Tuesday, November 22, 2011 10:12 AM
During my school years, my university implemented a new email filter. It wasn’t a censor, per se, since you were able to send any message you wished, regardless of swears or sexy words. However, it rated emails by how “hot” they were and a racy message incited a pop-up asking something to the effect of, “Are you sure you want to send this message as is? Your recipient may find some of the language offensive.” A mild message earned one chili pepper, a racier message earned two, and a message with a big gun like the F-word earned three spicy peppers and a more strongly worded caution against sending. It was a whole lot of fun to see what words piqued the attention of the censor program, and we spent hours testing the system with combinations of curses and scandalous language. Vagina, we were outraged to learn, earned a couple of peppers, but penis didn’t set off any alarms. Occasionally it was mystifying to type an ordinary message to a friend or colleague only to have the filter message pop up: “Are you sure you want to send this message as is?” You’d go back and read your email to find the mysterious naughty phrase that had set off the alarm, like I cocked my head or the exam was harder than I thought.
It looks like texters in Pakistan will have a similar hurdle to jump through while composing their mobile phone messages. The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) has dreamt up 1,500 “obnoxious” words to ban, according to The Guardian (Nov 17, 2011). It must have been quite a brainstorming session coming up with all the no-no words: everything from quickie to deposit to love pistol to flogging the dolphin. So no more asking your friend if she has time for a quickie lunch, your husband if he has made the check deposit yet, or your lover if he is done flogging the dolphin. And unfortunately for users, a flagged message won’t just get a few chili peppers tacked on, it will get the text blocked and, in the event of repeat offenses, service disconnected. “Mobile phone firms were ordered to stop messages including the offending words this week,” reports the London newspaper, “although tests by the Guardian suggested the blocking technology was not 100% effective.” (Just like my classmates and me, it seems Guardian editors couldn’t resist going straight to testing the system and snickering over which words were banned and which weren’t.)
The ban was enacted in response to consumer complaints about offensive texts, says a PTA spokesperson: “Nobody would like this happening to their young boy or girl.” I should think alerting kids to fun new dirty phrases like pocket pool and beat your meat wouldn’t be the most effective way to keep communications clean. But as Mashable (Nov 21, 2011) reports, “Pakistan is no stranger to digital bans from the government. In May 2010, the country blocked Facebook for two weeks after a competition to draw the Prophet Mohammed sparked controversy. YouTube was blocked temporarily in 2008 following news that images from a competition to draw the Prophet Mohammed had leaked onto the site.”
Sources: The Guardian, Mashable
Images by tore_urnes and Emily Rachel Hildebrand, licensed under Creative Commons.
Monday, April 04, 2011 11:08 AM
It has often seemed a foregone conclusion, but it has finally happened: Dissident Chinese artist and blogger Ai Weiwei has been detained in a Chinese government crackdown, and supporters fear he may be charged with subversion or held indefinitely.
Here at Utne Reader, we have followed Ai’s defiant trajectory with an unsettling sense of foreboding. In 2009, we reprinted an interview with Ai Weiwei from Index on Censorship in which he explained his outspokenness against the Chinese government, which he says is “against humanity”:
“For me this is not a responsibility: It is part of life. If you live in self-punishment or self-imposed ignorance or lack of self-awareness, it genuinely diminishes your existence. Self-censorship is insulting to the self. Timidity is a hopeless way forward.”
By later in 2009 it was clear that Ai was being closely watched, and in January his studio complex was razed in a blatant act of intimidation.
Now he has been held for two days, and signs from the Chinese government and police are troubling: That is, they’ve given no sign at all that they’ve even detained him. Reporters are being hung up on, websites are being scrubbed of references to the incident, and Ai is joining dozens of other activists and critics who have “disappeared” in recent months.
Ai’s very life has often seemed like performance art. But now the narrative arc of the performance is out of his hands, and many fellow Chinese and China watchers worry that his story will become something that his life has never been: routine.
