On July 7, Harper's published "A Letter on Justice and Open Debate," which was signed by a diverse body of writers and public intellectuals. Without actually using the term "cancel culture" the letter argues that "public shaming" and "ostracism" are leading to an environment in which the "free exchange of information and ideas, the lifeblood of a liberal society, is daily becoming more constricted."
Mike Masnick of Techdirt says, "hogwash," in a piece titled "Harper's Gives Prestigious Platform To Famous Writers So They Can Whine About Being Silenced." Mike's essay is well worth reading in its entirety, but here are a couple of highlights:
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The free exchange of information and ideas, the lifeblood of a liberal society, is daily becoming more constricted.
First off, hogwash. There are more places and ways to speak your mind than ever before, and the free exchange of information and ideas is more available and accessible to all sorts of voices than ever before in history. The idea that it's "more constricted" has no basis in reality. There are so many different ways to get ideas out there today, and that has actually enabled tons of previously suppressed voices to speak out loudly and clearly -- even if sometimes it's to point out that the supposed wisdom of others is anything but. There is no real evidence of any "constriction." There is evidence that many people are utilizing their newfound voices and ability to express themselves to show that the emperor has no clothes when it comes to some of the ideas presented by the old guard.
In 2013 Mats Järlström's wife got a red light camera ticket at an intersection in Oregon. Järlström, an electrical engineer by training, investigated the formula used to time yellow lights. Järlström found flaws with the formula and e-mailed the Oregon State Board of Examiners for Engineering and Land Surveying to let them know. Here's what happened next, according to the Institute for Justice:
The Board told Mats it had no interest in hearing about his ideas. Fair enough. But the Board didn’t stop there. After a two-year investigation, it fined him $500 for publicly criticizing the timing of traffic lights without having a Professional Engineer license. The Board also forbid him from continuing to discuss his research.
With the aid of the Institute for Justice, Järlström sued the board. In late 2018, the federal court ruled in Järlström's favor. Järlström submitted his idea to the Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE), which assembled a panel to consider it. In late February, the ITE panel "found that the current equation for yellow light timing should be reconsidered and as of today [Feb 28, 2020], the Institute has voted to recommend Mats’s formula as a recommended practice." Read the rest
In my latest podcast (MP3), I read my latest Locus column, Inaction is a Form of Action,, where I I discuss how the US government's unwillingness to enforce its own anti-monopoly laws has resulted in the dominance of a handful of giant tech companies who get to decide what kind of speech is and isn't allowed -- that is, how the USG's complicity in the creation of monopolies allows for a kind of government censorship that somehow does not violate the First Amendment.
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In my latest Locus column, Inaction is a Form of Action, I discuss how the US government's unwillingness to enforce its own anti-monopoly laws has resulted in the dominance of a handful of giant tech companies who get to decide what kind of speech is and isn't allowed -- that is, how the USG's complicity in the creation of monopolies allows for a kind of government censorship that somehow does not violate the First Amendment.
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Latina author Jennine Capó Crucet recently spoke to students at Georgia Southern University about her novel Make Your Home Among Strangers, about an Hispanic girl who feels out of place at a predominantly white college. According to the student newspaper The George-anne, the conversation was quickly derailed by angry college students who think it's racist to point out when things are racist:
"I noticed that you made a lot of generalizations about the majority of white people being privileged," one respondent said into the microphone. "What makes you believe that it’s okay to come to a college campus, like this, when we are supposed to be promoting diversity on this campus, which is what we’re taught. I don’t understand what the purpose of this was."
For the record, Georgia Southern University has about a 6 percent Hispanic population.
After the event, several students called the author out even more explicitly on Twitter (although those tweets have been deleted, The George-Anne still has the screenshots). Then they gathered together outside of a dormitory and did what awful mobs throughout history have always done: they burned books.
College kids do dumb stuff sometimes. Read the rest
In May 2019 Dillon Shane Webb bought a sticker that read "I EAT ASS" and affixed it to the back window of his truck. A cop didn't like it, and pulled Webb over. Webb argued with the cop and was arrested. Vice has a video of how the arrest turned Webb into an unlikely free speech icon. Read the rest
Mark reported earlier this week that a Florida man was charged with a crime over the "I EAT ASS" window sticker on his truck, and with resisting arrest for refusing to remove it; here's the dashcam video.
I EAT ASS window sticker [you bet your ass that's an Amazon link] Read the rest
At the Madeira Municipal Building in Ohio, a high school student's artwork depicting a pig in a police uniform was taken down by the organizers of an annual student art show. In the artwork, the pig is standing in front of collaged newspaper headlines about police using deadly force. Guess what? People complained.
The unnamed student created the artwork as a response to the following assignment:
“Take current event articles published in newspapers or magazines on a similar topic and then summarize those articles into a visual representation of the feelings and emotions within the articles selected.”
