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Published: Fri, 23 Mar 2018 00:00:00 -0400

Last Build Date: Fri, 23 Mar 2018 13:23:37 -0400


Hours After FOSTA Passes, Reddit Bans 'Escorts' and 'SugarDaddy' Communities

Thu, 22 Mar 2018 10:35:00 -0400

Sometime around 2 a.m. last night, Reddit banned several long-running sex worker forums from the platform. The move comes just hours after the Senate passed a bill making digital facilitation of prostitution a federal crime. Under the new law, social media sites and other hubs of user-generated content can be held criminally liable. For months, sex workers have warned that the passage of "SESTA" or "FOSTA"—two similarly bad bills that were competing for dominance; FOSTA passed yesterday—would mark the end of all online forums for communication with clients, lawyers, or each other. To sex workers like Liara Roux, Louise Partridge, and Jiz Lee, Reddit's takedown of these subreddits confirmed their fears about the new legislation. Even if individuals aren't targeted by law enforcement for placing ads, and even if individual cases brought by state prosecutors are struck down as unconstitutional, a lot of platforms will preemptively ban anything remotely related to sex work rather than risk it. So far, four subreddits related to sex have banned: Escorts, Male Escorts, Hookers, and SugarDaddy. None were what could accurately be described as advertising forums, though (to varying degrees) they may have helped connect some people who wound up in "mutually beneficial relationships." The escort forums were largely used by sex workers to communicate with one another, according to Partridge. Meanwhile, the "hooker" subreddit "was mostly men being disgusting," according to Roux, "but also was a place that sometimes had people answering educational questions in good faith." This sub had a slur in the name and was mostly men being disgusting but also was a place that sometimes had people answering educational questions in good faith. Instead of increased moderation and a name change, it was removed entirely today. Dead canary. — Liara Roux (@LiaraRoux) March 22, 2018 If you visit the Reddit "Hooker" community now, you'll see a notice that "this subreddit was banned due to a violation of our content policy." The "Escorts" and "Male Escots" pages provides a little more detail: "This subreddit was banned due to a violation of our content policy, specifically, a violation of Reddit's policy against transactions involving prohibited goods or services." Reddit yesterday announced changes to its content policy, now forbidding "transactions for certain goods and services," including "firearms, ammunition, or explosives" and "paid services involving physical sexual contact." While some of the prohibited exchanges are illegal, many are not. Yet they run close enough up against exchanges that could be illegal that it's hard for a third-party like Reddit to differentiate. And the same goes for forums where sex workers post educational content, news, safety and legal advice. Without broad Section 230 protections, Reddit could be in serious financial and legal trouble if they make the wrong call. Some have suggested that the new content policy, not FOSTA, is to blame for the shutdown of the sex-related subreddits. But FOSTA may also help explain Reddit's new content policy overall. (Reddit did not respond to my request for comment Thursday morning.) FOSTA seriously chips away at Section 230, the federal provision that protects web publishers from being treated as the speaker of user-generated content. Proponents of FOSTA have insisted this is just a renovation of Section 230, not a demolition. But as Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.)—who coauthored the Section 230 language in the '90s—noted yesterday, once you carve out a loophole for one bad thing (in this case, the change is allegedly meant to stop sex trafficking), it's easy for legislators and courts to carve out loopholes and justifications for everything. After all, murder is pretty bad. And everyone's pretty jazzed up about the "opioid epidemic" right now. Guns, too. Do you think Congress can resist asking if websites that facilitate these crimes shouldn't be just as liable as those that broker sex? In case it's not clear, Reddit's actions today in updating their [...]

