Category Archives: Free Speech

Austrian Court Rules Facebook Must Delete ‘Hate Postings’

The Associated Press reports:

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg delivers the keynote address at Facebook's F8 Developer Conference on April 18, 2017 at McEnery Convention Center in San Jose, California. The conference will explore Facebook's new technology initiatives and products.Facebook must remove postings deemed as hate speech, an Austrian court has ruled, in a legal victory for campaigners who want to force social media companies to combat online “trolling”.

The case — brought by Austria’s Green party over insults to its leader — has international ramifications as the court ruled the postings must be deleted across the platform and not just in Austria, a point that had been left open in an initial ruling.

The case comes as legislators around Europe are considering ways of forcing Facebook, Google, Twitter and others to rapidly remove hate speech or incitement to violence.

Germany’s cabinet approved a plan last month to fine social networks up to 50 million euros ($55 million) if they fail to remove such postings quickly and the European Union is considering new EU-wide rules.

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UK Parliament Takes First Step Towards Making Google and Facebook Censor Everything

Mike Masnick writes for Techdirt:

Image result for UK Parliament Takes First Step Towards Making Google and Facebook Censor EverythingLook, let’s just start with the basics: there are some bad people out there. Even if the majority of people are nice and well-meaning, there are always going to be some people who are not. And sometimes, those people are going to use the internet. Given that as a starting point, at the very least, you’d think we could deal with that calmly and rationally, and recognize that maybe we shouldn’t blame the tools for the fact that some not very nice people happen to use them. Unfortunately, it appears to be asking a lot these days to expect our politicians to do this. Instead, they (and many others) rush out immediately to point the fingers of blame for the fact that these “not nice” people exist, and rather than point the finger of blame at the not nice people, they point at… the internet services they use.

The latest example of this is the UK Parliament that has released a report on “hate crime” that effectively blames internet companies and suggests they should be fined because not nice people use them.

[…] This is the kind of thing that sounds good to people who (a) don’t understand how these things actually work and (b) don’t spend any time thinking through the consequences of such actions.

First off, it’s easy for politicians and others to sit there and assume that “bad” content is obviously bad. The problem here is twofold: first, there is so much content showing up that spotting the “bad” stuff is not nearly as easy as people assume, and second, because there’s so much content, it’s often difficult to understand the context enough to recognize if something is truly “bad.” People who think this stuff is obvious or easy are ignorant. They may be well-meaning, but they’re ignorant.

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Milo Yiannopoulos Is Starting a New, Ugly, For-Profit Troll

Tina Nguyen writes for Vanity Fair:

Related imageMilo Yiannopoulos, the former tech editor at Breitbart, has made political provocations, often deeply offensive ones, a business model. But his career seemed to come crashing down in recent months when one of his speaking appearances, at the University of California, Berkeley, led to riots. Weeks later, videos emerged of Yiannopoulos seeming to condone pedophilia. (“I do not support pedophilia. Period. It is a vile and disgusting crime, perhaps the very worst,” Yiannopoulos said in a statement on Facebook at the time.)

Yet his allies turned on him. Yiannopoulos was subsequently forced out of Breitbart in disgrace. The American Conservative Union disinvited him from CPAC, and Simon & Schuster canceled a six-figure book deal.

But as the free-speech conflagration he ignited at Berkeley continues to burn, Yiannopoulos is planning a way back in. Days after releasing a video touting his return to the campus, Yiannopoulos told the Hive that he would be launching a new media venture in the coming weeks with what he says is a $12 million investment from backers whose identities he is protecting. (Yiannopoulos showed me a page from the contract with the investors’ names blacked out.) Another person involved with the company, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, was similarly secretive: “Milo has the best instincts about these things,” he said.

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CPJ Warns of ‘Tremendous Gaps in Our Knowledge of the World’ Due to Growing Global Attacks on Journalists

Freddy Mayhew reports for Press Gazette:

Far from ending censorship, modern technology such as the web, social media and smartphone cameras have “just made it more complicated”, says the Committee to Protect Journalists’ (CPJ) executive director.

In his introduction to the CPJ’s Attacks on the Press 2017 report, published this week, Joel Simon said there are “tremendous gaps in our knowledge of the world”.

And he warned these were “growing as violent attacks against the media spike, as governments develop new systems of information control, and as the technology that allows information to circulate is co-opted and used to stifle free expression”.

