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Censorship



All Reason.com articles with the "Censorship" tag.



Published: Fri, 19 Jan 2018 00:00:00 -0500

Last Build Date: Fri, 19 Jan 2018 00:57:31 -0500

 



"Fake News" is Not an Excuse to Regulate the Internet: New at Reason

Wed, 17 Jan 2018 13:30:00 -0500

src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/_1dfxXAs4yo" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="340" frameborder="0"> President Trump promised that today he'll announce the recipients of his "Fake News Awards," an honor he's sure to bestow upon unflattering coverage that displeases him, a category that will almost certainly include the book Fire and Fury, Michael Wolff's insider tell-all of life in the Trump White House. But with "fake news" back in the real news, it's worth reflecting upon how both Republicans and Democrats have utilized the amorphous term to lay the groundwork for the regulation of speech on the internet and why that's a very bad idea. Shortly after her defeat, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton held a press conference decrying the prevalence of fake news on social media, calling it "a danger that must be addressed." In October of last year, Democrats in both chambers of Congress took up her call, grilling the attorneys for the tech giants Facebook, Twitter, and Google about Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election and the role of so-called "fake news" in sowing discord and confusion among the electorate. "You have been identified as major purveyors of fake news," Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) told lawyers at one hearing. Some Democrats were explicit in their threats to regulate the companies if they didn't do a better job weeding out trolls, bots, and fake news. "You have to be the ones to do something about it," said Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), "Or we will." While Democrats seem concerned that tech companies don't do enough to police content on their platforms, Republicans and conservatives have expressed concern that they do too much to cultivate their users' newsfeeds. "Your power sometimes scares me," admitted Sen. John Kennedy (R-Okla.) at one point during a hearing. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) questioned the social media giants over whether or not they consider themselves "neutral public fora" and cited a study that claimed to have found political bias in Google search results. Former White House adviser Steve Bannon has called for Facebook and Google to be regulated like public utilities, and conservative Fox News host Tucker Carlson made a similar case on his show after Google fired software engineer James Damore for writing an internal memo questioning some of the company's diversity policies. But both Democrats and Republicans are missing the mark when they call for the government to regulate the flow of information on the internet. Treating social media as some sort of public utility is quite simply a power grab that all but guarantees that politicians and unelected bureaucrats will decide what information should appear in Americans' newsfeeds and would likely grant the government even greater access to our private communications than it already has. This is not the first time governments have tried to control new tools of mass communication. Much like the internet, the advent of the printing press provoked panic and backlash among the elite institutions it disrupted. America's first multi-page newspaper was shut down after a single edition because it spread rumors about the sex lives of government officials and published what the colonial government described as "uncertain reports," or what we might today call "fake news." For the crime of publishing without a license, the government imprisoned and later ran out of town another early colonial newspaper's editor: James Franklin, older brother to Benjamin Franklin who went on to run that paper and do a few other notable things. A few decades earlier, John Milton criticized the British government's regulation of materials produced by the printing press, writing in 1644 that, "Truth and understanding are not such wares as to be monopoliz'd and traded in by tickets and statute." Instead, wrote Milton, better to "Let [Truth] and Falsehood grapple." Granting government even the slightest control over the free flow of information on the internet under the guise of fighting falsehoods will, ironically, make more difficult[...]