Social Media Beats Censorship in Iran

Thu, 22 Mar 2018 06:00:00 -0400

In the first days of January, a meme spread through Iran. The image featured Telecommunications Minister Mohammad Jahromi drop-kicking the logos of Tor, an encrypted proxy network, and several social media platforms—a reference to the Iranian government's ban of the messaging service Telegram in response to protests in late December. On January 4, the meme ended up on the front page of Ghanoon, a newspaper aligned with the country's liberal Reformist movement. The same day, Jahromi reposted it on his Instagram account along with the caption: "The National Security Council—which the Telecommunications Ministry is not part of—has decided, along with other security measures, to impose temporary restrictions on cyberspace in order to establish peace…instead of addressing the roots of the protests and unrest, some are trying to blame cyberspace." The minister's acknowledgment that the crackdown was ill-advised would foreshadow a reversal in Iranian President Hasan Rouhani's response to the unrest. As small economic protests encouraged by the Conservative opposition suddenly went nationwide last year, Telegram—used by more than 13 million Iranians—lit up with both credible information and viral rumors. At first, Rouhani's Reformist administration walked the line between defending the right to "criticize and protest" and condemning "solutions to the problems of society in the streets." Rouhani, who campaigned for re-election last year on the nuclear deal and other pro-trade measures, began his latest term calling for a more open internet. But police eventually detained several hundred people, and at least 21 were killed in street fighting. When the Telegram channel AmadNews encouraged protesters to use firebombs, Jahromi publicly asked the platform's founder, Pavel Durov, to censor the channel. Durov complied, catching flak from Edward Snowden. Durov refused further requests by Iranian authorities, prompting the "temporary" restrictions on Telegram, which have become known as "The Filtering." Telegram users responded, as they always do, with memes. The popular channel Talkhand-Siyâsi soon filled up with sarcastic advertisements for air filters and GIFs of former president cum conspiracy theorist Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Iran has a well-developed tradition of political caricature dating back to the 1905 Constitutional Revolution. Old-school cartoonists Mehdi Fard and Mohammad Tehani joined the contretemps, mocking Rouhani's promise that "the telecommunications minister's hand shall not touch the 'filtering' button." The vigorous debate over censorship shows how much Iran—where the elected government often comes into conflict with powerful unelected authorities—has changed in recent years. Increased international trade, electoral victories by Reformists including Rouhani, and a growing number of tech startups have opened up society despite intense pushback from hardline Conservatives in the military and judiciary. But the reaction to the online censorship was not just a matter of cultural freedom. According to the pro-market newspaper Donya-e-Eqtesad, over 9,000 firms, many of which use Telegram to conduct sales and talk to clients, lost business to the ban. Rouhani himself alluded to the economic damage in a January 8 speech promising social reforms. In an Instagram post that same day, Jahromi admitted that "we are now in a situation where our sovereign state and other nations of the world do not have the ability to regulate international social networks." Some 25 percent of Iranians use virtual private networks, software that allows people to avoid internet restrictions, he observed. On January 13, the messaging app was finally unblocked by order of the president. The move came despite the efforts of "hardliners who wanted to force the government to keep the Telegram blocked forever," says Reza Ghazinouri, a refugee and former activist at the University of Tehran who now runs United for Iran, a nonprofit in San Francisco. Some questioned why the administration had earlier passed responsi[...]

Brickbat: Fit for a King

Thu, 22 Mar 2018 04:00:00 -0400

(image) Kings College London blocked a lecture on free speech by one of its own faculty to the school's Libertarian Society because the speaker has "attracted controversy in the past." Adam Perkins, a lecturer in neurobiology, has defended President Donald Trump's travel ban, which earned him condemnation from the school's Somali Society as well as its intersectional feminist group. Officials said they could not guarantee safety if Perkins spoke.

Brickbat: Oh, Man

Mon, 19 Mar 2018 04:00:00 -0400

(image) A Belgian court has fined a man 3,000 euros for contempt of a police officer, making sexist remarks in public and serious violation of a woman's dignity because of her gender. The man, who wasn't named by media, was stopped by a female police officer for a traffic violation and told her she should be doing a job "adapted to women." He became the first person convicted under a new new law barring sexism in public.

Sign Referencing Civil War Hero Is Sexual Harassment, Says Massachusetts Lawmaker

Fri, 16 Mar 2018 14:10:00 -0400

(image) Here's a twist on the debate over public monuments to problematic figures like Confederate leaders: A Massachusetts state lawmaker wants to censor references to a man who scored Civil War era wins against the Confederacy. Her reasoning? That man's name is Joseph Hooker.

As we're all aware, General Hooker's last name became slang for "someone who has sex for money." Today, "hooker" is widely considered a slur by folks in the sex-work community. Yet as far as I'm aware, there have't been any sex worker campaigns to remove references to Joseph Hooker from public view—presumably because most well-adjusted people realize that words have different meanings in different contexts.

