Law in the Internet Society
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Censorship in the Age of Streaming

-- By MichaelNicholson - 07 Dec 2021

The Shift to Streaming

The internet has certainly enabled people to consume more and more content at a much cheaper monetary price, or at least in a more convenient manner. In the past, in order to read a book, you would have to go to a bookstore and purchase it, or go to a library and rent it out; in order to watch a movie, you would have to go to the store and buy the VCR or DVD, or rent it at a Blockbuster; and in order to listen to music, you would have to purchase an entire album, or wait for the song to play on the radio. It is amazing to see just how promising the concept of streaming, or at least MP3s looked back in 1998 (

Streaming has radically changed the way we consume media. For a small fee, or in some cases for free, users of various platforms have access to endless amounts of books, movies, and songs. It is hard to imagine going back to the pre-streaming days. Even today, I find myself scrolling through Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, and Apple TV thinking to myself, “there is nothing to watch.” Our access to media has left us wanting more and more. However, with this access comes the risk of censorship as users do not actually own their collections. While it is still unclear just how big of a problem this may turn out to be, this essay seeks to explore how our collective reliance on streaming platforms leaves us susceptible to dangerous censorship campaigns that have historically paved the way for authoritarian, anti-democratic regimes.

This is not intended to be just a pessimistic forecast of what may occur, but this is what is occurring today. While I am not suggesting that we are at the point of burning the books in the streets, a future where several major companies determine what information is acceptable or not acceptable does not seem so dystopian given where we are today.

Spotify and Apple Music

In the midst of a horrific wave of anti-Asian hate crimes during the COVID-19 pandemic, YG’s 2014 debut album “My Krazy Life” was removed from streaming platforms as one song “Meet The Flockers” contained lyrics about targeting “Chinese neighborhoods.” ( While I am by no means defending anti-Asian comments, or any hateful dialogue for that matter, the incident highlights just how susceptible we are as a society to more serious instances of censorship through our reliance on streaming. In the past, this type of content removal would have been entirely impossible. In other cases, where services do not actually remove content, songs or albums will simply be removed from popular playlists or hidden from charts. For example, after a vile homophobic rant at a performance, Spotify and Apple Music removed DaBaby? 's version of the popular song “Levitating” from its playlists ( While this may have been possible in the past by removing artists from the radio, its power is much stronger today as is evidenced by the declines in streaming numbers for artists who have experienced this type of treatment by Spotify/Apple Music.

Amazon (Store and Kindle)

While these examples may be written off as minor, and even justified, examples of censoring hateful content, they highlight what may become a major threat to freedom of speech and our democratic processes. What if Amazon regularly begins removing books from its Kindle devices or Audible accounts? It has done so before in the past, and evidence shows it may continue to do so in the future. In 2009, Amazon removed books from users’ devices after discovering a rights issue with the publisher. “It’s like having Barnes & Noble sell you a book, charge your Visa and then 3 months later change their mind, credit your card and demand their book be returned.” ( Just this year, Amazon removed a book from its platforms “When Harry Became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Movement” by Ryan T. Anderson for violating an offensive content standard. ( While it is not a book I would ever want to read, it has gained a lot of attention from conservatives alleging Amazon has engaged in a broad campaign against conservative voices on its platforms.

Looking Forward

The arguments about streaming censorship mirror many of the arguments about major social media platforms. They all focus largely on “content moderation” and “monopoly power.” ( “These behemoths now dominate the dissemination of information and the coordination of political mobilization.” ( Meanwhile, the streaming giants dominate the dissemination of culture, which in many ways informs and shapes our politics.

While today it is easy to look to the conservatives and write off their complaints of censorship as mere whining and self-victimization, it is likely a mistake to do so. What if the views being censored were ones you deeply believed in? As Martin Neimoller stated: “First they came for the Communists. And I did not speak out. Because I was not a Communist. Then 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 out for me.”

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r1 - 07 Dec 2021 - 22:11:57 - MichaelNicholson
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