'Fake News' Is Not an Excuse to Regulate the Internet

Wed, 17 Jan 2018 13:07:00 -0500

President Trump promised that today he'll announce the recipients of his "Fake News Awards," an honor he's sure to bestow upon unflattering coverage that displeases him, a category that will almost certainly include the book Fire and Fury, Michael Wolff's insider tell-all of life in the Trump White House. But with "fake news" back in the real news, it's worth reflecting upon how both Republicans and Democrats have utilized the amorphous term to lay the groundwork for the regulation of speech on the internet and why that's a very bad idea. Shortly after her defeat, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton held a press conference decrying the prevalence of fake news on social media, calling it "a danger that must be addressed." In October of last year, Democrats in both chambers of Congress took up her call, grilling the attorneys for the tech giants Facebook, Twitter, and Google about Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election and the role of so-called "fake news" in sowing discord and confusion among the electorate. "You have been identified as major purveyors of fake news," Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) told lawyers at one hearing. Some Democrats were explicit in their threats to regulate the companies if they didn't do a better job weeding out trolls, bots, and fake news. "You have to be the ones to do something about it," said Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), "Or we will." While Democrats seem concerned that tech companies don't do enough to police content on their platforms, Republicans and conservatives have expressed concern that they do too much to cultivate their users' newsfeeds. "Your power sometimes scares me," admitted Sen. John Kennedy (R-Okla.) at one point during a hearing. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) questioned the social media giants over whether or not they consider themselves "neutral public fora" and cited a study that claimed to have found political bias in Google search results. Former White House adviser Steve Bannon has called for Facebook and Google to be regulated like public utilities, and conservative Fox News host Tucker Carlson made a similar case on his show after Google fired software engineer James Damore for writing an internal memo questioning some of the company's diversity policies. But both Democrats and Republicans are missing the mark when they call for the government to regulate the flow of information on the internet. Treating social media as some sort of public utility is quite simply a power grab that all but guarantees that politicians and unelected bureaucrats will decide what information should appear in Americans' newsfeeds and would likely grant the government even greater access to our private communications than it already has. This is not the first time governments have tried to control new tools of mass communication. Much like the internet, the advent of the printing press provoked panic and backlash among the elite institutions it disrupted. America's first multi-page newspaper was shut down after a single edition because it spread rumors about the sex lives of government officials and published what the colonial government described as "uncertain reports," or what we might today call "fake news." For the crime of publishing without a license, the government imprisoned and later ran out of town another early colonial newspaper's editor: James Franklin, older brother to Benjamin Franklin who went on to run that paper and do a few other notable things. A few decades earlier, John Milton criticized the British government's regulation of materials produced by the printing press, writing in 1644 that, "Truth and understanding are not such wares as to be monopoliz'd and traded in by tickets and statute." Instead, wrote Milton, better to "Let [Truth] and Falsehood grapple." Granting government even the slightest control over the free flow of information on the internet under the guise of fighting falsehoods will, ironically, make more difficult the task of discovering truth. Some level of fake news, misinformation, and trolling might just [...]



New Jersey Prisons Back Off Ban of The New Jim Crow, But Censorship Behind Bars Is Still Widespread

Tue, 09 Jan 2018 10:01:00 -0500

Hours after the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) accused it of censorship, New Jersey prison officials rolled back a ban on Michelle Alexander's influential critique of mass incarceration, The New Jim Crow. The ACLU discovered the book was banned in two New Jersey prisons through a public records request. The Intercept reports: "The ban on 'The New Jim Crow' violates the right to free speech enshrined in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and the correlative protection of Article 1, paragraph 6 of the New Jersey Constitution," ACLU attorneys Tess Borden and Alexander Shalom wrote to Gary Lanigan, commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Corrections. The ban also points to some blood-boiling ironies. "Michelle Alexander's book chronicles how people of color are not just locked in, but locked out of civic life, and New Jersey has exiled them even further by banning this text specifically for them," said ACLU-NJ Executive Director Amol Sinha in a statement. "The ratios and percentages of mass incarceration play out in terms of human lives. Keeping a book that examines a national tragedy out of the hands of the people mired within it adds insult to injury." Shortly after that, NBC reported that officials were lifting the ban at those two prisons and reviewing their policies. Unfortunately, New Jersey was not an outlier. State prison systems ban thousands upon thousands of books. At least as of 2015, the North Carolina prison system also banned The New Jim Crow, along with hundreds of other titles. Texas, one of the most censorious prison systems in the nation, bans roughly 10,000 publications, including The Color Purple, Where's Waldo?, and John Pfaff's Locked In, another book on mass incarceration. It does, however, allow Mein Kampf. Just last week, new rules went into effect at three New York prisons banning care packages that aren't purchased through one of five approved vendors. State officials say the policy, which will eventually go statewide, is meant to crack down on contraband. But prison rights organizations say the move will severely restrict what inmates can receive, including books. NYC Books Through Bars, a volunteer group that sends free books to inmates across the country for free, wrote in a letter last week to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo that "this draconian restriction closes off so much of the world to thousands of people": The approved vendors' catalogs are currently limited to the following books: five romance novels, fourteen bibles and other religious texts, twenty­four drawing or coloring books, twenty­one puzzle books, eleven guitar, chess, and how­to books, one dictionary, and one thesaurus. No books that help people learn to overcome addictions or learn how to improve as parents. No Jane Austen, Ernest Hemingway, Maya Angelou, or other literature that helps people connect with what it means to be human. No texts that help provide skills essential to finding and maintaining work after release from prison. No books about health, about history, about almost anything inside or outside the prison walls. Reason, too, has had run-ins with prison censors. Issues of Reason have been impounded by Florida and Arizona prison officials. The latter found my cover story on the deplorable conditions inside the Washington, D.C., jail "detrimental to the safe, secure, and orderly operation of the institution." And in what is surely the crown jewel of stupid prison bans, in 2010 the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the Wisconsin prison system's ban on Dungeons & Dragons. The game constitutes a gang threat, according to very serious prison officials.[...]



