Idea of total freedom of expression on internet has 'never been true' says US academic

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The American academic Sarah T. Roberts explains that social media networks have become popular by posing as supporters of freedom of expression with no limits. But, she argues, this promise has in fact never been kept and instead content moderation has become a globalised industry. Medapart's Géraldine Delacroix spoke to Sarah T. Roberts ahead of a seminar in Paris on digital culture.

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It is an activity which is often supposed to remain “as discreet and undetectable as possible”. Sarah T. Roberts, a researcher and lecturer at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) is talking about the commercial moderation of online content. She has studied it for eight years and devoted a book to the subject which was published in mid-2019: Behind The Screen – Content Moderation in the Shadows of Social Media (Yale University Press, 2019). In it she looks at the economic aspects of moderation, the way such work is organised – from the small tasks performed by people working on their own to specialist companies - and the issues surrounding freedom of expression.