Read Twitter reactions from Ai’s fellow Chinese liberals at Global Voices.
UPDATE 4/10/11: Ai Weiwei has now been held three days. See China Digital Times for numerous links and analysis related to his detention.
Sources: New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Global Voices, China Digital Times
Friday, October 01, 2010 2:19 PM
Moby Lives has some background on one of the weirder and more disturbing publishing stories in a long time. What do you call it when the government buys out the entire first printing of a book –in this case Anthony Shaffer’s Operation Dark Heart—in return for the publisher’s agreement to destroy every one of the copies? Munificent censorship, maybe? A particularly ugly but perfectly legal bit of capitalist monkeyshines?
It sure sounds like a cut-and-dry case of censorship to me, but this attempt at an explanation from Thomas Dunne, publisher of St. Martin’s Press, is pretty curious, to say the least:
We have been receiving letters of concern that we changed the text due to government censorship, and that the government “burned” the books from our initial printing. The true facts are that the government bought the entire first printing in its entirety and we destroyed and recycled those copies at their request.
Source: Moby Lives
Image by altemark, licensed under Creative Commons.
Wednesday, February 17, 2010 2:15 PM
In the latest issue of Prospect, Open University's Nigel Warburton looks at recent censorship scandals in Denmark, the United Kingdom, and Ireland and writes, "perhaps it's not just cheap clothes that we'll be importing from China this year." From there he launches into a (very) short history of Western philosophers who argued against free expression:
Plato wanted to censor the arts because, he argued, they misrepresented the nature of reality, something that only philosopher-kings could accurately discern. Two millennia later, in 1965, the Marxist Herbert Marcuse also railed against free expression, asserting that it was of little use when the people in a capitalist democracy were so indoctrinated that they parroted their master's thoughts.
Thursday, January 28, 2010 11:30 AM
Rhonda Mahony over at Wild Bee has posted a fine introduction to TOR, open-source software that allows you to volunteer your computer for global privacy.
We've written about TOR before. Here's how David Talbot described it in Digital Dissent Sidestepping Censorship:
In a place like Zimbabwe, where saying the wrong thing can get you killed or thrown in prison on treason charges, you take precautions: You’re careful about whom you talk to; you’re discreet when you enter a clinic to take pictures. And when you get to the point of putting your information on the Internet, you need protection from the possibility that your computer’s digital address will be traced back to you.
Maybe, at that point, you use Tor, one of several Internet anonymity systems that encrypt data or hide the accompanying Internet address, and route the data to its final destination through intermediate computers called proxies. This combination of routing and encryption can mask a computer’s actual location and circumvent government filters; to prying eyes, the Internet traffic seems to be coming from the proxies. At a time when global Internet access and social-networking technologies are surging, such tools are increasingly important to bloggers and other web users living under repressive regimes. Without them, people in these countries might be unable to speak or read freely online.
Unlike most anonymity and circumvention technologies, Tor uses multiple proxies and encryption steps, providing extra security that is especially prized in areas where the risks are greatest. Paradoxically, that means it’s impossible to confirm whether it’s being used by the Zimbabwean bloggers.
(Thanks, Boing Boing.)
Source: Wild Bee
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Tuesday, July 21, 2009 5:01 PM
Amid news of a stepped-up Internet clampdown in China, we’ve learned that artist and blogger Ai Weiwei, whom Utne Reader called “China’s most radical dissident” in our recent international issue, has again provoked the ire of Chinese authorities. The Art Newspaper reports that Ai’s popular blog on Sina.com was yanked off the web last month, and several recent incidents indicate that he’s being closely watched.
It’s no secret that Ai is a thorn in the side of the regime, but the Art Newspaper implies that his most recent critique of the government may have hit an especially sensitive nerve:
Ai Weiwei has been running a campaign documenting the death of schoolchildren in the Sichuan earthquake of May 2008, alleging that the number of fatalities was due to local officials siphoning money from school building costs.