"There are all sorts of benign words in our language that sound like words unfit for polite company," writes Jon Keller at CBS Boston, offering Uranus and clap as further examples. "And they offer us an opportunity to teach snickering kids about Civil War history or outer space—and about showing respect for others while avoiding making fools of ourselves."

State Rep. Michelle DuBois (D-Plymouth) disagrees. She has been calling for the removal of a statehouse sign that reads "General Hooker Entrance" (so inscribed because it stands opposite a statue of General Hooker), which she described as an affront to "women's dignity."

"Female staffers don't use that entrance because the sign is offensive to them," DuBois told WBZ-TV this week.

If that isn't the ultimate in futile, fainting-couch feminism, I'm not sure what is.

DuBois also complained that she had heard teen boys joke with teen girls that they were "general hookers" while using the door.

Of course, DuBois is positioning herself as a crusader against sex-based harassment and patriarchy. But attitudes like hers—which treat women as excessively fragile beings, and which posit that female "dignity" is diminished by even so slight an association with sex work as walking under a door that says "hooker"—just props up old-fashioned and patriarchal ideas about sex and gender.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this post stated that Hooker had famously defeated Confederate General Robert E. Lee in battle, when it's really the other way around. (We should have paid more attention to those Ken Burns documentaries after all.) The opening paragraph has been edited to remove this reference.

New Orleans Threatens Man with Jail for Mural Replicating Trump’s Crass ‘Grab Them by the Pussy’ Comments

Thu, 15 Mar 2018 12:50:00 -0400

A property owner in New Orleans is being threatened with fines and even jail time for hosting a mural visually recreating a famous—and famously crass—quote by President Donald Trump about grabbing women by their lady parts. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in Louisiana has filed suit to protect Neal Morris, the property owner, from any punishment from the City of New Orleans for not getting the city's approval to paint some controversial speech on a mural on a warehouse he owns. According to the ACLU complaint, Morris commissioned a mural on his property last November that partly illustrated parts of the now-well-known quotes by Trump recorded by Access Hollywood: "I moved on her like a bitch. She's now got big phony tits and everything. I just start kissing them. I don't even wait. And when you're a star they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab them by the pussy." Prior to commissioning the mural, Morris visited City Hall in New Orleans to find out what their approval process was for murals. According to the ACLU lawsuit, the city was unable to provide the information he was seeking, so he went forward with the mural. After the mural went up, he started getting press coverage. That's when he got a threatening letter from the City of New Orleans Department of Safety and Permits. The letter informed him that his mural violated city zoning laws. Murals were not permitted in residential historic districts. The letter further threatened him with possible fines and jail time for each day the mural remained up. However, the ACLU says the section of code Morris is accused of violating does not actually exist. The city's zoning laws do not have a section on prohibited signs and does not have a blanket prohibition on murals in historic districts. Morris sent a letter to the city asking for clarification and received no response. The city does have rules for putting up murals, even if they apparently couldn't explain them to Morris when he asked for them. The rules themselves present other legal issues. The city requires murals to go through an extensive advance review process that includes approval of the contents of the mural. Failure to properly navigate the city's approval process can lead to minimum fines of $500 and a maximum of 150 days of jail time. The ACLU argues that "any person who exercises her right to free expression by painting a mural on her property—without first obtaining government permission—faces criminal punishment. This is, by definition, a prior restraint on speech." They further note that the mural regulations are selectively enforced. A mural by Yoko Ono was recently painted on the side of a museum without going through any sort of permitting process. The ACLU also argues this permitting system lacks due process, has undefined standards, and lacks a transparent process by which people get murals approved. Essentially the lawsuit argues that people who want to put up murals are subject to the whims of unaccountable government officials. And they treat murals differently from signs so they can charge more money ($500 vs. $265). Morris and the ACLU are seeking an injunction stopping New Orleans from enforcing the mural permitting process. This is far from the first time that sign permitting processes have been used to try to censor politically oriented speech or art. The City of St. Louis tangled with Jim Roos and tried to use sign ordinances to make him remove a massive mural on the side of a building protesting the abuse of eminent domain. Ultimately the city lost the battle when a federal appeals court ruled in 2011 that their restrictions were "impermissibly content-based."[...]