He pointed to three “broad categories” of censorship tactics, which he called: “Repression 2.0, masked political control, and technology capture.”

Simon said these have “contributed to an upsurge in killings and imprisonment of journalists around the world”.

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Reporters Without Borders: Rise of the Political Strongmen Saw World Press Freedom Map Turn Darker in 2016

Dominic Ponsford reports for Press Gazette:

Image result for press freedom indexThe world is becoming a darker place, according to the director general of Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

Christophe Deloire spoke to Press Gazette as the freedom of speech group published its 15th World Press Freedom Index.

The project maps 180 countries around the world, colouring those with the best records on press freedom white and shading them progressively darker. Those at the bottom of the table, such as China and North Korea, are coloured black.

He told Press Gazette: “Unfortunately the World Press Freedom Map has been getting darker. A lot of countries that were yellow are now red, and a lot of former red countries are now black.

“In 60 per cent of countries press freedom is worse this year than the previous year.”

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As U.S. Prepares Arrest Warrant for Julian Assange, Glenn Greenwald Says Prosecuting WikiLeaks Threatens Press Freedom

Amy Goodman speaks with Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Glenn Greenwald who responds to reports that the Trump administration has prepared an arrest warrant for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. (Democracy Now!)

The Unprecedented Danger of Prosecuting Julian Assange

Kate Knibbs writes for The Ringer:

[…] WikiLeaks has published documents without redacting personal information of ordinary people. As an organization, it has frequently behaved irresponsibly and, some have argued, despicably. It has also exposed corruption and criminality by state powers. The quality, morality, necessity, and overall prudence of its editorial choices are beside the point. What matters is that it appears that the Trump administration has decided that it is going to prosecute journalists for publishing classified information.

There were warning signs that this was coming. CIA Director Mike Pompeo called WikiLeaks a “non-state hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia,” during a speech last week, and bizarrely insisted that Assange does not have First Amendment protection as a non-U.S. citizen. (That is not how the First Amendment works; if Assange were to be prosecuted on U.S. soil, he would enjoy the same Constitutional protections as a citizen. To insist otherwise is a radical reinterpretation deeply at odds with how the Bill of Rights has been applied.) Attorney General Jeff Sessionscalled Assange’s arrest a “priority” at a press conference Thursday. However, seeking his arrest would demonstrate a remarkable about-face from President Trump, as he repeatedly and effusively praised WikiLeaks during his campaign. “WikiLeaks! I love WikiLeaks!” he told a crowd at an October rally.

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James Baldwin on Freedom and How We Imprison Ourselves

Maria Popova writes for Brain Pickings:

jamesbaldwin“Everything can be taken from a man,” Viktor Frankl wrote in his timeless treatise on the human search for meaning, “but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” And yet, as Adrienne Rich observed in her sublime meditation on writing, capitalism, and freedom, “in the vocabulary kidnapped from liberatory politics, no word has been so pimped as freedom.” How, then, are we to choose our own way amid a capitalist society that continually commodifies our liberty?

The peculiar manner in which personal and political freedom magnetize each other is what James Baldwin (August 2, 1924–December 1, 1987) explores in a piece titled “Notes for a Hypothetical Novel,” originally delivered as an address at the 1960 Esquire symposium on the writer’s role in society and later included in his altogether spectacular essay collection Nobody Knows My Name.

Baldwin writes:

Freedom is not something that anybody can be given; freedom is something people take and people are as free as they want to be. One hasn’t got to have an enormous military machine in order to be un-free when it’s simpler to be asleep, when it’s simpler to be apathetic, when it’s simpler, in fact, not to want to be free, to think that something else is more important.

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What We’ll Tolerate, and What We Won’t

Nathan J. Robinson writes for Current Affairs:

What We’ll Tolerate, And What We Won’tIt wasn’t that he told a woman there was something wrong with her for wearing a hijab in America. It wasn’t that he encouraged people to “Purge the Illegals” and gave out ICE’s hotline number at a presentation. It wasn’t that he mocked a transgender college student in front of a crowd, saying he’d still almost bang her because she looked like a man. Instead, it was his discussion of the complexities of his sexual experiences with adults as a gay teenager that caused Milo Yiannopoulos to lose his $250,000 book deal with Simon and Schuster.

