June 30, 2012

An old New York Times article headline change - "Censorship" vs "Filtering"

Recently Jacob Appelbaum asked about early censorware investigations. In writing back to him, I mentioned the 2001 New York Times profile of me, which I thought was called (my emphasis) "Cracking the Code Of Online Censorship". Except when I went to find what the article's URL was these days (I remember back when URLs were supposed to be permanent locations, which seems naively hubristic now), I discovered the article is currently called "Cracking the Code Of Online Filtering". I wonder when it changed, and why.

First, I determined I'm not hallucinating. There's a contemporary mailing list post "NYT Profile of Cyberian Seth Finkelstein" which clearly shows the "Censorship" title.

So - to the Wayback machine:

A 2010 version has "Censorship".

While a 2011 version has "Filtering".

Thus it seemed the change was sometimes between 2010 and 2011. Or was it? Some more searching turned up a 2001 version with the "Filtering" headline, which looked like it came from a news briefs distribution. Still, it seems strange to have the New York Times website article headline changing after so many years.

I think the original "Censorship" headline was more accurate (given the heavy use of these programs by various governments, if nothing else). But it's not worth any effort (I doubt that old article has many readers anyway).

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in censorware | on June 30, 2012 11:50 PM (Infothought permalink)
Seth Finkelstein's Infothought blog (Wikipedia, Google, censorware, and an inside view of net-politics) - Syndicate site (subscribe, RSS)

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Currently on the blog of Jennifer 8 Lee (who wrote the original article), the last two blog posts are about a project to track post-publication changes in online articles hosted at the New York Times:

Posted by: Bennett Haselton at July 1, 2012 01:04 PM

Or perhaps one should take it up with the Ministry of Truth?

Posted by: Crosbie Fitch at July 1, 2012 04:18 PM

It was probably changed by someone tweaking headlines either to meet an arbitrary character limit on a CMS ("filtering" is one character shorter than "censorship") or because it was deemed to be somehow better for SEO keywords. The latest trend seems to be to repeatedly change the titles of articles posted online; sometimes I land on the same one 4 or 5 times thinking it's a new article on a topic I'm interested in. Good for ad revenue, annoying for readers.

Posted by: Gary at July 2, 2012 10:41 AM