City Threatens to Sue Online Gadfly for Complaining About Bad Smells

Thu, 15 Mar 2018 12:20:00 -0400

When I was a reporter for a South Carolina newspaper in the late 1980s, I wrote a story that delved into possible explanations for the sulfurous smell that often assaulted me as I drove from Charleston to North Charleston. Was it swamp gas? Sewage? Fumes from a local paper plant? The mayor of North Charleston was not pleased by the article, but no one threatened to sue me. Josh Harms, an Iowa web developer who complained online about the "horrible rotten blood and stale beer" odors emanating from a dog food factory in Sibley, was not so lucky. "If the web site is not taken down within ten days," Daniel DeKoter, a lawyer representing the city, said in a December 12 letter to Harms, "your next notice will be in the form of a lawsuit." DeKoter did not specify on what grounds the city might sue Harms, although he claimed Harms' website, which said "you can't escape the stench no matter where you are in town," "libels the city of Sibley, interferes with the recruitment of businesses and new residents, and negatively affects property values." In a letter he sent Harms a month later, DeKoter explained that "Iowa recognizes a type of lawsuit called 'slander of title,' which involves disparagement of real estate." By complaining about unpleasant smells in Sibley, DeKoter argued, Harms had committed that tort, leading to "a reduction in taxable value of the property that forms the city's tax base." After threatening to sue Harms for libeling land, DeKoter closed by assuring him that "this letter is not a threat of litigation and is not in any way intended to deter your exercise of your legal rights." According to a First Amendment lawsuit that the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa filed on Harms' behalf last week, DeKoter had already accomplished that goal on the city's behalf. Under the threat of legal action, Harms had edited his website,, in the hope of appeasing the city. For example, "He changed the answer to his question, 'Should you move to the Sibley, Iowa?' from 'Not Yet' to 'Only you can answer that.'" Harms added a sentence saying his intent was to "give you my opinion on both the good and the bad so that you can make an informed decision," and he added a list of good things about Sibley. He also noted that the odors associated with the Iowa Drying and Processing (IDP) plant, which had been the subject of multiple nuisance citations and litigation between the city and IDP, were not as obtrusive as they used to be. Shortly after Harms made those changes, Lana Bradstream, a reporter for The N'West Iowa Review, left a message for him, asking for an interview. Harms' website had attracted a lot of attention in town, and Bradstream wanted to ask Harms about the threats from the city. But according to the lawsuit, Harms decided not to make any public comments about the controversy after meeting with a lawyer from DeKoter's firm, who told Harms that talking to the press would not be in his best interest. Sibley Mayor Jerry Johnson and City Councilman Larry Pedley did talk to Bradstream, denying that they had authorized a cease-and-desist letter. But the official minutes of the December 11 city council meeting say officials "discussed a negative website regarding moving to Sibley," adding, "attorney sending letter to get it down." A local newspaper reported that City Administrator Glenn Anderson and City Clerk Susan Sembach "gave details about a website ( that voices concerns as a deterrent to someone considering moving to Sibley based on the IDP odor issue, that while still not 100% eliminated, has improved." The article said Anderson and Sembach "think they have determined who the perpetrator is and are working with the city attorney to attempt to remove the site." The main complaint about Harms' website was that it did not give city officials sufficient credit for alleviating the odor problem caused by t[...]

Brickbat: Oh, Bother

Tue, 13 Mar 2018 04:00:00 -0400

(image) Chinese Internet censors have attempted to squelch any criticism of the Communist Party Council's decision to eliminate term limits so Xi Jiinping can serve more than two terms as president. They've banned references to Animal Farm, Brave New World, 1984, and... Winnie the Pooh. Chinese social media have long noted the resemblance between Pooh Bear and Xi and have used images of the character to mock the president. But now, censors are scurrying to remove any references to Winnie.

