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The Futility of Censorship 360

Here's the great irony: There's more censorship -- all kinds, everywhere, involving more media and culture -- than ever before. But it's doomed to fail. As the Net and Web become more commercial, and as parents, government, schools, politicians, churches and corporations have belatedly grown interested in controlling networked computing and the speech and intellectual property therein, battles over censorship and content -- from school blocking filters to music wars to efforts to curb sexual imagery -- have raged throughout cyberspace. That's why Chicago artist Antonio Muntadas' website "The File Room" may be one of the most significant sites ever created on the Web. Despite relentless efforts to curb art, speech, software, writing, thinking and the free flow of ideas, censorship as a contemporary idea is virtually impossible. The Net killed it, and now the Web is becoming a living, global archive of ideas people want to kill.

Artist Muntadas created "The File Room" (discussed in Steven Wilson's book Information Arts: Intersections of Science, Art and Technology as an archive of censorship, a living record of society's ceaseless efforts to control culture and values. The site uses the Web's global scope to collect and store essays, speeches and artistic works from all over the world which have been subject to censorship, from the Republic of Korea's criminal code to high school newspapers to art exhibits in rural areas city halls. "The File Room" classifies its growing holdings by location, date, media and so-called grounds for censorship.

Anybody can contribute new examples of censorship by filling out a short form on the site, which is also part of an art gallery in downtown Chicago.

The strange dichotomy is that the more censors try to curb information, the bigger and richer "The File Room" grows. Sadly, the site makes clear that the United States -- the creator of the modern idea of free speech -- has become one of the world's most ubiquitous censors. "The File Room" literally feeds off censorship, its archived categories growing all the time -- explicit sexuality, language, nudity, political/economic/social opinion, racial and ethnic, religious, sexual/gender orientation and numerous others. Many of these battles involve the so-called protection of children. The access to information and opinion the Net has given kids is one of the most terrifying ideas of the 21st century.

Beautifully organized -- with sections on visual arts, film/video, print, broadcast and electronic media, public speech, personal opinion, even commercial advertising -- the site has become a trove of ideas, opinions and artworks. It also carries an emotional punch. It's truly moving and outrageous to see some of the works (and thoughts) people and institutions are still trying to kill off. What a curious time -- the most sophisticated and open information machinery in history spreading like wildfire, and narrow-minded idiots all over the planet trying to turn back the clock. There are countless governments and institutions who still believe they can impose their views and values on their children and the rest of the world, if only they can practice censorship.

Online rights is a seminal issue, but the smaller fights sometimes obscure the new and much larger reality. Censorship as we used to know it is no longer a viable option as long as there is a World Wide Web.

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The Futility of Censorship

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  • But the questions is, who will archive this site when it is censored?
  • Cool.. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by sandidge ( 150265 ) on Tuesday February 26, 2002 @11:23AM (#3070276)
    Anybody can contribute new examples of censorship by filling out a short form on the site, which is also part of an art gallery in downtown Chicago.

    Cool... so how many people are going to report that whole moderation mess in the Oracle thread where the editors kept bitchslapping people who posted in there?
    • Cool... so how many people are going to report that whole moderation mess in the Oracle thread where the editors kept bitchslapping people who posted in there?

      If that is true, please provide links to the thread(s) in question or, if they have been removed, archives or caches of the material (if they exist).

      As a longtime slashdot reader I would be very interested in this. Finally, if this can be documented in any way, why don't you report it. Censorship is censorship, and some of the worst forms of censorship come not from governments, but from corporations (such as the one slashdot is beholden to[1])

      [1]Though I have no personal knowledge slashdot's parent company has ever engaged in this, beyond reading these allegations.
      • It is NOT TRUE. (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Ian_Bailey ( 469273 )

        Slashdot addresses the question of censorship in moderation in their FAQ [].

        The very definition of the word "censorship" is "to remove or suppress what is considered morally, politically, or otherwise objectionable" ( []). As is demonstrated by the other posts in this thread, the concerned posts still exist on the slashdot servers!

        All that happened was the editors chose to draw attention away from these posts. While this could be a questionable practice, it is not censorship!

        Everyone should get on the same wavelength and figure out what they're fighting before they start fighting it.

        • All that happened was the editors chose to draw attention away from these posts.

          "It was on display in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying 'Beware of the Leopard'."

        • So by your own definition using unlimited moderation to attempt to surpress something is Censorship.