The Madeira Police Department would not confirm or deny whether they asked for the painting to be removed. From WCPO:
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“The members of the Madeira Police Department fully respect and support the student’s right to free speech and recognize that this young artist is very talented,” (a police) statement reads. “However, officers are troubled by the perceived message of the student’s art project.”
So was Lt. Dan Hils, president of the local Fraternal Order of Police and a frequent defender of Cincinnati officers whose use of force becomes the subject of public discussion. On Monday night, Hils said he was saddened by the piece but would not have asked for it to be removed.
“For me, the word I think of is just a little disappointed — disappointed that there is youth that believe that of police officers,” he said, adding: “It’s a beautiful thing our country has — the ability for people to express how they feel and this young person was expressing how they feel.
[[Editor's note: I was the Electronic Frontier Foundation's first-ever European Director, which was a crazy and amazing job at a time when the organization was much smaller; now EFF is much bigger, and international issues are a much bigger deal for us, with bad policy ideas ricocheting around the globe and needing a coordinated response; the below is from my colleague Rainey Reitman, EFF's Chief Program Officer; you can find the formal listing here -Cory ]]
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Alex Feerst, Medium's head of trust and safety, conducted a long, wide-ranging interview with senior content moderation staffers with experience at Dropbox, Google, Facebook, Reddit, Pintrest, and many unnamed platforms; the interview is very frank and reveals a group of people with a deep, real-world commitment to protecting users as well as defending free speech.
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A cheerleader in Pennsylvania has won a free-speech case against her school, which tried to punish her for insulting it on social media.
The case involves a First Amendment challenge to the Mahanoy Area High School’s “Cheerleading Rules,” which prohibit cheerleaders from posting any “negative information” about cheerleading online. B.L. was kicked off the junior varsity cheerleading squad for posting a Snap to Snapchat on the weekend that school officials believed was “negative,” “disrespectful,” and “demeaning.” ... On March 21, 2019, the court granted the plaintiff's motion for summary judgment, finding that the school did not have the authority to discipline her for her off-campus speech and that the school was in violation of the First Amendment..
"fuck school fuck softball fuck cheer fuck everything," to quote the magnificent B.L., but most of all fuck the Mahanoy Area High School for trying to silence its students off-campus.
Photo: Brook Robinson / Shutterstock Read the rest
The Satanic Temple of Chicago has installed a stately and elegant statue at the Illinois Capitol between the Christmas tree and Hanukkah menorah. Predictably, some people are pissed. Approximately 4.5 feet tall, the statue features a snake around an arm with the hand clutching an apple. The pedestal is emblazoned with the statement "Knowledge is the greatest gift." From CNN
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"We feel it's a First Amendment issue, we have other displays there -- a Hanukkah menorah and Nativity scene," (Secretary of State's office spokesperson Dave) Drucker said. "If you have displays of one type you need to be consistent and allow everyone to do so, aside from hate speeches and other unacceptable things."
The Satanic Temple says that its members are atheists who are often interested in community activism, according to the group's website.
"We do not promote a belief in a personal Satan," the website says. "To embrace the name Satan is to embrace rational inquiry removed from supernaturalism and archaic tradition-based superstitions."
The group says it embraces the "struggle for justice" and believes people should "strive to act with compassion and empathy toward all creatures," according to its website.
Wikileaks, furious about a report in The Guardian claiming that founder Julian Assange met with Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, said that it plans to sue it for libel. Moreover, it expects to create a "business model" from such lawsuits.
NEW RULES: WikiLeaks is going make suing fake news producers like the Guardian a central part of its business model. Since libels are the most predictable response to the power and accuracy of a WikiLeaks' publication, our analysis is that this is a stable, scalable income stream
Hey, at least someone gets to see him in court. Read the rest
Kazakh blogger Lyubov Kalugina has been charged under Russia's Article 282, an "anti-extremism" law now being used by men who claim women sharing jokes and memes offend them. Via Quartz: Read the rest
Researchers from the University of Toronto's Citizen Lab (previously) have published an extensive report on the image filtering systems used by Chinese messaging giant Wechat to prevent the posting of banned political messages and other "sensitive" topics that are censored in China.
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Look, I'm as delighted as you are to see Alex Jones' ability to spread hatred curtailed -- because in a world where all the important speech takes place online, and where online speech is owned by four or five companies, being kicked off of Big Tech's services is likely to be an extinction-level event.
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When we worry about free speech, we mostly worry about governments suppressing speech, not private actors. It's one thing to say that the US government shouldn't have the ability to arbitrarily censor some speech, but it's another altogether to say, that, for example, Boing Boing shouldn't be able to kick jerks off its message boards -- that has as much to do with "compelled publication" as it does with "free speech."
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