Brickbat: Banned in Germany

Mon, 08 Jan 2018 04:00:00 -0500

(image) The German government will start enforcing a law requiring social media site to remove hate speech and fake news. Companies will have 24 hours after being alerted to remove material that obviously violates the law and a week to remove material if there is some question it violates the law. They face fines of up to 50 million euros if they fail to comply with the law.




Warning: The President Wants to Censor 'Fake News'! The President of France

Fri, 05 Jan 2018 13:45:00 -0500

President Donald Trump is commanding a lot of attention for his lawyers' attempts to scare Michael Wolff and Wolff's publisher out of releasing Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House. This attempt to censor the press definitely deserves our attention and condemnation. But if their threats against Wolff stand out, it's not because there's something new about politically powerful people trying to suppress reports that make them look bad. The only norm Trump is breaking here is the one that says not to be so openly self-serving about it. If Trump had the sense to act as though his calls for censorship were about "preserving democracy," he'd be in much better shape. That's exactly what's happening in France. French President Emmanuel Macron, like Trump, is not happy about "fake news." Like Trump, he wants to stop it. But unlike Trump (so far), he's trying to use his power as president to actually censor the internet. Macron claims that he merely wants to protect the people from "fake news" during elections. The Guardian reports: In his new year's speech to journalists at the Élysée palace, Macron said he would shortly present the new law in order to fight the spread of fake news, which he said threatened liberal democracies. New legislation for websites would include more transparency about sponsored content. Under the new law, websites would have to say who is financing them and the amount of money for sponsored content would be capped. For fake news published during election seasons, an emergency legal action could allow authorities to remove that content or even block the website, Macron said. "If we want to protect liberal democracies, we must be strong and have clear rules," he added. Is it really liberal democracies that Macron wants to protect? The Guardian notes that Macron faced fake news stories during his presidential campaign that accused him of hiding funds in offshore accounts. Like many Hillary Clinton supporters in America, he claims that Russia-linked outlets spread propaganda to harm him. All this suggests that what Macron really wants to censor is "fake news" that threatens his political fortunes. Fake claims during political campaigns are hardly new. They're less a "threat" to liberal democracies than they are a natural, albeit frustrating, side effect of having campaigns in the first place. Meanwhile, there's not much evidence that "fake news" has had much of an impact on election outcomes. A new report from a trio of political scientists found that in the run-up to the presidential election in America, one out of four people who participated in their study had visited a site with fake news stories. But only a much smaller number, 10 percent, were regular consumers of fake news—mostly older, more conservative voters who weren't likely to vote for Hillary Clinton in the first place. While the report was not able to determine whether people actually believe the fake news the read, what did seem to be clear is that people's exposure to fake news seemed to track their desire to consume news about the candidate they already supported. The fake news was a complement to the rest of their news consumption. The fake news told them what they already wanted to hear, which probably tracks the experiences of anybody who has had a Facebook friend post a link to a report that was obviously false. There's something particularly reprehensible about trying to connect the preservation of democracy with the censorship of speech that makes a candidate look bad, regardless of whether that speech is true or false. Given the absence of evidence that fake news stories have been tipping elections, Macron's actions have the same whiff of self-preservation as Trump's. Macron is hardly alone. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) has threatened to use her position as a lawmaker to force additional regulations of political speech on social media. By pure coincidence, Feinstein is running for re-election next year. Givin[...]



Brickbat: Have You Ever Been in a Turkish Prison?

Tue, 02 Jan 2018 04:00:00 -0500

(image) Turkish prosecutors have indicted NBA player Enes Kanter of insulting President Recep Tayyip Erodgan. They plan to try Kanter in absentia. Kanter could be sentenced to up to four years in prison if found guilty.