The swift recent reversal of Yiannopoulos’s fortunes is in many ways illuminating. The [now former] Breitbart editor had spent the last year building a public profile by going around American college campuses giving “lectures” with titles like “Why Do Lesbians Fake So Many Hate Crimes?” and “Why Ugly People Hate Me.” At these events, he would tell people why “feminism is cancer,” refer to various people as “cunts” and “retards,” and make jokes about how Muslims were probably terrorists. When appalled students tried to have the talks canceled, he would insist that the PC left was simply afraid to deal with arguments, facts, and statistics. (The more obvious explanation is that the PC left doesn’t think a person whose idea of elevated political discourse is “100% of fat people are fucking gross”—and who gigglingly posts pictures of the overweight people at his gym—is sincere about wanting to improve political dialogue on campus.)

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On the Milo Bus With the Lost Boys of America’s New Right

Laurie Penny writes for Pacific Standard:

Have you heard the one about the boy who cried Fake News?

This is a story about truth and consequences. It’s a story about who gets to be young and dumb, and who gets held accountable. It’s also a story about how the new right exploits young men — how it preys not on their bodies, but on their emotions, on their hurts and hopes and anger and anxiety, their desperate need to be part of a big ugly boys’ own adventure.

It’s a story about how so many of us have suffered the consequences of that exploitation. And it’s a story about how consequences finally came for Milo Yiannopoulos too — the worst kind of consequences for a professional troll. Consequences that nobody finds funny. Consequences that cannot be mined for fame and profit.

As I write, Yiannopoulos, the fame-hungry right-wing provocateur and self-styled “most dangerous supervillain on the Internet,” is fighting off accusations of having once endorsed pedophilia. Former friends and supporters who long tolerated his outrage-mongering as childish fun are now dropping him like a red-hot turd.

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The Rise and Fall of Milo Yiannopoulos: How a Shallow Actor Played the Bad Guy for Money

Dorian Lynskey writes for The Guardian:

Related imageSo there is, after all, a line that you cannot cross and still be hailed by conservatives as a champion of free speech. That line isn’t Islamophobia, misogyny, transphobia or harassment. Milo Yiannopoulos, the journalist that Out magazine dubbed an “internet supervillain”, built his brand on those activities. Until Monday, he was flying high: a hefty book deal with Simon & Schuster, an invitation to speak at the American Conservative Union’s CPac conference and a recent appearance on Real Time with Bill Maher. But then a recording emerged of Yiannopoulos cheerfully defending relationships between older men and younger boys, and finally it turned out that free speech had limits. The book deal and CPac offer swiftly evaporated. The next day, he resigned his post as an editor at Breitbart, the far-right website where he was recruited by Donald Trump’s consigliere Steve Bannon, and where several staffers reportedly threatened to quit unless he was fired.

In the incriminating clip, Yiannopoulos prefaces his remarks with a coy, “This is a controversial point of view, I accept”, this being his default shtick. Maher absurdly described him as “a young, gay, alive Christopher Hitchens” – a contrarian fly in the ointment, rattling smug liberal certainties – but Hitchens had wit, intellect and principle, while Yiannopoulos has only chutzpah and ruthless opportunism. Understanding Yiannopoulos requires a version of Occam’s Razor: the most obvious answer is the correct one. What does he actually believe in? Nothing except his own brand and the monetisable notoriety that fuels it. That’s Milo’s Razor. Understanding how he got this far is more unnerving.

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Government Scientists at U.S. Climate Conference Terrified to Speak with the Press

Sharon Lerner reports for The Intercept:

While Donald Trump was reviving both the Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipelines, muzzling federal employees, freezing EPA contracts, and first telling the EPA to remove mentions of climate change from its website — and then reversing course — many of the scientists who work on climate change in federal agencies were meeting just a few miles from the White House to present and discuss their work.

The mood was understandably gloomy at the National Conference and Global Forum on Science, Policy, and the Environment. “I don’t know what’s going to happen. No one knows what’s going to happen,” one EPA staffer who works on climate issues told me on Tuesday, as she ate her lunch. She had spent much of her time in recent weeks trying to preserve and document the methane-related projects she’s been working on for years. But the prevailing sense was that, Trump’s claims about being an environmentalist notwithstanding, the president is moving forward with his plan to eviscerate environmental protections, particularly those related to climate change, and the EPA itself.