Judge Tells Trump to Pretend to Listen to Twitter Haters

Fri, 09 Mar 2018 12:00:00 -0500

In order to resolve an unusual First Amendment lawsuit over whether President Donald Trump can block people on Twitter, a federal judge has a suggestion: What if he just pretended to listen to them? The Knight First Amendment Institute and seven individuals are suing the Trump administration because of Trump's tendency to block people from following his "official" Twitter account if they tweet mean things at him. A lawsuit sounds absurd, but there are some interesting First Amendment implications surrounding it. Trump and his administration are using a private social media account on a private platform to communicate public messages about important policy decisions. People who are blocked from following the president cannot see these messages. It's not just about sending sarcastic comments to the president. Blocking also makes it difficult to see what the president of the United States is saying. U.S. District Court Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald in Manhattan seems to be trying to navigate this complicated problem without setting some sort of precedent over censorship, speech, free association, and private social media platforms. She pitched a suggestion to both sides in the lawsuit yesterday: What if Trump merely "muted" these people instead of blocking them? To explain to those of you who have managed to avoid getting sucked into Twitter's vicious gravity: Muting a person on Twitter is essentially a secret block. If President Trump were to mute you, you'd still be able to follow him and see his tweets. But he would never see any tweets or messages you directed his way. In old-fashioned postal delivery terms: Blocking is when the post office returns a letter with a "delivery refused" notice; muting is when they just quietly toss it in the trash without saying a word to you. So if the president were to merely pretend that he was listening even though he wasn't, this could potentially satisfy both sides. Notes The New York Times: Katie Fallow, a lawyer for the Knight Institute, said that she was receptive to the possible compromise. She noted that muting would be "much less restrictive" of her clients' rights. Nicholas Pappas, a comedy writer and one of the seven plaintiffs, told a gathering of reporters after the hearing that it would be "a great solution," if he were muted, rather than blocked, by the @realDonaldTrump account. (Mr. Pappas was blocked by that account after tweeting in June: "Trump is right. The government should protect the people. That's why the courts are protecting us from him.") There's something so very telling about the relationship between citizens and government authority that's implied in this proposed compromise. These people can be satisfied as long as they can send their messages to Trump, even though he'll never see them or read them or even remotely care about them. (OK, so they also want to be able to see and quote the president's tweets, which in theory they can't do if they're blocked, though there are well-known workarounds. And practically every tweet from the president gets media coverage these days.) No doubt many folks who have attempted to give feedback to government can relate. President Barack Obama's administration made a big deal about its "We the People" petition site, where citizens could attempt to get responses from the White House over their pet issues. But as the site grew popular, the White House increased the signature threshold to even get a response to try to hold back the trolls. As I noted back in 2013, it appeared that all the administration used the petition site for was to provide "a justification for what the administration is doing, wants to do, or has already done rather than an indication of the administration actually changing a position based on public dissatisfaction." In the end, all the judge is suggesting here is that the Trump administrati[...]

$20 Fee for Porn Access Proposed in Rhode Island

Mon, 05 Mar 2018 14:08:00 -0500

Rhode Island has joined a host of other states in considering an irrational measure to regulate online porn by charging consumers a $20 access fee. But the Rhode Island bill actually beats others like it in terrible and unconstitutional requirements, such as requiring the blockage of not just nude imagery or porn sites but any content that "affront(s) current standards of decency"... whatever that means. The bill, sponsored by state Sens. Frank Ciccone (D-Providence) and Hannah Gallo (D-Cranston), is packed with ill-defined terms and extreme mandates. To start, it would require all internet-enabled devices sold in the state to come with "a digital blocking capability that renders inaccessible sexual content and/or patently offensive material." But as many previous schemes to block sexual content have shown, it's nearly impossible for automated censors to distinguish pornographic sexual content from sexual wellness websites, reproductive health organizations, ancient art, educational information, and all sorts of other non-obscene or pornographic stuff. And the Rhode Island bill wouldn't just block overtly sexual content but anything deemed "patently offensive," too–even though there's no clear definition of this term. The state currently defines "patently offensive" as material "so offensive on its face as to affront current standards of decency." Makers of computers, smartphones, and other internet-enabled products would be left to determine for themselves what exactly "current standards of decency" means and how to put that in algorithmic terms. The proposal doesn't stop there in terms of confusing and unconstitutional dictates, though. It would also require devices to automatically block "any hub that facilitates prostitution"—again, not a legal or well-defined category of content. And device makers would also have to "ensure that all child pornography and revenge pornography is inaccessible" on their products—something that sounds great but is completely technically infeasible. If it were that easy to stop the spread of child porn, companies would be doing it already. What makes all of this especially ridiculous is that under Ciccone and Gallo's proposal, anyone over 18-years-old could have the filter removed by making a request in writing and paying a $20 fee. The money would go to the state's general treasury "to help fund the operations of the council on human trafficking." (But... if people are paying the state $20 to access prostitution sites, doesn't that make the state a trafficker?) The fact that lawmakers think blocked "patently offensive" material should be able to be accessed for a low price just shows how toothless their proclamations that the legislation is necessary to protect public health or morals. But what lawmakers would get out of the measure is a nice new source of steady income and a registry of people who want the filter removed. Plus, the fees imposed on individual consumers would be pocket change compared to the money the state could make shaking down tech companies. Under Ciccone and Gallo's proposal, failure to implement the technically impossible filtering requirements could mean being sued by the state or any Rhode Island resident, being held liable for civil damages, and being charged up to $500 "for each piece of content that was reported but not subsequently blocked."[...]

