Library Trends 68 (4) Spring 2020: Censorship and Information Behavior in the Age of Big Data [Restricted Access]


Library Trends 68 (4) Spring 2020: Censorship and Information Behavior in the Age of Big Data. Edited by Paul A. Watters.

Libraries have always played a central role in the debate around censorship in our society. From the burning of books (Deichmann 2020), through to suppression of fiction in the courts (Lewis 2020), to the unchecked tracking of citizens and their reading habits (Shuford et al. 2018) in the context of counterterrorism (Sadek 2017), our repositories of information have often been subject to arbitrary control (Chen 2020). In late modern societies, we face a new challenge—while censorship has historically fallen into the domain of governments (Hassid 2020), the private sector now plays a central role in managing, massaging, and controlling the dissemination of information. While the behavior of governments is to some extent controlled by policy, regulation, and our basic laws, it seems that the private sector feels emboldened to act with impunity, and often, not much accuracy (Podrygula 2020). This is a further consequence of the widespread adoption of artificial intelligence (AI) to make assessments about whether or not to block the transmission of information. When citizens begin to learn their helplessness against automated decisions of large multinational corporations, there is a serious chilling effect on the rights of expression (Nagpal, Li, and Drubrawski 2020). What impact this will have on democracy moving forward is yet to be played out—we need policy advocacy and action from those who care about our basic freedom of expression to be more active in the policy debate (Rui, Cui, and Liu 2020).

Some illustrative examples are to be found in the current COVID-19 event (Garrett 2020). Social-media platforms have been widely overblocking new stories shared about the disease, misclassifying many of these articles as spam (Kobayashi et al. 2020). Since there are fewer human moderators available, the classification appears not to be challengeable by users (Wagner et al. 2020). In most cases, it is not possible for citizens to even pick up a telephone to speak to a human being in these organizations. The potential for critical news to be overblocked and not shared can have significant public-health consequences during this event. The ethical dimension of the use of AI in this situation is something that deserves further exploration and debate in our community (Roberts, forthcoming).

In this special issue, we focus directly on the issues of big data and sur-veillance—and government versus the private sector—all seen through the lens of better understanding human information-seeking behavior. Medina’s paper investigates the more classic case of government censor-ship leading to political suppression in a secessionist movement. The re-strictions and controls of the Spanish government are illustrative of a state that uses censorship to control political expression. In other jurisdictions, the response has been much more direct (Tanczer et al. 2020).

Library Trends (ISSN 0024-2594) is an essential tool for librarians and educators alike. Each issue thoroughly explores a current topic of interest in professional librarianship and includes practical applications, thorough analyses, and literature reviews. The journal is published quarterly for the Graduate School of Library and Information Science by The Johns Hopkins University Press. For subscription information, call 800-548-1784 (410-516-6987 outside the U.S. and Canada), email jlorder [at], or visit

Collection Statistics