2005, MySpace disabled links to YouTube Source: YouTube's official blog.) After public criticism, MySpace eventually re-enabled YouTube (Source: NY Times).
- In 2007, the chief revenue officer for Fox Interactive Media lamented: "We probably should have stopped YouTube…YouTube wouldn't exist if it wasn't for MySpace." (Source: NY Times)
- In 2006, MySpace disabled links to video site VideoConeZone – which had the 3rd highest share of the MySpace video market behind MySpace Video and YouTube. MSN, Friendster, Xanga, Piczo, Tagged, and Bebo all kept linking to the site. "Only MySpace is blocking VideoCodeZone" reported Mashable .
- Additionally, MySpace is blocking links to video sharing sites that don't have the clout of YouTube…like Revvver, Stickam, and Vidilife. Revver supports the little guy – paying independent artists for their content by having an ad frame at the end of videos, but MySpace wants these artists to upload their work to MySpace Video for free. Ask-A-Ninja, a popular online personality, has blogged about this issue. (Source: Ask a Ninja , a MySpace blog, CensorSpace.com)
- In January 2007, MySpace temporarily disabled all Flash embeds – including YouTube videos. "Some people speculated that they were testing the waters, seeing what kind of backlash they would see from user complaints. Industry insiders have said…MySpace is preparing to block all widget providers over time and will let only those who pay a 'toll' back in." (Source: Techcrunch.com)
- In March 2007, MySpace demanded that Tila Tequilla – a popular musician with over 1.7 million MySpace friends – take down "a new music player and music store, called the Hoooka, created by Indie911, a Los Angeles-based start-up company." (Source: NY Times) The musician wrote on her blog that MySpace is "cutting down our freedom and taking away our rights slowly…MySpace will now only allow you to use 'MySpace' things."
- On April 10, 2007, MySpace began blocking Photobucket, the world's top photo-sharing site, saying that a popular Photobucket slideshow included an ad frame – violating MySpace's terms. (Source: PC World) Techcrunch reported MySpace was trying to send a signal to widget companies to "think thrice before trying to slip any ads into their products down the road." Recently, Reuters reported MySpace is purchasing Photobucket – possibly revealing a new MySpace model of blocking innovators, devaluing them, then purchasing them.
MySpace is sure to have answers. We'll give equal space and time to those, as well.
Related Tags: myspace, MySpace, moveon, MoveOn, online, public
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