When the first generation of bloggers got online in the late 1990s, the only intermediaries between them and the rest of the world were their hosting companies and their Internet service providers. Anyone starting a blog in 2012 is likely to end up on a commercial platform like Tumblr or WordPress, with all of their blog comments run through a third-party company like Disqus. But the intermediaries don’t just stop there: Disqus itself cooperates with a company called Impermium, which relies on various machine learning tools to check whether comments posted are spam. It’s the proliferation—not elimination—of intermediaries that has made blogging so widespread. The right term here is “hyperintermediation,” not “disintermediation.”
Impermium’s new service goes even further: The company claims to have developed a technology to ‘identify not only spam and malicious links, but all kinds of harmful content—such as violence, racism, flagrant profanity, and hate speech—and allows site owners to act on it in real-time, before it reaches readers.’ It says it has 300,000 websites as clients (which is not all that surprising, if it’s incorporated into widely used third-party tools like Disqus). As far as intermediaries go, this sounds very impressive: a single Californian company making decisions over what counts as hate speech and profanity for some of the world’s most popular sites without anyone ever examining whether its own algorithms might be biased or excessively conservative.