Netflix and YouTube are Controlling The Media We Consume

We all love Netflix and I am no exception. Though lately I watch so little TV that I have been entertaining the notion of canceling my Direct TV package. I like football; so sue me. I know it’s becoming popular to hate on football, but I always question when something falls out of favor so quickly. It just doesn’t feel organic to me. Maybe it has something to do with Donald Trump’s failed business venture into football with the USFL. I have noticed lately that whenever a show or movie ends on Netflix, one of the suggestions to watch next is always a Netflix Original. This got me thinking about how much control Netflix has over such a large audience.

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Do we really want to cut the cord for everyone? Most of you will probably say yes and gladly watch the dinosaur media die a much-deserved death. But just because cable is the enemy, it doesn’t mean that Netflix or Amazon Instant are the hero we need. It is becoming a bit concerning to me that we trust Netflix to provide the best content that almost all of us end up seeing. I know in the comment section there will be other suggestions for content, but for the masses, it pretty much is Netflix, cable or YouTube for new content. We are putting a lot of faith in these small groups that will brandish immeasurable power over the average citizen and society.

They have too much power to censor content and we would be largely unaware. If some anti-establishment movie comes out, or a show that questions the true motives of a corporation's product, Netflix could just not provide that content and most of us would never question if there was an agenda being pushed here. Aldous Huxley posited in his Brave New World novel that the information would be out there but it would get hidden in the mass amount of media that is always being pushed out. Netflix or YouTube could very easily hide content they dislike by pushing other content alongside. This happened on internet forums during the election; it is called forum sliding. The basic premise is you shove out a ton of posts, or content, to bury the content you don’t want people to see. Due to the Barbara Streisand effect, Orwellian censorship has the tendency to backfire, so this method of obfuscation through obscurity is more effective. On the opposite side, what if they really want to make people get used to a strange concept or idea. Maybe someone at Netflix wants to convince you that home ownership is a bad idea and that you should live in a van, or whatever. They could make your front page of Netflix show you content that subtly or not so subtly convinces you that living in a van would be adventurous or exciting. Maybe tiny houses are for you. You’re not poor. You have the fortuitous opportunity to live free! In a tiny little van where you will be placated and less likely to instigate mischief. Never mind that the rising cost of owning a home has taken away your choice in the matter.  

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This might be the point where you start thinking that I am a crackpot or too negative, but this is not unprecedented. It’s quite relevant today even. I am going to guess that most of my readers are unaware of the current censorship taking place on YouTube. Now certain content will get an outright ban on YouTube, but that is nothing new and often times deserving. What is interesting is that there are videos that are deemed too inappropriate or offensive to some audiences that they end up in a “limited state.” Well, that is clear as mud. So, if a video winds up in the mysterious “limited state,” it can be more difficult to share via social media or by embedding on other websites, but most importantly is the uploads will be demonetized. The term economic censorship has been making the rounds on the matter. Comments are even turned off which is stifling the conversation; this is a growing trend that I have noticed in many places online. So far, most of the censorship has been targeting the right leaning videos and this should come as no surprise since Silicon Valley has always leaned heavily left. What concerns me is that about half of the people will see this as a good thing because it is affecting the other team. The issue is not whether censorship leans to the left of the right, the issue is that we fear hearing an opinion that we don’t agree with. Whether censorship favors left or right, it’s all wrong. Hopefully those who follow my reading understand that I favor love and positive messages and wish others would help make the internet a more positive place. Now, that doesn’t mean I endorse censoring or limiting videos that make me or others uncomfortable. Hate speech and racism are nonconstructive and a sign of fear of some underlying issue, but this is not the right way to combat hate. Also, most of these videos are not hate speech but opinions that might be unpopular to certain spectrum of people. This is setting a dangerous precedent where corporations, not governments are settling guidelines for what is acceptable free speech and what is forbidden. While I fear government censorship, at least we can vote our opinions. Tech giants and other corporations are gaining more power and control by the day, of which our voices are becoming smaller and more insignificant. We should be mature enough as a civilization to have open discussion about these ideas, but in a world where more and more people retreat in their comfortable echo chambers, we seem to be forming our own little tribes in a strange step backwards. I am reminded of Martin Niemoller’s quote:

“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”

I think The Truman Show put me in this mindset. I watched this recently and they use various techniques to convince Truman to stay on the island thus never experiencing the truth. Maybe Netflix already is doing this and it’s such a clever and subtle technique, that we aren't even aware of this yet. It is evident that YouTube is doing this by minimizing the sharing tools of certain videos, while maintaining the illusion of allowing free speech. Orwell talked of doublespeak and YouTube is practicing it with deft tactfulness as most of its users are either oblivious or ambivalent. Now I’m not very old, but I’m beginning to feel it. I have seen the internet change drastically since its inception. A lot of it for the better, but lately, I am seeing it move towards mass appeal. If content can be misconstrued as offensive, it will be censored or limited. The internet used to the last bastion of unfiltered discussion, even if that means some of the topics are inappropriate or disturbing. We should work towards open discussion as a means of changing opinions. Because censorship will not stop an idea from spreading; it will migrate it to another channel and likely a hidden one.

There seems to be an assault on the free flow of information on the internet. That should be setting off alarm bells in our head. The internet is supposed to be for open discussion and when corporations begin to control to much traffic and thus, the message, we should look for new methods of sharing our content without fear of the message getting watered down or outright censored. Because this is just a first step. It likely won’t stop here because there really has not been much of a backlash.