“It’s strange,” the woman said. “People keep walking up to me and giving me hugs.” Like several others I spoke to for this story, she declined to tell me her name out of fear that she might suffer retaliation, including being fired. She was not being paranoid. Already, agency higher ups had warned the EPA staff against talking to the press, or even updating blogs or issuing news releases. “Only send out critical messages, as messages can be shared broadly and end up in the press,” said one EPA missive that was shared broadly and ended up in the press. And while the staffer was at the meeting, the EPA’s new brass issued another memo to staff requiring all regional offices to submit a list of external meetings and presentations, noting which might be controversial and why.

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Nobody Speak: New Documentary Probes Billionaire Peter Thiel’s Destruction of News Outlet Gawker

Amy Goodman speaks to Brian Knappenberger, the director of the new documetary Nobody Speak: Trials of the Free Press, which is premiering at the Sundance Film Festival. Last year, the digital media outlet Gawker declared bankruptcy and put itself up for sale after it was ordered to pay $140 million in a lawsuit for publishing the sex tape of wrestler Hulk Hogan. Hogan’s lawsuit was financially backed by Silicon Valley billionaire and Trump supporter Peter Thiel, who was outed as gay by a now-defunct Gawker blog. Knappenberger previously directed The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz and We Are Legion: The Story of the Hacktivists, about the hacker collective Anonymous. (Democracy Now!)

We Live in a World Where White Supremacists Get Lucrative Book Deals

Adrienne Mahsa Varkiani writes for Think Progress:

Breitbart technology editor Milo Yiannopoulos signed a $250,000 book deal with Threshold Editions, an imprint of publishing house Simon & Schuster, the Hollywood Reporter announced on Thursday. People are not pleased.

The book deal gives Yiannopoulos a new platform to amplify his hateful rhetoric and contribute to misogyny and white supremacy. Yiannopoulos rose to prominence as an editor at Breitbart, which former Editor-at-Large Ben Shapiro called “the alt-right go-to website… pushing white ethno-nationalism as a legitimate response to political correctness, and the comment section turning into a cesspool for white supremacist mememakers.”

Yiannopoulos first rose to fame in 2014 due to his prominent role in GamerGate, an incident targeting women in the tech industry with harassment and rape and death threats — causing some to literally flee their homes. At the time, Yiannopoulos called on people to fight (or harass) what he described as “an army of sociopathic feminist programmers and campaigners, abetted by achingly politically correct American tech bloggers…terrorizing the entire community.”

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The Right Has Its Own Version of Political Correctness and It’s Just as Stifling

Alex Nowrasteh writes for The Washington Post:

Image result for The Right Has Its Own Version of Political Correctness and It’s Just as StiflingPresident-elect Donald Trump has not been shy about the “big problem in this country”: political correctness. Trump has blamed PC for the attack at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando (“They have put political correctness above common sense, above your safety and above all else,” he tweeted) and the rise of the militant group Islamic State. His voters agreed (indeed, it might even have been the reason for his victory).

It’s not just him. Political correctness has become a major bugaboo of the right in the past decade, a rallying cry against all that has gone wrong with liberalism and America. Conservative writers fill volumes complaining how political correctness stifles free expression and promotes bunk social theories about “power structures” based on patriarchy, race and mass victimhood. Forbes charged that it “stifles freedom of speech.” The Daily Caller has gone so far as to claim that political correctness “kills Americans.”

But conservatives have their own, nationalist version of PC, their own set of rules regulating speech, behavior and acceptable opinions. I call it “patriotic correctness.” It’s a full-throated, un-nuanced, uncompromising defense of American nationalism, history and cherry-picked ideals. Central to its thesis is the belief that nothing in America can’t be fixed by more patriotism enforced by public shaming, boycotts and policies to cut out foreign and non-American influences.

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Index on Censorship: Journalists Now Under ‘Unprecedented’ Attack

Jane Martinson reports for The Guardian:

Image result for trump supporter journalist rope treeJournalists are facing an “unprecedented” wave of attacks around the world with increased hostility to the media leading to assaults on individuals as well as press freedom, according to a new report.

A series of crackdowns on media workers and news outlets in Europe as well as elsewhere has confirmed 2016 as one of the most dangerous times to be a journalist, according to the latest figures compiled by Index on Censorship.

The study found 406 verified reports of violence, threats or violations throughout European Union member states and neighbouring countries including Russia, Turkey and Ukraine in the three months to the end of September.

Melody Patry, senior advocacy officer at Index, said the year so far had been striking for the increase in reports as well as range of attacks, from threats to media freedom to attacks leading to death. “The attacks are unprecedented in both scope and scale.”