Ai has launched another blog at blog.aiweiwei.com, where he has promised to republish his investigations into the Sichuan disaster. Visit China Digital Times and China Geeks to find occasional translations of, and reports about, his blog entries.
Source: The Art Newspaper, China Digital Times, China Geeks
Image by Hafenbar, licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, June 16, 2009 1:26 PM
This Thursday, the German parliament will vote on a plan to censor its internet. Ursula von der Leyen, Germany’s Minister for Family Affairs, recently brought the proposal to the German government in an effort to block child pornography, says political blog netzpolitik.org. She has since been dubbed “Zensursula,” (translated-“Censorsula”) by her growing number of opponents. netzpolitik.org writes:
German politicians already seem to be lining up with their wish-list of content to be censored in future – the suggestions ranging from gambling sites, Muslim web pages, “killer games”, and the music industry, cheering up with the thought of finally banning pirate bay and p2p.
Source: netzpolitik, tech President, Boing Boing
, licensed under
Friday, January 16, 2009 4:25 PM
A new form of censorship has quietly crept over the internet. Though governments continue to pursue old-school forms of prior restraint, technology is quickly making the blackened-ink style of censorship obsolete. The new ways to restrict free speech don’t require killing information entirely, governments and private companies simply inconvenience and frustrate people away from information they want to keep under wraps.
The internet was meant to foster communication, and it still creates opportunities for vibrant free speech. At the same time, computer science professor Harry Lewis writes for the Chronicle of Higher Education that the internet’s “rapid and ubiquitous adoption has created a flexible and effective mechanism for thought control.” As people increasingly rely on the internet for their news and information, banishing something from the web means effectively striking it from the public consciousness.
Governments have already begun to influence internet usage inside of their countries to enforce social and political norms. Lewis writes that on the internet, there is already “no sex in Saudi Arabia, no Holocaust denials in Australia, no shocking images of war dead in Germany, no insults to Mustafa Kemal Atatürk in Turkey.”
China sits at the vanguard of this new form of censorship. The country’s famed “Great Firewall” is one of the most advanced information blocking tools in the world. Every savvy netizen, however, knows of proxy servers, encryption services, and other ways to skirt the firewall and find information that China doesn’t want its citizens to see. “The Great Firewall of China isn't impenetrable, “Jacqui Cheng reported for Ars Technica in 2007, “it just takes a little elbow grease and high Internet traffic to squeeze a few banned terms through.” That requirement of elbow grease constitutes the cornerstone of the new censorship.
Governments don’t have to censor all the information that comes into their country anymore, either. Censorship increasingly relies on one information bottleneck: Google. Jeffrey Rosen wrote for the New York Times that Google and its subsidiaries, including YouTube, “arguably have more influence over the contours of online expression than anyone else on the planet.” Governments and businesses now realize that banning information from Google means effectively censoring it from a massive audience of people, and they are developing strategies accordingly.
“To love Google, you have to be a little bit of a monarchist, you have to have faith in the way people traditionally felt about the king,” technology expert Tim Wu told the New York Times. After the Turkish government successfully lobbied YouTube to take down videos inside of Turkey that were deemed offensive, the Government tried to ban the videos worldwide to protect Turks living outside the country. These videos would all be available on websites other than YouTube, but with one website eclipsing all others for web videos, really, who would know?
In the United States, copyright laws are often invoked to frighten people into censorship. The Electronic Frontier Foundation reported that the McCain-Palin campaign, an unlikely advocate for internet freedom, claimed that YouTube “silenced political speech” after it took down campaign ads due to copyright violation claims.
YouTube general council Zahavah Levine responded saying, “YouTube does not possess the requisite information about the content in user-uploaded videos to make a determination as to whether a particular takedown notice includes a valid claim of infringement.” Because of that lack of information, the site often takes down videos first and examines the validity of copyright claims later. By the time videos are restored, especially in a fast-moving political campaign setting, the damage has already been done.