Brickbat: You Can't Say That on Television

Fri, 29 Dec 2017 04:00:00 -0500

(image) The CBC canceled a broadcast of the documentary "Transgender Kids: Who Knows Best?" just hours before it was scheduled to air after complaints from activists. The BBC documentary questions whether transitioning is the best path for every child with gender dysphoria. Activists said that was harmful.




'Sensitivity Readers' Are the New Thought Police, And They Threaten More Than Novelists

Thu, 28 Dec 2017 10:15:00 -0500

Welcome to the 21st century and "sensitivity readers," people hired by writers and publishers, especially of young-adult titles, to vet manuscripts to make sure things are, well, politically correct, "authentic," and, especially, inoffensive. Like fact checkers or copy editors, sensitivity readers can provide a quality-control backstop to avoid embarrassing mistakes, but they specialize in the more fraught and subjective realm of guarding against potentially offensive portrayals of minority groups, in everything from picture books to science fiction and fantasy novels. As The New York Times reports, sensitivity readers don't just weigh in on matters of historical accuracy. They also have a say in speculative fiction, sometimes even after a book has been published. That's what happened to Keira Drake, when advanced copies of her fantasy novel The Continent received a hostile response from readers. Online reviews poured in, and they were brutal. Readers pounced on what they saw as racially charged language in the descriptions of the warring tribes and blasted it as "racist trash," "retrograde" and "offensive." Ms. Drake and her publisher, Harlequin Teen, apologized and delayed the book's publication. In the year since, "The Continent" has changed drastically. Harlequin hired two sensitivity readers, who vetted the narrative for harmful stereotypes and suggested changes. Ms. Drake spent six months rewriting the book, discarding descriptions like her characterization of one tribe as having reddish-brown skin and painted faces. The new version is due out in March. What's the harm, exactly? As the Times points out, sensitivity readers, despite the Orwellian or Huxleyan euphemism, are really about quality control, right? "It's a craft issue; it's not about censorship," said Dhonielle Clayton, a former librarian and writer who has evaluated more than 30 children's books as a sensitivity reader this year. "We have a lot of people writing cross-culturally, and a lot of people have done it poorly and done damage." That's one way of looking at it. But in a culture that rightly champions free expression, assimilation, class-race-and-gender mixing, and empathy, it's a practice that threatens to choke off work. There's no good reason that a small group of experts should be able to claim that it alone can validate a manuscript (and, one presumes, movies and other art forms) as authentic and real for potential protesters who will claim that this or that book must be pulled from shelves, heavily rewritten, or just not published at all. Publishers are free to print (or not) whatever they want, but this is a barely disguised version of thought control that would redact much of children's literature. Author Francine Prose, a progressive novelist if ever there was one, writes in The New York Review of Books of the essential mistake undergirding reliance on sensitivity readers and identity politics when it comes to literature. We know that many classic novels and children's books have included hideously racist images and passages that make us cringe. One hesitates to put such books into the hands of young readers without cautionary guidance. Not long ago, my granddaughter found, in the attic, a deck of tiny picture cards illustrating the adventures of the Spanish-language version of Little Black Sambo. It seemed helpful, rather than destructive, to be able to explain to her that once it was considered okay to picture black people that way. At six, she was old enough to be appalled, which seemed helpful, educational, surely: the germ of an idea about history and the world. The young, we know, are impressionable, though one might ask if we aren't giving kids and their families too little credit for being able to sift truth from falsehood, right from wrong. Do we seriously think that books have that much power in shaping character—that Donald Trump,[...]



Brickbat: You Going to Eat That?

Fri, 22 Dec 2017 04:00:00 -0500

(image) An Egyptian court has sentenced singer Shaimaa Ahmed to two years in prison for inciting debauchery and publishing an indecent film. Ahmed appeared in a music video in her underwear and suggestively eating a banana.




