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Censorship



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



Published: Wed, 21 Feb 2018 00:00:00 -0500

Last Build Date: Wed, 21 Feb 2018 18:55:16 -0500

 



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 experience covering the federal surveillance apparatus, I doubt the Nunes memo actually reveals illegal conduct by federal officials. That's actually part of the problem—it's too easy for the feds to legally justify secretly snooping. Nevertheless, the Nunes memo should be declassified and released, as should the secret court warrant request that serve[...]



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 published last month. "Intimidatory behaviour is already affecting the way in which MPs are relating to their constituents, has put off candidates who want to serve their communities from standing for public offices, and threatens to damage the vibrancy and diversity of our public life." Aspiring politicians may refrain from running for office because p[...]



Your Social Media Post Does Not Have To Be Socially Useful

Mon, 22 Jan 2018 11:34:00 -0500

The proper response to speech we don't like is not censorship but more speech, as the saying goes. But an increasing number of people seem to think things have gone too far. Lately, they argue, free speech has gotten out of control. Russian attempts to meddle in the presidential election are part of the reason for this hand-wringing, but by no means the only reason. Social media enables extremism, according to its critics. It gives a platform to white nationalists. (It also gives a platform to opponents of white nationalism, but never mind.) It hijacks the reward centers of the brain, especially in teenagers. It is "ripping apart the social fabric" through "dopamine-driven feedback loops." That last critique comes from none other than a former vice president at Facebook, Chamath Palihapitiya. Little wonder, then, that politicians and pundits also consider social media a clear and present danger. Hillary Clinton, Dianne Feinstein, Ted Cruz, Steve Bannon, Tucker Carlson—all of them have suggested that social media needs to be reined in. As Zach Weismuller noted recently in Reason, this is nothing new: "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.' " The latest to weigh in with such laments is Zeynep Tufecki, a professor and op/ed writer. In a piece in Wired magazine, Tufecki observes that "the capacity to spread ideas and reach an audience is no longer limited by access to expensive, centralized broadcasting infrastructure." Great news for free speech, right? Well, not in her telling. People can now gorge on any kind of communication they want, without gatekeepers or guardians. But there are "no nutritional labels in this cafeteria... each post [is] just another slice of pie on the carousel." What's more, microtargeting makes it possible for people to direct their speech to specific audiences instead of broadcasting it to the entire world. Thus, she argues, "John Stuart Mill's notion that a 'marketplace of ideas' will elevate the truth is flatly belied by the virality of fake news," and the "idea that more speech—more participation, more connection—constitutes the highest, most unalloyed good" is "a fallacy on its face." We ought to understand free speech as a means to an end, rather than an end in itself, she contends: "a necessary condition for achieving certain other societal ideals" such as creating "a knowledgeable public," "holding powerful people and institutions accountable," and "fostering a healthy, rational, and informed debate." We need to regulate social media, she concludes, much the same way government regulated the auto industry by requiring "seat belts, airbags, emission controls," and so on. This is a fairly common argument these days. The dean of the Yale Law School, Robert Post, frets that "the First Amendment seems to have been transformed into a straitjacket for our institutions of democratic governance." What America needs, in this view, is to protect speech only when it serves some other purpose. This invites some obvious questions. For instance, who gets to regulate social media for the public good—Donald Trump? Ted Cruz? An elite cadre of social-justice warriors? Who gets to decide what constitutes fake news—the man in the Oval Office who screams "Fake news!" at any story about him that is less than fawning? Also: Which "societal ideals" should government foster? How about virtue? Plenty of religious conservatives—and not just Christian ones, either—think government should teach people to be good, as they define good. Or how about patriotism? It doesn't seem far-fetched to think that the functionaries of the nation-state would consider reverence for the nation-state a useful ideal to instill. Of course, these are utilitarian answers, so they suffer from the same shortcoming as the utilitarian argument they respond to. [...]



Brickbat: Say What?

Mon, 22 Jan 2018 04:00:00 -0500

(image) Police in Northumbria, England, say they have tracked down and issued warnings to six people who left offensive comments on the department's Facebook page on a post about a sex grooming gang. The comments referred to the race and religion of members of the gang. All of the members of the gang were of Asian or Eastern European descent while all of their victims were of white British origin.




"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 fl[...]



'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 mo[...]



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[...]



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, righ[...]



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 [...]



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 t[...]