The website Chilling Effects documents many of these cease-and-desist letters in an attempt to combat some of the unnecessary censorship. The site was created in partnership with the Electronic Frontier Foundation and a number of universities to help people understand their First Amendment rights and protect legal online speech. But with governments and businesses exchanging and learning from each other’s censorship tactics, the strategies to restrict free speech will likely grow more sophisticated.
Tuesday, July 08, 2008 9:26 AM
Last month, the government of Zimbabwe imposed a “luxury tax” on imported newspapers and magazines, tightening the stronghold of state-controlled media. The move, which has been formally opposed by the World Association of Newspapers and the World Editors Forum, slaps a 40 percent import duty on all foreign periodicals, which are now classified as “luxury goods.” From WAN's letter to President Robert Mugabe:
The tax appears to be particularly aimed at South African–based news sources, which have been extremely important to Zimbabweans. All domestic independent newspapers and broadcasters in Zimbabwe are banned. The Zimbabwean, a twice-weekly newspaper printed in South Africa for distribution in Zimbabwe, has been forced to pay almost USD 20,000 per week and is reducing its circulation from 200,000 copies to 60,000 as a result.
(Thanks, Editors Weblog.)
Wednesday, July 02, 2008 12:36 PM
As online technology becomes increasingly prevalent and sophisticated, a common meme has emerged that the Internet is a democratizing force, spreading knowledge to previously under-informed segments of the global population, and giving a voice to the disenfranchised. Meanwhile, hysterical television personalities warn us that the Internet is a debauched hellscape rife with sex offenders and invasions of privacy.
Writing for AlterNet, Annalee Newitz says, nuts to all that.
Three Internet falsehoods that refuse to die, according to Newitz, are 1) it’s free; 2) it knows no boundaries; and 3) it’s dangerous. Her refutations of the first two myths are particularly important because they address problems of limited online access by low-income populations and those living under censorship.
Read the piece to learn why these myths are untrue but so very persistent. Then, perhaps Newitz can determine once and for all whether the Internet is actually rotting our brains.
Tuesday, May 27, 2008 11:47 AM
The Russian media generally comes to Western attention when things are going badly—newspaper offices raided, television stations forcibly nationalized, journalists murdered. Observers wonder whether the Russian media is strong enough, or bold enough, to keep government and businesses accountable by publishing opposition voices and pursuing investigative journalism. But for now the media forecast, according to Eurozine, is tentatively optimistic. “It looks as if the authorities are focusing on fighting opposition activists, for the most part leaving the media be (at least for the time being).”
It’s also encouraging to note that regional papers do not always pander to the powers that be, even if the national media’s silence is what makes their coverage seem remarkable. “Across the country, even in small, remote towns, local journalists are addressing issues that national television channels stopped covering long ago, and which rarely appear in the national press,” reports Eurozine.
Image by Morten Oddvik, licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, May 13, 2008 10:34 AM
New Internationalist’s May issue on Burma includes a first-person narrative detailing a day-in-the-life of a onetime Rangoon journalist. Her story (not available online) is striking for its simple chronicle of the banality of censorship.
Now it’s 2:00 p.m. – my boss calls me to go to the censorship office for a meeting.
As we arrive, journalists of all the journals and magazines are sitting in the meeting room, waiting to hear words of wisdom from the head of the censor board, Major Tint Swe.
The meeting has been called to discuss co-operation between journals and the censor board, particularly how to speed up our submission deadlines, because all journals sit one week in the hands of the board’s officials – meaning that when news reaches readers it’s outdated.
But to me it is a boring process and one-sided – whatever suggestions or advice we offer to Tint Swe, he won’t listen to us anyway.
Another piece in the package flips the scenario, tracking a Western journalist, Dinyar Godrej, as he poses as a tourist and quickly learns the ropes of self-censorship.
