Posted by: kurtsh | January 7, 2006

COMMENTARY: MSN Spaces in China

This isn’t really a comment from me but rather the comment from MSN Spaces program manager Michael Connelly on the issue in the news about MSN taking a Chinese dissident’s space down by order of the Chinese government.
<taken from Michael Connelly’s MSN Space blog site>
As I have described in a previous post, there are two main ways we moderate content on Spaces:
  • Through the “report abuse” link at the bottom of every space.  If you see inappropriate content, such as pornography, or out-right illegal content, like hate-speech or child pornography, let us know and we’ll investigate the problem and take appropriate action.  Our main filter we use is, is this blog adhering to our Code of Conduct?
  • We ban a set of “naughty” words from blog entry titles, so those who are maturity-challenged don’t use the F word all over the place, and show up in search results and the updated spaces list, spoiling the party for everyone.
This system has been what we have been using since we launched Spaces, and we have not changed our practice, nor gotten more aggressive in the way we moderate.  It’s been working for us, and for the Spaces community.
We are an international service, and we work hard to comply with the local laws (for illegal content) and local cultural norms (for inappropriate content) in all the markets we operate in.  So, when using our two moderating techniques, we are cognizant of what market the content is published in.  There are certain rules we have that generally apply to all markets: for instance, no pornography.  We just didn’t want to go there with MSN Spaces.  But, there are other guidelines that are more market-specific.  For instance, the “middle finger” is a very obscene gesture in some areas, and is deemed culturally inappropriate, while in the United States, you would be hard pressed to see any photo of a bunch of college kids where one of them isn’t flipping the camera the bird.  No harm, no foul.  We don’t want to rule out the middle finger in all markets, so we just do it in the ones where it’s beyond the pale.  And, even in the markets that don’t approve of the middle finger, we give the poster a friendly warning about the image, as opposed to taking the site down immediately.
In China, there is a unique issue for our entire industry: there are certain aspects of speech in China that are regulated by the government.  We’ve made a choice to run a service in China, and to do that, we need to adhere to local regulations and laws.  This is not unique to MSN Spaces; this is something that every company has to do if they operate in China.  So, if a Chinese blog on MSN Spaces is reported to us by the community, or the Chinese government, as offensive, we have to ask ourselves: is this blog adhering to our code of Conduct?  In many cases, the answer is “yes, this site is fine”.  But, in some cases, the answer is “no”.  And when an offense is found that actually breaks a national law, we have no choice but to take down the site.
A very similar issue was raised in the blogosphere in regards to how Google tackles this problem: a really good discussion on Slashdot ensued, it’s worth a read if you have some time.


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