Trump Wants to Meet with Video Game Industry Leaders to Complain About Gun Violence That's Not Their Fault

Fri, 02 Mar 2018 13:25:00 -0500

President Donald Trump, who has complained bitterly that safety rules have made professional football less violent and dangerous, apparently plans to meet with video game companies to "see what they can do" about school violence. This came as news to the video game industry's trade organization, the Entertainment Software Association (ESA), which told the press the White House had not contacted it about a meeting. The White House subsequently said it would be sending out invitations soon. The answer to the question of what video games can do about school violence is "nothing," because studies have consistently shown that these games have no meaningful relationship with real-world violence. The ESA notes that these same violent video games are played all across the world in countries that do not have a problem with school shootings. Trump told politicians earlier this week that they need to stand up to the National Rifle Association (NRA), but blaming video games for gun violence actually plays right into the gun group's tactics. The NRA is quick to toss the First Amendment under the bus in order to protect the Second. It's nothing new for politicians to blame video games for violence as an excuse to try to regulate them, but there are fortunately limits to what they can actually accomplish. The Supreme Court intervened when California attempted to put age restrictions on video game sales, ruling that games are protected under the First Amendment. (An amusing bit of trivia: The anti-gun lawmaker responsible for getting violent video game restrictions passed in California was subsequently arrested and charged with being a gun smuggler. He pleaded guilty to racketeering.) As Reason's Jesse Walker has documented, pretty much the entire history of video games has been mired in moral panics that politicians from both parties have attempted to commandeer for their own gains. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) has also been big on trying to regulate video games, so seeing her grinning next to Trump at the prospect of using government regulations to suppress citizens' freedoms should concern more than just gun owners. Trump also raised the issue of a ratings system for games. He is apparently ignorant of the fact that one already exists and has for quite a while. Due to some of the aforementioned political pressure, the video game industry instituted the Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB) in 1994 to inform consumers and parents about what sorts of violence (and other types of mature content) a game might contain. These rating operate much like movie ratings, and they appear on labels affixed to video games sold in stores. The ESRB site allows people to search for games by name to see their ratings. There is no reason for any consumers to be surprised by violent video game content, unless they decide not to pay attention. We ultimately shouldn't expect much to come from this meeting with video game publishers, and that's a good thing. They're not responsible for gun violence and they're certainly not responsible for coming with a solution for it. Fun Friday pop culture bonus: One of those early arcade games that prompted moral panics about extreme violence was Narc, released in 1988. In it, players represent law enforcement officers from a fictional narcotics unit who are sent to the street to stop drug trafficking by slaughtering hundreds of dealers without due process. Frankly, that sounds like the kind of violence that would make Trump happy. Watch the game below (and marvel at the tight jeans technology of the 1980s): src="" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="340" frameborder="0">[...]

