March 1, 2024

Content Moderation vs. Censorship Explained

By The Bodyguard Team
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In an increasingly troubled, uncertain and polarized world, online content moderation is more vital than ever.

Whether it’s on social media, in a video game or on another online platform, moderation is needed to distinguish content that is hateful, illegal and inappropriate from legitimate opinions that constitute freedom of speech.

Getting moderation right, in any online setting, is a huge task: because it’s a fine line between moderation and censorship.

Moderation, by its very nature, censors certain content by removing it from public view. This has led many people to believe that moderation is just another word for censorship. But, in an online world where cyberbullying, racism, misogyny, death threats, hate speech and many other types of toxic and illegal content are published and seen by millions of people every day, there is without doubt a valid argument for content moderation.

So, the goal for all moderation solution providers, is to make sure that their moderation never crosses the line into censorship.

What is the difference between censorship and moderation?

Moderation does stop certain information, images and opinions from appearing on online public forums. But instead of the parameters being dictated by a government to suppress or enforce an ideology or political agenda, which is often the case with censorship, the boundaries for moderation are set by the online platform themselves.

In the case of social media, these networks have clear definitions of the kind of content they will and won’t tolerate. They enforce those rules accordingly through moderation that is individual, nuanced and designed to protect their users. And as privately owned enterprises, social media networks do have the right to choose the content they think is appropriate for their users. 

For example, Facebook has its own community guidelines that state the kind of content they will and won’t allow on the site. In the case of a moderation solution like Bodyguard, the rules for moderation are set by the client that is using the tool.

Furthermore, social media users choose whether or not to sign up to or use a network knowing that the content they see there might be moderated. When censorship is enforced in a society, the user has no choice. 

If you look at it this way, the difference between censorship and moderation becomes clearer.

How do businesses use content moderation?

Content moderation is the ideal way for businesses to keep control over what happens on their social media, and protect their hard-earned reputation. And every sector has its own unique requirements.

Most businesses are happy simply to have toxic content removed from their pages, so that they can create a social media presence which aligns with their image and values. But for some organisations, the content that appears on their social media pages has a wider-reaching impact.

In the current climate of international conflict, for example, news outlets are wary of allowing pro-Israel or pro-Palestine content on their social media pages. Where a news channel or publication has made a commitment to be impartial, this is especially important.

But media outlets also have a duty to encourage freedom of speech, and foster an environment of healthy debate. Choosing which content should stay and which should go, in this context, becomes more difficult…

As another example, brands are often criticized for featuring models that people think are ‘too skinny’, using fur and other animal products in their designs, or even for cultural appropriation in major campaigns. Many would welcome the chance to remove criticism like this from their social media pages. It can negatively affect their reputation and even impact sales. But if content isn’t illegal - just critical - it could be argued that removing that content strays into censorship of opinion.

And in the world of sports, there are also grey areas. Moderation rules would usually dictate that racist comments about a football player shouldn't be allowed. In this instance, it's quite straightforward. But some subjects are less clear. For example, comments from fans questioning the club ownership, although potentially uncomfortable for the club, are legitimate opinions which don’t constitute hate speech, illegal or inappropriate content, and in theory, should be allowed to remain.

Moderation as a force for good

Censorship and moderation are both complicated subjects, but the distinction between the two is clear. Content moderation exists to protect online communities from illegal content or content which doesn't adhere to the guidelines of the platform it appears on. By contrast, censorship seeks to limit and control access to certain information and ideas, usually in a political or ideological context. Social media users choose to use those platforms, knowing that when they do, they’re subject to that platform's rules: and this includes the content that they get to see, or not. 

And far from being the same as censorship, content moderation actually plays an integral role in ensuring freedom of speech can thrive online, whilst making sure dangerous content, in any form, cannot. Many internet users report feeling safer and encouraged to share their opinion more freely when they feel they are engaging in a safe space where abuse won't be tolerated.

Equating moderation with censorship at best undermines the important work it does in creating a more positive online experience for users and at worst, paints it as a tool created to suppress freedom of expression.

The fact is, content moderation isn’t going anywhere. It will continue to evolve and become even more intelligent, so that toxicity is detected with more accuracy, and healthy debate and criticism can continue untouched. It’s our aim at Bodyguard to lead that mission, with continued innovation and ingenuity.

Get your moderation journey started

No matter what industry you’re in, Bodyguard can protect your online platforms and create a safe, inclusive space which reflects your values, and protects your revenue.

Talk to us today and find out about our packages for every business size and budget.

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