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Donald Trump’s Threat to Press Freedom

Mirren Gidda and Zach Schonfeld report for Newsweek:

Image result for Donald Trump's Threat to Press FreedomLess than a month before the U.S. presidential election, the Committee to Protect Journalists issued an unprecedented statement denouncing the then-Republican nominee. “[Donald] Trump has insulted and vilified the press and has made his opposition to the media a centerpiece of his campaign,” said the committee, a New York-based organization that promotes press freedom. “A Trump presidency would represent a threat to press freedom in the United States.”

With little more than two months before Trump takes the oath of office, the threat to the media—and the public’s right to know—is reality. However, President-elect Trump may find a thicket of laws and Supreme Court precedents limit his maneuvering—slight comfort for those working to protect a free press.

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Trump Presidency Could End Press Freedom, Say Reporters Threatened for Reporting on Taxes

Amy Goodman speaks to two investigative journalists who report on Donald Trump’s taxes, David Barstow of The New York Times and author David Cay Johnston of the Daily Beast, about Trump threatening to sue The New York Times for publishing leaked pages from his tax returns. (Democracy Now!)

 

In suspending Milo Yiannopoulos, has Twitter played the man rather than the ball?

Will Gore writes for The Independent:

[…] The permanent suspension from Twitter of Milo Yiannopoulos for violation of the site’s “hateful conduct policy” has thrown the issue into particular focus. Yiannopoulos, a conservative writer and provocateur, appeared to criticise the actress Leslie Jones for expressing concern at racist and sexist abuse she had received from other users. He referred to Jones “playing the victim” and criticised her acting ability. He was accused not of direct racism himself but of fanning the flames of harassment.

Reaction to his suspension was inevitably mixed, with some lauding Twitter for taking decisive action against a man who has had run-ins with the social media giant before. Others meanwhile decried the decision as a gross overreaction, noting that individuals with a lower profile remain at large despite posting much more venal content.

The problem on this occasion is that Twitter appears to have played the man rather than the ball. Yiannopoulos might well be a disagreeable prat, but banning him from social media will do more to whip up those whose postings really do go beyond the pale than his continued presence ever could. His voice and his ability to be heard extend beyond the confines of the Twittersphere – hard though that may be for Jack Dorsey to believe.

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The Battle for the Soul of American Higher Education

Aviva Chomsky writes for Tom Dispatch:

During the past academic year, an upsurge of student activism, a movement of millennials, has swept campuses across the country and attracted the attention of the media. From coast to coast, from the Ivy League to state universities to small liberal arts colleges, a wave of student activism has focused on stopping climate change, promoting a living wage, fighting mass incarceration practices, supporting immigrant rights, and of course campaigning for Bernie Sanders.

Both the media and the schools that have been the targets of some of these protests have seized upon certain aspects of the upsurge for criticism or praise, while ignoring others. Commentators, pundits, and reporters have frequently trivialized and mocked the passion of the students and the ways in which it has been directed, even as universities have tried to appropriate it by promoting what some have called “neoliberal multiculturalism.” Think of this as a way, in particular, of taming the power of the present demands for racial justice and absorbing them into an increasingly market-oriented system of higher education.

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Free Speech Under Attack

The Economist writes:

In a sense, this is a golden age for free speech. Your smartphone can call up newspapers from the other side of world in seconds. More than a billion tweets, Facebook posts and blog updates are published every single day. Anyone with access to the internet can be a publisher, and anyone who can reach Wikipedia enters a digital haven where America’s First Amendment reigns.

However, watchdogs report that speaking out is becoming more dangerous—and they are right. As our report shows, curbs on free speech have grown tighter. Without the contest of ideas, the world is timid and ignorant.

Free speech is under attack in three ways. First, repression by governments has increased. Several countries have reimposed cold-war controls or introduced new ones. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia enjoyed a free-for-all of vigorous debate. Under Vladimir Putin, the muzzle has tightened again. All the main television-news outlets are now controlled by the state or by Mr Putin’s cronies. Journalists who ask awkward questions are no longer likely to be sent to labour camps, but several have been murdered.

China’s leader, Xi Jinping, ordered a crackdown after he took over in 2012, toughening up censorship of social media, arresting hundreds of dissidents and replacing liberal debate in universities with extra Marxism. In the Middle East the overthrow of despots during the Arab spring let people speak freely for the first time in generations. This has lasted in Tunisia, but Syria and Libya are more dangerous for journalists than they were before the uprisings; and Egypt is ruled by a man who says, with a straight face: “Don’t listen to anyone but me.”