Stone Age Statue Was Too Racy for Facebook

Fri, 02 Mar 2018 11:22:00 -0500

A pudgy little figure with wide hips and ample breasts, the Venus of Willendorf was discovered in 1908 but originally dates to the Stone Age. One of the oldest surviving art works in the world, the limestone sculpture now resides in Vienna's Natural History Museum, where a woman named Laura Ghianda snapped a pic last December and then posted the image to Facebook. It was promptly removed. A notice from Facebook explained that the naked figure was inappropriate for the social site. According to the company's official policy, "photographs of paintings, sculptures, and other art that depicts nude figures" are allowed. But despite four attempts by Ghianda to appeal the image's removal, Facebook wouldn't budge. The Natural History Museum also appealed to Facebook. "There has never been a complaint by visitors concerning the nakedness of the figurine," Christian Koeberl, the museum's director general, posted in January. "There is no cover the Venus of Willendorf and hide her nudity, neither in the museum nor on social media." The museum's plea also failed to get a reaction from Facebook. But after news media began running with the story this week, the company finally caved. On Thursday, a spokesperson for the company told AFP that it had been a mistake to censor the Venus of Willendorf's image and apologized for the error. This is far from the first time the site has censored artistic depictions of nudity (sometimes even leading to a user's account being banned from Facebook entirely), and surely won't be the last. As a private company, Facebook is of course entitled to remove whatever imagery it pleases. But the inability of Facebook's algorithms and human moderators to distinguish obscenity from ancient artifacts provides yet another reason to doubt Facebook's ability to police "fake news." Lately, politicians and activists have been calling on the social network to somehow stop the spread of misinformation, to be more proactive in determining what is and isn't a credible news source, to rate stories for trustworthiness, to suss out "Russian trolls," etc. Who would make these determinations and how is a bit trickier. At the same time, some authorities want to give Facebook even more reason to censor content. Yesterday the European Commission recommended that Facebook, Twitter, and similar sites be required to take down terrorism-related content within an hour of it being flagged by any European Union law enforcement. The commission has also been urging sites to be more proactive in removing "hate speech" and pornographic content. Yesterday's recommendation warned that if tech companies couldn't comply "voluntarily," legislation would be passed to force them. And here in the U.S., the House of Representatives just passed legislation that would allow websites to be sued or prosecuted if sex workers post on them. As authorities keep making ridiculous demands of user-generated content sites, expect to see a lot more situations like the removal of the Venus of Willendorf. Sites simply won't have enough incentive to take chances.[...]

Brickbat: Give Peace a Chance

Fri, 02 Mar 2018 04:00:00 -0500

(image) A Turkish court has sentenced human rights activist Omer Faruk Gergerlioglu to two-and-a-half years in prison for a tweet he posted calling for peace. Gergerlioglu posted a photo of a World Peace Day demonstration of two mothers marching behind symbolic coffins, one draped with the Turkish flag, the other with the flag of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). He wrote, "Looking at this picture, you will understand that this war has no meaning. Mothers the same, flags different." The government accused him of posting propaganda for the PKK, which is deemed a terrorist organization by Turkey as well as the European Union, the United States, and the United Nations.

Dianne Feinstein Ignores GOP Lawmakers, Blames #ReleaseTheMemo on Russians and Social Media Instead

Wed, 24 Jan 2018 12:35:00 -0500

Trust Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) to try to turn a political controversy into an excuse to censor social media. A bunch of Republican lawmakers have been rallying around a classified memo by House Intelligence Committee Chair Devin Nunes (R-Calif.). The memo purports to show FBI abuses connected to the secret surveillance of people involved with Donald Trump's presidential campaign. The push to declassify the document was national news last week, complete with a hashtag campaign, #ReleaseTheMemo. It was discussed by every major news outlet. Several GOP lawmakers tweeted the hashtag. Feinstein and Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) are upset because a bunch of Russian-operated Twitter accounts may have jumped on this and attempted the magnify the hashtag campaign's reach. The two of them have sent a letter to Twitter and Facebook pretty much demanding that they investigate the extent of the Russian involvement in the hashtag campaign. And they want a response in three days: If these reports are accurate, we are witnessing an ongoing attack by the Russian government through Kremlin-linked social media actors directly acting to intervene and influence our democratic process. This should be disconcerting to all Americans, but especially your companies as, once again, it appears the vast majority of their efforts are concentrated on your platforms. This latest example of Russian interference is in keeping with Moscow's concerted, covert, and continuing campaign to manipulate American public opinion and erode trust in our law enforcement and intelligence institutions. Feinstein is confusing a symptom for a problem, as politicians often do when they have agendas to pursue. It's absurd to hold Russia responsible for the hashtag in any meaningful sense, given that Republican lawmakers were openly, overtly screaming it from the rooftops, on Twitter, and in front of every news camera they could see. A source familiar with how Twitter works told The Hill that the growth of the hashtag appeared to have happened organically. If Russian trolls and bots were involved, they were at most magnifying a conflict that was already underway. They didn't set this fire, and they weren't the chief force spreading it. Feinstein's political machinations here are twofold. She's trying to make the case that the feds must regulate social media because of foreign involvement in American elections; and second, she's using the familiar guilt-by-association logical fallacy to discredit her political opponents. Feinstein's love of censorship is well known. She flat-out wants to suppress online content that she deems dangerous. This lack of respect for Americans' speech rights and privacy is one of the few things she has in common with Trump. As for the guilt-by-association issue, it's remarkable how little people on either side are interested in engaging the surveillance issues that undergird this fight and instead want to make it all about attacking or defending Trump. I've already mocked Republicans acting outraged about the Nunes memo because a bunch of them just voted to expand the feds' power to snoop on American citizens for purposes unrelated to terrorism and espionage. On the very same day this hashtag campaign was launching, Trump signed that bill into law. The discussion of actual surveillance policy got drowned by constant efforts to either discredit Trump (by any silly memes necessary) or to discredit the FBI investigation. What's most obnoxious about Feinstein and Schiff's response here is how it simply does not engage the complaint that the surveillance state might have abused its powers when it snooped on and possibly unmasked the identities of people in Trump's orbit. Personally, based on my e[...]

