Tuesday, September 07, 2021

Blogger Becomes Blocker

I read an awful lot online. I still probably invest significantly more time with physical books than in frequenting websites, but the weekly averages spent on each activity are a lot closer these days than five years ago, and getting closer still. Books are better for long-term perspectives on the world around us. The internet has the advantage of being current, and of telling us what other people like us (and not like us) are thinking and doing.

My book collection (not my ebooks, sadly) has this advantage over digital text, online or in other forms: Amazon and/or other interested parties cannot make it disappear. Even when they try really, really hard.

Delete Delete Delete

If you have never had an ebook you paid real money for vanish inexplicably from your digital collection, or had it be unilaterally and unwanted-ly modified on you in the interest of giving you a free “update” (wonderful service, that), be sure you will have the pleasure one day. I have, and it feels like a major violation of my personal space, but one that was inevitable and wholly predictable in the current technological and political environment. Badthink must not be allowed to circulate, and the good people who sell us our digital news and entertainment, and who have graciously facilitated our interpersonal communications via social media — very much to their long-term financial and political gain — are now in the business of making sure the alleged purveyors of badthink are summarily and eternally expunged from the Web, and hopefully from living memory.

If that doesn’t work, things are going to really get ugly.

This little website is a potential target. We are relatively insignificant, and will probably not be missed by anyone other than our loyal and lovely regular readership, but it is bound to happen one of these days. Our demise is fated. We have touched on many subjects over the years about which various factions in society are greatly in disagreement, and do not plan on deleting the least of these exchanges for the sake of prolonging our internet lifespan. To those with their fingers on the buttons, anyone who floats a counter-narrative is a potential target, and because today censorship is primarily happening algorithmically, a website may be edited, blocked or disappear completely without recourse, proof of wrongdoing, or even without any human beings working for the blocker knowing they have blocked other peoples’ ongoing labors of love. That’s not paranoia, that’s reality. Two websites I visit daily have been hit in the last four weeks.

“Terms of Service Violations”

In one case, 18 years of blog posts and comments were instantly blocked and can no longer be accessed. A message appeared from Google: “This blog is under review due to possible Blogger Terms of Service violations and is open to authors only.” In other words, the blog author can modify his content (maybe), but cannot show it to anyone. Several weeks after the fact, no review has been conducted, no explanation has been given for the censorship, and there is no indication the website content will ever be public again.

In the second case, the blog author was in the habit of putting video versions of his posts up on YouTube. A relatively innocuous post last week concerning the appropriate Christian response to enforced vaccination quickly became the author’s most popular YouTube posting ever, and just as quickly was deleted. No appeals, no discussion, no reason given.

Thinking Ahead

The good news is that both these site-owners are forward-thinking people. In the first case, servers in Europe and multiple backup URLs independent of Google and even the U.S. legal system were up and running within hours. In the second, only a single YouTube video is currently in internet limbo, but the author assures his readers everything he has written over the last 20 years is backed up and ready to move to the Dark Web when necessary.

I do not expect any sort of major censorship of this site in the immediate future; we are simply too small to worry about ... unless a very specific complaint from an angry reader is lodged with Blogger. Then all bets are off. While being small provides a little protection, it is hard not to notice that the content and (perceived) political positions for which these other websites are being censored are not wildly dissimilar to what we are doing here. They just have more reach than we do, and thus are bigger targets. But the moment permanent deletion of all Christian or dissenting opinion can be done algorithmically with any degree of accuracy, every website, no matter the size of its following, becomes at risk.

What to Do

We do not currently have the ability to respond within hours to an enforced blackout or fund independent servers, and almost surely never will. But I have always kept regular backups of all our content and comments at ComingUntrue, and we have no intention of going away at the first sign of opposition. If for some reason you find yourself staring at an unexpected message from Google one day, we can currently be reached at either tom@cominguntrue.com or mail@cominguntrue.com, which are not Blogger-dependent, and we will be very happy to let you know where and when we hope to pop up next.

I am not quite enough of an egomaniac to imagine we are always doing the Lord’s work or taking the position he would take on every issue. We do the best we can, but in the end, we are human beings with the usual limitations and blind spots. While the Lord is gracious, and frequently protects those who have not bothered to protect themselves, the Christian who confidently announces that “the Lord is on my side” in every battle he wages is usually in for a surprise at one point; we are just not that wise. So we seek to go to him where he is, rather than assume his blessing and help are automatically ours simply because we use his name.

In time, we trust, we will learn his good and perfect will on this issue as on so many others.

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