I’ve been on a bit of a Words With Friends kick lately (okay, more a debilitating obsession than a kick but no one’s kicked me off a plane yet) and one of the frustrating things I’ve found about the game is how it censors what it considers unacceptable words. Not sure what geniuses (or algorithms) decide what works and what doesn’t but when you’re behind by 15 points and you’ve got the letters to wipe your opponent out with a word you know is a word but that WWF won’t allow…well, it makes you a little short tempered.
Thing is, censorship is all around us and, by and large, we tend to overlook minor instances of it as long as the big freedoms aren’t compromised. I can shake my head and keep playing WWF, say, because who cares about a silly app game. But, is that the right attitude? When you hear about Seth Godin’s experience with Apple refusing to carry one of his “manifestos” because there are links in it to the Amazon store, the whole Big Brother thing becomes a bit sinister. This is censorship seasoned with monopolistic bullying, in my opinion.
How much freedom of speech can be guaranteed when behemoths like Apple and Amazon censor what is available to consumers for any reason other than that the work(s) in question poses a real physical threat to individuals? Sure, a privately owned retailer may choose what goods and services it wants to offer, but when you have two or three entities responsible for the dissemination of vast amounts of information, it seems to me that it should not be morally, ethically, or legally okay for those entities to decide what consumers may or may not be able to buy.
Those of us in the publishing business have a rather bedeviled relationship with Apple, Amazon and B&N (especially the first two). On the one hand, we need them in order to place our authors’ wares. On the other, we are increasingly concerned with the practices of these soulless corporations whose only interest is the financial bottom line and for whom books and the entire publishing world are but a blip in their massive spreadsheets. Is it time for the government to step in and regulate how content is served up? What can we do as consumers (and book lovers) to safeguard our ability to buy any book (or story or manifesto) we want? Should we be outraged or should we shrug our shoulders and lump this with the Word With Friends shenanigans?
What’s your take on all of this? Am I over- or under-reacting?