Government Will Protect Us From Bad Speech? That’s the Fakest News of All.

Tue, 23 Jan 2018 00:15:00 -0500

The folks from the government are here to protect us from extremism, fake news, and hate speech, and they've strong-armed some media company friends to help. "Twitter is sending out messages to people telling them that, for their own good, they are documenting that the user has either followed, cited or re-tweeted an account Twitter decided is linked to Russia & its propaganda efforts," journalist Glenn Greenwald tweeted over the weekend. "That's not creepy at all." The thread to which Greenwald linked featured an example of such an email, which is connected to Twitter's promise last fall to the U.S. Congress to cooperate "with congressional investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election." The company was caught up in the frenzy in Washington, D.C. to pin the country's political turmoil not on angry Americans, but rather on Russia's clumsy, low-rent news-spinning through social media. "As previously announced," Twitter notes on its blog, "we identified and suspended a number of accounts that were potentially connected to a propaganda effort by a Russian government-linked organization… Consistent with our commitment to transparency, we are emailing notifications to 677,775 people in the United States who followed one of these accounts or retweeted or liked a Tweet from these accounts during the election period." Ummm… Thanks for that, Twitter. I'd hate to think that I'm paying attention to the "wrong" people. But maybe I'm also not paying attention to the right people—as decided by the powers-that-be. "We work with respected organizations... to empower credible non-governmental voices against violent extremism," Twitter's Carlos Monje Jr., director of public policy and philanthropy in the U.S. and Canada, told the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation last week. "Over the past three years, we have commissioned research on what types of counterspeech are the most effective at combating hate and violent extremism," Monika Bickert, Facebook's head of global policy management, assured senators at the same hearing. "We have therefore partnered with non-governmental organizations and community groups around the world to empower positive and moderate voices." YouTube's Juniper Downs, Director Public Policy and Government Relations, also promised lawmakers that her company was quarantining what she termed "borderline content" to achieve "a substantial reduction in watch time of those videos." YouTube is also actively producing "counterspeech," Downs testified. "We are expanding our counter-extremism work to present counternarratives and elevate the voices that are most credible in speaking out against terrorism, hate, and violence." To be sure, working against violent extremism sounds, on its face, like a good thing. But let's be clear that these are executives of media companies going before government officials to promise to suppress officially disapproved speech and to promote ideas and messages that the government supports. Historically, the sort of "hate speech" government officials tend to dislike most is that directed at them, and their definitions of "positive and moderate voices" most commonly apply to anything that strokes their egos. Need an example? Let's peek at our friends across the Atlantic. Unhampered by strong protections for free speech, they're openly most concerned when the targets are themselves. "In recent years, the intimidation experienced by Parliamentary candidates, and others in public life, has become a threat to the diversity, integrity, and vibrancy of representative democracy in the UK," fretted the UK government's Committee on Standards in Public Life in a report [...]