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Facebook’s Monopoly and Surveillance Antithetical to Free Press and a Free Society: Interview with Robert McChesney

Amy Goodman talks to professor and media analyst Robert McChesney, who discusses the Facebook being accused of suppressing news stories on political grounds, saying that: “The concerns are legitimate, but the real question is: Should we have a private monopoly that has so much political influence and political power?” McChesney also discusses Facebook’s surveillance and access to user’s data, and whether such companies could be nationalized. (Democracy Now!)

‘Era of Propaganda’: World Press Freedom in Decline, says Reporters Without Borders

AFP reports:

world press freedom indexWorld press freedom deteriorated in 2015, especially in the Americas, advocacy group Reporters Without Borders said on Wednesday as it released its annual rankings and warned of “a new era of propaganda”.

The World Press Freedom Index ranks 180 countries on indicators such as media independence, self-censorship, the rule of law, transparency and abuses.

This year’s index saw a decline in all parts of the world, said Christophe Deloire, secretary general of the Paris-based group, with Latin America of particular concern.

“All of the indicators show a deterioration. Numerous authorities are trying to regain control of their countries, fearing overly open public debate,” he said.

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Stephen Fry on Political Correctness and Clear Thinking

Actor and comedian Stephen Fry recently joined Dave Rubin for a quick discussion about political correctness, clear thinking, V for Vendetta, free speech, and his decision to quit Twitter. (The Rubin Report)

Punk Rock vs Sharia Law in Indonesia

Indonesia’s punk scene is one of the world’s biggest and most vibrant. It’s a place where the country’s silenced youth can revolt against endemic corruption, social conventions and their strict families. But in the world’s largest Islamic nation, political authorities and religious fundamentalists persecute this rebellious youth movement. Nowhere is the anti-punk sentiment stronger than in Aceh, Indonesia’s only Sharia province, where 65 punks were arrested and detained at an Islamic moral training camp in which they had their heads shaved and clothes burnt. We travelled to North Sumatra to track down the last punks in Aceh, who still live under constant threat from the sharia police. (Noisey)

Iran: Morality Police App Blocked Hours after Launch

Shima Shahrabi reports for IranWire:

Ershad graphicJust 24 hours after the Android app Gershad was launched, users reported that the Iranian authorities had blocked access to it. The app, designed to help Iranians track — and therefore avoid — Iran’s “Morality Police,” generated huge interest across Iran, particularly in big cities. But a few hours after going live, it was inaccessible.

The name “Gershad” is a play on words, referring to the Persian term for Iran’s special morality unit, which is tasked with identifying and arresting anyone deemed to be “inappropriately” dressed or in violation of Islamic cultural values.

One user, Mohammad Reza, had only been using the app for a few hours on February 8 when his screen began displaying gibberish instead of providing the useful location information it was supposed to. “It didn’t take them even 24 hours,” he told IranWire, adding that he discovered the fault at around 2am .“You have to give it to them: Sometimes they do move fast. Now we need a filter-breaker for Gershad the same way that we need them for Facebook and other apps.”

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Those Demanding Free Speech Limits to Fight ISIS Pose a Greater Threat to U.S. Than ISIS

Glenn Greenwald writes for The Intercept:

[…] Back then — just nine years ago — Gingrich’s anti-free-speech remarks were, for the most part, quickly dismissed as unworthy of serious debate. Even National Review, which employs McCarthy, included Gingrich’s anti-free speech proposal on its 2011 list of the bad ideas the former speaker has espoused in his career. In 2006, I argued that the Gingrich/McCarthy desire to alter the First Amendment to fight The Terrorists was extremist even when judged by the increasingly radical standards of the Bush/Cheney war on terror, which by that point had already imprisoned Americans arrested on U.S. soil with no due process and no access to lawyers. With rare exception, Gingrich’s desire to abridge free speech rights in the name of fighting terrorism was dismissed as a fringe idea.

Fast forward to 2015, where the aging al Qaeda brand has become decisively less scary and ISIS has been unveiled as the new never-before-seen menace. There are now once again calls for restrictions on the First Amendment’s free speech protections, but they come not from far-right radicals in universally discredited neocon journals, but rather from the most mainstream voices, as highlighted this week by the New York Times.