Government Is the Cause of—Not the Solution to—Online Censorship

Thu, 14 Dec 2017 08:15:00 -0500

While Americans are screaming at the Federal Communications Commission about their fears of private censorship if "net neutrality" goes away, the reality is that governments, in the United States and overseas, are consistently the driving force behind attempts to control what people are allowed to see and read online. Some supporters of net neutrality have gotten it into their heads that an absence of government-enforced net neutrality will lead private internet providers to institute cost-based access gatekeeping that will serve as a form of censorship. This belief is misguided (as Andrea O'Sullivan has explained very thoroughly), and yet the amount of public pushback FCC Chairman Ajit Pai is getting over the vote to overturn the "Open Internet Order" is much more furious than the response to lawmakers and politicians who openly demand authority to censor what is and is not permitted to be on the internet. At the same time Pai and the FCC are making their decision, the Committee on Standards in Public Life in the United Kingdom is encouraging Prime Minister Theresa May to change the law so that it can hold social media companies like Facebook, Twitter, and Google legally liable for content the country deems to be illegal. Its latest report says: We understand that they do not consider themselves as publishers, responsible for reviewing and editing everything that others post on their sites. But with developments in this technology, the time has come for the companies to take more responsibility for illegal material that appears on their platforms. The report notes that the European Union's online commerce regulations treat these tech companies as "hosts," not publishers. The report also notes that Brexit is a thing, so after the United Kingdom leaves the European Union, they're recommending British laws be changed to treat these tech companies more like media outlets. "What could go wrong?" is baked right into this report, focused as it is on trying to control abusive and harassing speech directed at public officials, particularly members of Parliament. Some of this communication includes threats of violence. The United Kingdom, however, does not have as broad a view of free speech as the United States and outlaws "hate speech," as well as speech that harasses or causes "distress" to individuals. Even with the European Union's regulations, other countries aren't much better. Facebook has agreed to hire hundreds more people to respond to demands by the German government to censor and remove content they have declared illegal. Otherwise they could face huge fines. Demands by governments to censor will expand if they're not stopped. Westerners tend to associate internet censorship with oppressive countries like China, forcing Apple to remove apps from its store. But focusing on the extreme ignores censorship threats on our own doorstep. Danielle Keats Citron, in a policy analysis paper hosted by the Cato Institute, warns of the potential long-term consequences of allowing these European countries to set the terms for free speech across the globe: Definitional ambiguity is part of the problem. "Hateful conduct" and "violent extremist material" are vague terms that can be stretched to include political dissent and cultural commentary. They could be extended to a government official's tweets, posts critiquing a politician, or a civil rights activist's profile. Violent extremist material could be interpreted to cover violent content of all kinds, including news reports, and not just gruesome beheading videos. Censorship creep isn't merely a theoretical possibility—it is already happening. European regulators' calls to remove "illegal hate speech" have quickly ballooned to cover expression that does not violate existing EU law, including bogus news stories. Commenting on the hate-[...]



Prostitution Ad Ban Creeps Forward, Threatening Social Media and Sex Workers

Tue, 12 Dec 2017 14:40:00 -0500

A measure making prostitution advertising a federal crime passed the House Judiciary Committee this morning. "This legislation is about more than just Backpage.com," said bill sponsor Rep. Ann Wagner (R-Missouri), promising that the changes would "wreak havoc" on "hundreds of websites." House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Virginia) crowed that the bill "empowers prosecutors with new tools" to hold human traffickers accountable. But Goodlatte is lying—nothing in the bill addresses penalties for actual human traffickers. Instead, it would allow the government to treat websites and social apps as if they are human traffickers if bad actors should communicate through their digital platforms and tools. (For more about how this would work, see my post from yesterday.) The bill would also make posting or hosting prostitution ads a federal crime. If H.R. 1865 becomes law, the FBI would be able to prosecute Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, Craigslist, and myriad other sites where sex workers advertise and/or communicate with clients—even if the sexual exchange is only alluded to and never completed.* Goodlatte said that in crafting the legislation, he "consulted with local prosecutors, and also with the Department of Justice." Notably, he does not mention consulting with any sex workers, tech companies, sex-trafficking victims, or any groups that work directly with sex-trafficking victims. If he did, he might learn that digital advertising has revolutionized the sex trade, making it much more possible for women to work without the aid of abusive or controlling pimps; to screen clients before seeing them; and to generally take more control over their bodies, businesses, and personal safety. Meanwhile, it's also been hugely useful to law enforcement and families for finding victims of exploitation (something that would be all but impossible if street-based sex work were the only option or if traffickers start turning to the dark web.) But in the delusional minds of folks like Goodlatte and Wagner, everyone engaged in sex work will simply stop if there are no web-ad platforms and all the sex traffickers will simply let their victims go. (Drugs went away when we made those illegal, too, right?) So their goal is to eradicate any web platforms where sex buyers might communicate with sex sellers. After all, catching actual evildoers is too hard. "Advertisements rarely, if ever, will say the person advertised is a 'victim of sex trafficking,'" Goodlatte lamented. Easier for authorities to stop distinguishing between forced or underage prostitution and sex that free adults consent to have. More profitable, too. Wringing assets from petty pimps hasn't proven too valuable for the feds so far, but sites like Backpage and Facebook are much bigger fish. And Congress is always ready to approve a bigger net. During Tuesday's meeting, Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-New York) was the only committee member who expressed reservations about the bill, saying he was concerned that it had not been fully vetted, did not have support from surivors of sex trafficking or other relevant stakeholders, did not provide "appropriate protection for civil liberties," and could be redundant in light of a similar bill. Nadler asked that the committee refrain from voting the bill forward until more work could be done, but his colleagues did not agree. * This post previously stated that intent was not required for prosecution, which is incorrect. The original version of this bill, authored by Wagner, stated that nothing in the measure should "be construed to require the Federal Government in a prosecution, or a plaintiff in a civil action, to prove any intent on the part of the information content provider." But the version agreed to yesterday, authored by Goodlatte, says people or [...]