Every traveler to Burma is told never, ever to initiate a political conversation; let them do the talking. But politics is everywhere. The beaming staff at the reception desk of my guesthouse ask me why I am staying for such a short period. I say I would have loved to stay longer, but because there’s so little good news from Burma in the West I couldn’t persuade friends and family. Tight-lipped silence ensues and I scurry to my room with all the shame of someone who has farted in a lift.
New Internationalist’s multifaceted look at Burma was put together before the devastating cyclone that has left more than 60,000 people dead or missing. Strangely, though, this time lapse makes the stories seem even more relevant, not outdated. The package makes for an excellent backgrounder on the bureaucratic power dynamics playing out now as outside nations haggle with the junta to provide desperately needed aid.
Monday, February 11, 2008 4:50 PM
Sex. Violence. Rebellion. While these are synonymous with success in today’s box office offerings, films containing allusions to—or, heaven forbid, actual examples of—such behavior were guaranteed a red light in Hollywood after the creation of the Production Code Administration in 1934. Thomas Doherty chronicles the film industry’s last-ditch effort to save itself from the censors’ scissors in his new book, Hollywood’s Censor, and in an excerpt published in Reason.
The Production Code Administration was tasked with upholding the film industry’s self-inflicted Decency Code. Producers and directors had generally ignored the code, but with a major boycott spearheaded by the Catholic Legion of Decency draining box office coffers, and with Roosevelt’s New Deal regulatory paroxysms pointing west, Hollywood producers knelt at the feet of censorship and kissed the insipid ring of values-based entertainment by agreeing to self-regulate film content.
Wednesday, January 23, 2008 9:55 AM
A Russian Orthodox church is an unlikely venue for a rock concert, but in Tehran, musicians take what they can get. In These Times writes about a 2001 concert the Iranian alternative rock band O-hum (pictured at left) played to a packed, excited, moshing crowd in the neutral ground of a church. It was one of the few rock shows to have been staged in the country. Iranian alternative music, from rock to rap, has been stymied by censorship and repression.
The country officially bans Western music, so young people usually have to content themselves with illegal satellite MTV and Persian pop produced by Iranians living in LA. Websites like MySpace and Tehran Avenue have allowed the 1 in 4 Iranians who have Internet access a chance to sample native artists like O-hum. But there’s still much work to do.
The life of an artist in America, at once glamorous and poor, seems discouraging enough. But the life of an artist in Iran, where the state actively tries to stop your efforts, must be especially difficult. I wonder: How many potential Iranian Bob Dylans, Mozarts, and John Lennons have been discouraged by censorship and indifference and just gave up?
Curious about O-hum’s music? The band’s LP and EP are available for free download at its MySpace page. Also check out Iranian folk crooner Mohsen Namjoo.
Wednesday, November 28, 2007 11:47 AM
In spite of the violence, intimidation, and emergency-rule restrictions set on the Pakistani media, many citizens within Pakistan are managing to stay connected to the international news. When the government cracked down on TV news, banning cable providers from showing private local and international news, many Pakistanis started looking to other news sources. Writing for BBC News, Syed Shoaib Hasan reports on a fast-growing demand for websites, blogs, and satellite dishes to pick up outside news broadcasts.
The ban, and subsequent scramble to digital, highlights a shift in the way information is disseminated and suppressed. The international blog aggrigating website Global Voices Online has a page devoted to the bloggers in Pakistan piercing through the suppressed media veil. Judging by the number of posts there, the government’s attempt to stanch the flow of information may prove futile. —Morgan Winters
Thursday, October 25, 2007 4:58 PM
As October draws to a close, so does "31 Flavorite Authors for Teens," a celebration of books for young adults sponsored by readergirlz and the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA). The event highlights popular books written for teens and hosts an online forum for readers to chat with writers like Carolyn Mackler (The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things) and Gaby Triana (Cubanita).
But as the teen-lit market grows, writes Andrea Bronson for Women's eNews, more of these books face challenges or outright bans by schools and libraries. Books written for young women can be particularly easy targets—because they often involve issues of teenage girls' sexuality—despite the fact that they resonate with readers. —Julie Dolan
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