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Digg, WikiLeaks, and Censorship, American Style

Digg WikiLeaks

diggAnti-free-speech/user-privacy articles are all over the news this week. And though the fuss over U.S. net neutrality may have been wrong, censorship is alive and well in America—it just takes a slightly different form.

Military censors(ish) WikiLeaks visits by staff

Concerned by the recent Wikileaks fiasco, which saw tens of thousands of potentially embarrassing (and also, for some forces still in the field, potentially life threatening) facts exposed to the world's eyeballs, the U.S. military machine is closing ranks. Never mind that much of the so-called controversial material is pretty run-of-the-mill for any expeditionary military force that's actually in action, there's a huge fuss about the event as the documents were all classified.

Now it's emerged that all branches of the U.S. military are issuing edicts that ban their staff from visiting WikiLeaks. This is because the source of the leaks, or "electronic spillages" was a U.S. serviceman, and clearly the Pentagon doesn't want any repetition, copy-catting, or any other staff to even view content on WikiLeaks, really. This last part is revealed in an (ironically) leaked memo from the Marine Corps. that notes it's forbidden to access WikiLeaks from any private, public, or U.S. government computer, then goes on to mention that viewing the illegally leaked data will mean staff will have "WILLINGLY committed a SECURITY VIOLATION" and that will, inevitably, have its own consequences. Nobody's sure how the military will enforce this regulation, but that's by the by.

Is this move surprising? Not necessarily, but it does demonstrate that the saga has proceeded to the next level. Closing down as much interest in in WikiLeaks as possible from inside the military machine is an easy goal, before any more sensitive data is "shared" with the world, and before you make any really overt moves to shutter WikiLeaks. By hook, or by crook.

Conservatives constrict liberal voices on Digg

Meanwhile here's another piece of censorship, of a similarly "voluntary" but altogether more sinister kind—really! It's even tinged with positive free speech colors, in an odd way. Alternet.com has published a piece that exposes "massive censorship" of Digg articles by a conservative U.S. political group.

Digg is one of the most important social networking/Net story discovery services out there, and though its star is somewhat on the wane at the moment, having one of your pieces hit the Digg front page is still a guaranteed way to push lots of extra visitor traffic to your website. It's crowd-sourced, and crowd-voted—though there are indeed ways to game Digg's story algorithm, the basic principal is that the more people "digg" your story, the higher up Digg's popular stories list it gets.

But user can also elect to "bury" a story too, demoting its popularity, if it meets with their disapproval or they think it's factually incorrect ... or just because they want to. But Alternet's investigation has uncovered efforts by U.S. conservative-leaning political groups to quash (i.e. aggressively bury) any story popping in Digg's political or news categories that supports liberal thinking. One group involved is called Digg Patriots, for example. This group "meets" in a Yahoo discussion group, and here they plan, and send out requests to their friends and followers to bury particular liberal-leaning stories on Digg and promote their own agenda, at a rate of three to four thousand requests per month, apparently.

This is, if true, controversial stuff. In certain ways it contravenes Digg's own policies—Alternet notes that several of the participants have already been banned by Digg—and it's bound to raise your hackles if you're a supporter of free speech, as it seems a bizarrely "voluntary" form of Net censorship, in the famed "land of the free." You may even deem it a low down and dirty tactic, undertaken by people who fear their own political agenda won't stand on its own merits. But words like that, published here, may result in this story never hitting Digg.

To keep up with this news, follow me, Kit Eaton, on Twitter.

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