Posting or Hosting Sex Ads Could Mean 25 Years in Federal Prison Under New Republican Proposal

Mon, 11 Dec 2017 15:55:00 -0500

Looking forward to a future when federal agents monitor Tinder? We won't be far off if some folks in Congress get their way. Under a proposal from Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R–Va.), anyone posting or hosting digital content that leads to an act of prostitution could face serious federal prison time as well as civil penalties. This is obviously bad news for sex workers, but it would also leave digital platforms—including dating apps, social media, and classifieds sites such as Craigslist—open to serious legal liability for the things users post. In effect, it would give government agents more incentive and authority to monitor sex-related apps, ads, forums, and sites of all sorts. And it would give digital platforms a huge incentive to track and regulate user speech more closely. Goodlatte's measure was offered as an amendment to another House bill, this one from the Missouri Republican Ann Wagner. The House Judiciary Committee will consider both bills on Tuesday. Wagner's legislation (H.R. 1865) would open digital platforms to criminal and civil liability not just for future sex crimes that result from user posts or interactions but also for past harms brokered by the platforms in some way. So platforms that followed previous federal rules (which encouraged less content moderation in order to avoid liability) would now be especially vulnerable to charges and lawsuits. The bill currently has 171 co-sponsors, including ample numbers of both Republicans and Democrats. Specifically, Wagner's bill would amend Section 230 of the federal Communications Decency Act, which says that websites and other online platforms should not be treated as the creators of user-posted content. What this means in effect is that these third-party platforms can't be sued or prosecuted for users' and commenters' illegal speech (or illegal actions resulting from speech)—with some major exceptions. Digital platforms do not get a pass for content they actually create "in whole or part," for instance. As it stands, states cannot generally prosecute web services and citizens cannot sue them when user-generated content conflicts with state criminal law. Rep. Wagner's bill—like the similar and more-hyped "Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act" (SESTA) in the Senate—would end this state and civil immunity for digital platforms in cases of "sex trafficking" or "sexual exploitation of children." But while that may sound like a small concession, it actually opens up a huge range of activity for liability. At the federal level, the above offenses encompass everything from the truly horrific and unconscionable (like sex trafficking by force) to things like sexting between teenagers. And at the state level, definitions can be even more varied and blurry. Wagner's bill doesn't just stop at carving out a new Section 230 exception. It also creates a new crime, "benefitting from participation in a venture engaged in sex trafficking," and makes it easy to hold all sorts of web platforms and publishers in violation. Any "provider of an interactive computer service" who hosts user-posted information "with reckless disregard that the information provided...is in furtherance of [sex trafficking] or an attempt to commit such an offense" could face a fine and up to 20 years in prison, the bill states. And nothing "shall be construed to require the Federal Government in a prosecution, or a plaintiff in a civil action, to prove any intent on the part of the information content provider." So in cases like, say, Hope Zeferjohn, the teen girl convicted of sex trafficking for talking to a younger teen on Facebook about prostitution, Facebook could be facing a federal charge for participating in a sex trafficking venture. Goodlatte's proposal, meanwhile, would work by amending the Ma[...]



