Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Objectionable content

I've recently bought myself a posh mobile phone, one of those so-called smartphones. It's the Nokia E71, the white-key version. I'm doing a lot more texting nowadays and it was getting really irksome with my old steam-age plastic el cheapo Nokia 1100. Also, I wanted to read and send emails when away from the home PC. The slim and elegant E71 does all this with ease, quite apart from looking very cute and girly of course. The white-key version is clearly the phone Snow White would use; it slides in and out of a white leather sleeve that has a red lining, and the strap or lanyard you attach to the phone is also white with a red lining. It's still all slim and elegant even when in the sleeve and thus protected from witches and wolves.

I'm gradually trying out what a smartphone can do. The GPS has already come in useful, as has the camera (more on that in another posting). One of the first things I did was to see what my own blog looked like. As it built up on the small screen I noticed some jumbled-up text on the top edge, a kind of overlay you don't see on the PC. Once the page was fully rendered, I was horrified to see what this text said: 'You flagged this blog as having objectionable content'. WHAT?? Who had? And for what possible reason, except transphobia? I checked out Google's list of reasons why a blog might be flagged up as having 'objectionable content'. I was puzzled. Google seemed to accept that bloggers should be able to rant and foam at the mouth if they needed to, show attitude, and air their views on unconventional topics. I had posted items on such things as Mum's death, photography, and the forthcoming cruise with Dad, and had put out a poem or two - surely nothing 'bad' about any of that? I had made it obvious with photos and my profile that this was a trans blog, with content not intended for the general public, although anyone could of course read it if they wanted to, but I hadn't been obscene, hadn't been political, and I hadn't had a go at anyone.

Or had I? I'd described myself being hounded to death by a foxhunt. Maybe the hunting fraternity had found that offensive. Hmm. So what happened to free speech then?

Or maybe it was after all just someone who had a big thing against all trans people, and had happened to find my blog.

I've cooled off, and I'm no longer outraged quite so much, but three points worry me: first, the PC version of my blog seems to give no clear notice that anyone has flagged it up; second, there seems to be no mechanism for asking Google who is behind the flagging, and why it was done - no 'right of reply' in other words; and third, supposing Google thought there was anything at all in it, they have the power to be judge and jury, and my blog could be pruned of content, given a health warning, or presumably even taken off the Internet altogether. Just like that.

I wonder whether other trans blogs, much more important and inspirational than mine, have been unknowingly flagged by some anonymous and malicious person for 'objectionable content'. You might like to fire up your own smartphone, if you have one, and check that out.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Lucy.

    As this post is over a year old now, you may or may not have found out what I'm about to tell you, which is that most mobile phone providers (especially Vodafone UK and any MVNO which use them as their carrier) will block or restrict online content viewed over their network which they deem to be 'inappropriate' until you contact them and let them know that you're over 18 (even if you have a contract with the network which means you must be at least eighteen anyway!)

    Hope that helps :-)


This blog is public, and I expect comments from many sources and points of view. They will be welcome if sincere, well-expressed and add something worthwhile to the post. If not, they face removal.

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Lucy Melford