The NYT article notes that “in response to the Islamic State’s success in grooming jihadists over the internet, some legal scholars are asking whether it is time to reconsider” the long-standing “constitutional line” that “freedom of speech may not be curbed unless it poses a ‘clear and present danger’ — an actual, imminent threat, not the mere advocacy of harmful acts or ideas.”

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Al Jazeera Blocks Anti-Saudi Arabia Article

Cora Currier reports for The Intercept:

The corporate headquarters of Al Jazeera appears to have blocked an article critical of Saudi Arabia’s human rights record from viewers outside the United States. The news network, which is funded by the government of Qatar, told local press that it did not intend to offend Saudi Arabia or any other state ally, and would remove the piece.

The op-ed, written by Georgetown University professor and lawyer Arjun Sethi and titled, “Saudi Arabia Uses Terrorism as an Excuse for Human Rights Abuses,” ran on the website of Al Jazeera America, the network’s U.S. outlet. It comments on reports of 50 people recently sentenced to death for alleged terrorist activity and criticizes the U.S. government’s silence on Saudi Arabia’s human rights record.

The article ran on December 3, and is still available [as of December 18th] in the United States, but people attempting to view the link in other countries were given an error or “not found” page. (For international readers, we’ve reprinted the full text of the article here.)

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What Orwell Can Teach Us About the Language of Terror and War

Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury (2002-12), writes for The Guardian:

The main point in all this is that creating a language that cannot be checked by or against any recognisable reality is the ultimate mark of power. What Merton characterises as “double-talk, tautology, ambiguous cliche, self-righteous and doctrinaire pomposity and pseudoscientific jargon” is not just an aesthetic problem: it renders dialogue impossible; and rendering dialogue impossible is the desired goal for those who want to exercise absolute power. Merton was deeply struck by the accounts of the trial of Adolf Eichmann, and by Hannah Arendt’s discussions of the “banality” of evil. The staggeringly trivial and contentlessremarks of Eichmann at his trial and before his execution ought to frighten us, says Merton, because they are the utterance of the void: the speech of a man accustomed to power without the need to communicate or learn or imagine anything. And that is why Merton insists that knowing how to write is essential to honest political engagement.

In an essay on Camus, whom he, like Orwell, admired greatly, Merton says that the writer’s task “is not suddenly to burst out into the dazzle of utter unadulterated truth but laboriously to reshape an accurate and honest language that will permit communication … instead of multiplying a Babel of esoteric and technical tongues”. Against the language of power, which seeks to establish aperfect self-referentiality, the writer opposes a language of “laborious” honesty. Instead of public speech being the long echo of absolute and unchallengeable definitions supplied by authority – definitions that tell you once and for all how to understand the world’s phenomena – the good writer attempts to speak in a way that is open to the potential challenge of a reality she or he does not own and control. When the military commander speaks of destroying a village to save it, the writer’s job is to speak of the specific lives ended in agony. When the agents of Islamist terror call suicide bombers “martyrs”, the writer’s job is to direct attention to the baby, the Muslim grandmother, the Jewish aid worker, the young architect, the Christian nurse or taxi driver whose death has been triumphantly scooped up into the glory of the killer’s self-inflicted death. When, as it was a few months ago, the talk is of hordes and swarms of aliens invading our shores, the writer’s task is to focus on the corpse of a four-year-old boy on the shore; to the great credit of many in the British media, there were writers (and cartoonists and photographers, too) who rose to that task.

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Journalism is Not a Crime: Freed Al Jazeera Reporter Peter Greste Seeks Pardon from Egypt

“Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi granted pardons to 100 people on Wednesday, including two jailed journalists from Al Jazeera, Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed. The two were initially arrested along with Australian journalist Peter Greste as part of a crackdown on Al Jazeera following the ouster of democratically elected President Mohamed Morsi in 2013 and served more than a year in prison. In a statement, Amnesty International said: “While these pardons come as a great relief, it is ludicrous that some of these people were even behind bars in the first place.” Fahmy, Mohamed and Greste were initially sentenced to between seven and 10 years in prison for terrorism charges including “spreading false news” in support of the Muslim Brotherhood, deemed a “terrorist group” by the Egyptian government. While Fahmy and Mohamed have been pardoned, no pardon has been issued yet for Peter Greste, who has traveled to New York to lobby for a presidential pardon while el-Sisi is attending the United Nations General Assembly.” (Democracy Now!)