Goat Yoga Gets Baaaaaa-nned

Fri, 01 Dec 2017 16:12:00 -0500

Good, old-fashioned goats and the ancient Hindu practice of yoga are two things that don't seem to go together.

(image) And yet, last year, a small farm in Corvallis, Oregon started offering classes that combined the two. Goat yoga is exactly what it sounds like: the practice of yoga in the presence of goats.

Soon these classes had a 900-person waiting list for an hour of ritual calisthenics with a bunch of horned ruminants. Within a year, the unlikely trend had spread across the nation.

"We would go through the different asanas and the different flows," explains Amanda Bowen, a goat-yoga instructor with GoatToBeZen in Maryland, "and the goats will come around and interact with people as we're doing the class."

And then the unstoppable force of goat yoga locked horns with the immovable object of the Washington, D.C. Department of Health. When Congressional Cemetery Director Paul Williams applied for a livestock permit in the District of Columbia, he was greeted by four lawyers "ready to throw every curve ball they possibly could at me to prevent goat yoga."

But goat springs eternal. Since Manchester, CT. reversed its ban late last summer, the only place in the country where risk-averse municipal bureaucracies are undermining this fitness-to-farm trend threat is the nation's capital.

Produced, shot, narrated, and edited by Todd Krainin.

Music:
J.S. Bach, BWV 536 Prelude and Fugue in A Major, performed by James Kibbie http://www.blockmrecords.org/bach/
J.S. Bach, BWV 546 Prelude and Fugue in C Minor, performed by James Kibbie
Front Porch Sitter, by Audionautix

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Brickbat: The Cost of Doing Business

Fri, 01 Dec 2017 04:00:00 -0500

(image) Facebook will open a second office and hire 500 more contractors to help it comply with a new German hate speech law requiring social media to remove illegal content within 24 hours. By the end of the year, Facebook will have 1,200 people in Germany reviewing the content of posts.




French President Vows Crackdown on 'Verbal Violence' Against Women

Mon, 27 Nov 2017 15:10:00 -0500

"We are not a puritan society," French President Emmanuel Macron claimed Saturday in a speech marking the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. He then called for the criminalization of wolf-whistling and gender-based insults, and for requiring France's TV and radio regulators to police video games and web content. That last item is aimed mostly at online pornography, which Macron sees (sans evidence) as a prominent cause of violence against girls and women. Porn is infiltrating French schools, Macron warned, and "we cannot ignore the kind that makes women an object of humiliation." If Macron gets his way, France's Superior Audiovisual Council will be tasked with monitoring online videos for "the protection of the young public," and schools will implement an awareness campaign about "stereotypes, domination, and violence" in porn. On Twitter, French porn star Manuel Ferrara pushed back against Macron's suggestion that exposure to porn is linked to a propensity to assault women. Rather than "demonize" porn, Ferrara suggested, the president should sit down with adult entertainers for a discussion. Ferrara later accused Macron of "faire un amalgame"—jumping to conclusions—about the supposed effects of online pornography. "It's the same with video games," Ferrara told France Inter. "It's like saying a teenager who plays Call of Duty is going to pick up a gun and kill everyone in his school." Macron also said Saturday that "legislative changes will be made not only to better prevent but also to prosecute those who act on the Internet to harass." And he promised penalties for IRL harassment, too, suggesting that that gender-based insults and catcalling should soon "be punishable by law" and that "offenders will face a deterrent fine." For a long time, people reacted with indifference to the "verbal violence" women frequently face on the streets, said Macron. This is unacceptable. Women must feel comfortable in public spaces. Women in the republic must not be afraid to use public spaces. This must be one of the priorities of the police. Not all of the ideas Macron touted were terrible. He also suggested a sensible system allowing sexual assault victims to file an initial complaint online or at a hospital instead of having to go in person to a police station. And he called for the country to set the age of sexual consent at 15. (France currently has no minimum age of consent.) To enact such measures, Macron promised to increase the budget dedicated to female and male equality to more than 420 million Euros next year. On Saturday, Macron tweeted that "the first pillar" in his fight for "equality between women and men" is "the fight against violence against women." However, he added, "I do not want us to fall into a society where every relationship between a man and a woman becomes a suspicion of domination."[...]