China and Pope Benedict Open Up

Grind for April 16th, 2019

“The chief function of the body is to carry the brain around.”

– Thomas Edison

Like It Or Not

The Headline

South China Morning Post offers a rare glimpse inside a Chinese Internet censorship center.

The Grind

The South China Morning Post this week published a story about Inke, one of China’s biggest live-streaming apps. Inke has more than 25 million active users who use the app to watch or produce videos.

It’s sort of like China’s YouTube.

Every single video broadcast on Inke is reviewed by a content moderator, who has 10-15 seconds to decide whether that video contains inappropriate content.

Inke also uses algorithms and recognition software to separate live-streams into different risk categories. “Low-risk” videos are sent to a single viewer, while “high-risk” videos go to a team for review.

“We are like sanitation workers,” says Zhi Heng, who leads Inke’s content safety team. “But we don’t clean roads or residential districts. We clean up cyberspace.”

The Details

Zhi’s team of 1,200 employees checks videos for anything “that is against the law and regulations, against mainstream values, and against the company’s values.”

Forbidden topics include:

— Pornography, including women in bikinis

— Excessive tattoos

— Sexual or vulgar acts

— Self-harm, including smoking cigarettes

— Terrorism

— Criticism of Chinese government

Depending on the severity of the infraction, the live-streamer can receive a warning or be blocked or blacklisted. The list of inappropriate topics is updated every week.

The Takeaway

China’s censorship efforts come amid a global push to curb the ability of terrorists and hate groups to use social media platforms to spread their message and organize events.

“I find China’s censorship policies extremely disturbing – and that’s particularly true when it comes to the government’s efforts to stifle controversy and political dissent,” says Detroit law professor Kyle Langvardt. “There are upsides, however. If content moderation helps to prevent real-world violence incited by viral content, that’s important.”

Content moderation is something Facebook continues to struggle with.

Last November, the company admitted that it didn’t do enough to prevent its platform from being used to exacerbate the violence against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar.

On March 31st, after Facebook failed to immediately remove a video of the Christchurch shooting in New Zealand, CEO Mark Zuckerberg invited the government to play “a more active role” in deciding what content to block. Last week, Facebook implemented a ban on white extremism.

A Different Perspective

The Headline

Pope Benedict XVI breaks silence to speak about sex abuse scandal

The Grind

In a 6,000-word essay published this week, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI blames the Catholic Church’s sex abuse scandal on the failure of Catholic leaders to uphold traditional teachings amid the widespread collapse of moral standards.

“It could be said,” writes Benedict, “that in the 20 years from 1960 to 1980, the previously normative standards regarding sexuality collapsed entirely.”

As pornography grew in popularity, he explains, pedophilia became something that was “allowed and appropriate.”

Meanwhile, Catholic moral theology “suffered a collapse that rendered the Church defenseless against these changes in society…[T]here could no longer be anything that constituted an absolute good, any more than anything fundamentally evil; only relative moral judgments.”

The Details

Benedict, age 91, said he wrote the letter as a response to the sex abuse summit held last month in last month. His analysis of the scandal differs greatly from that of Pope Francis, whose decision it was to hold the summit.

Francis has largely blamed the sex abuse scandal on clerical culture – in which bishops become so elevated that they feel they are above the law.

As noted by NPR, it is rare for two popes to speak simultaneously about the same issue.

“With two papal perspectives on the clergy abuse cries now available, Catholics may feel free to choose between them, leaving neither one with the authority a papal position would normally carry.”

Did you know… There are 365 steps on the front of the U.S. Capitol Building – one for every day of the year.