          That it failed for various reasons does not preclude it from being censorship, after all nearly every instance of censorship or prohibition fails in some way.
        • Re:It is NOT TRUE. (Score:2, Insightful)

          by t_allardyce ( 48447 )
          The slashdot FAQ and real life differ. Since slashdot is hosted in the United States, they are subject to US law. As we all know, the US isn't exactly the holy grail when it comes to free speech. Slashdot has therefore been _forced_ to actually remove comments because of what is effectively censorship laws. As far as i know its happened twice because of the DMCA, and once because of a threat (in jest) to the president of America. I know this, because I posted that last one, (3 seperate comments) and they were deleted a couple of days ago:

      • Click on my sig, journal entry has a brief run-down. Links exist, as well.

        It's good to be capped, baby.

  • Good idea, but... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by adam613 ( 449819 ) on Tuesday February 26, 2002 @11:28AM (#3070323)
    The idea that the 'net can't be censored by anyone is WAY too optimistic. Yes, governments will have a hard time doing it because there's always some other government that makes it legal. But there are a lot of coprorations (AOL-TW, M$, etc) who are more powerful than governments, and will eventually manange to force the replacement of IP with a protocol which only lets you see what they want you to see.
  • "The tighter your grip, the easier it is for people to slip through your fingers!"

    I've found this quote is useful on all levels, including censoring (or to take a step higher, control). For example: Slashdot can delete posts all they want, and incur all types of censoring, but that just encourages people to try and break the system.

    Look at the lameness filter. We've seen ASCII art pass by it, not to mention page lengthening/widening posts that get by this filter, and yet some people with perfectly legit comments get caught in it from time to time.

    "Complete control" doesn't exist, we need to find a balance between "controlling" what people see and "freedom". Only then will people be content.
    • An interesting observation, but I don't think you can QUITE call Slashdot moderation 'censorship'.

      Moderating posts down and letting users filter lower-quality posts (by their own definition) lets people read what they want to, not what Slashdot wants them to. If a person wants to read at -1, it's his/her choice to do so.

      If Slashdot truly practiced censorship, the lower-quality posts (and there are PLENTY of them) would simply be deleted.

      • Actually, I don't think he was talking about /. moderation in general. I believe what he was refering to was the abuse of this moderation system by the editors.

        I have seen one instance (the link seems to be down, I think someone mentioned it a little higher in this thread) where hundereds of users moderated up a comment, and every time that happened an editor would bust it back down to -1. Not only that, but every reply to that comment was modded down to -1 regardless of what user moderation was done, and from what people have said, anyone who rated one of the editor mods as unfair had all moderation and metamoderation ability permanently revoked.

        That sure sounds like censorship to me, and although this is the only instance I've actually seen, I've heard of this happening on a smaller scale before. A lot of people seem to be linking horror stories like this in the sigs, next time you see one try following it. Interesting reading...

        • ...and every user who moderated that thread had their moderation privileges revoked.

          I'm typing this because apparently having a speedy typing rate requires that I fill comments with bullshit to sneak past the stupid 20 second delay.

          La la... is it done yet?
      • However, since reading at -1 involves skipping past hundreds of "first posts" and feeble attempts at porn, it gets pretty hard to do. /. would be "freer" if there was a multidimensional rating system -- e.g., I can have scores recalculated using weighting factors I assign to the moderators. (There are ways to do this automatically -- that is, you give feedback on the posts as you read them, and moderator weights are bumped up and down depending on agreement or disagreement. This is a simplified form of neural net learniing.)

        I'm not serious about this for /. -- it's too much complication for what the results would be worth. But in real life, you do have to select what's worth looking into further by using various other people's opinions. Not necessarily positive opinions! If I heard that both Jesse Jackson and Pat Buchanan hated something, I'd certainly have to check it out... ;-)

  • by wiredog ( 43288 ) on Tuesday February 26, 2002 @11:30AM (#3070344) Journal
    But how long will that be? If people are getting locked into proprietary [] interfaces [] with built in censorship, and lawsuits flying all over the place against ISPs who allow content that might offend someone, will the WWW, as we know it, last?

    And what about spam? Is there any way of effectively controlling spam that doesn't also allow the effective controlling of other content? Can we have unrestricted free speech without spam?

    Off-topic, this is my one thousandth slashdot comment...

    • It's true. The number one place to kill ideas now is not the offender but the ISP of the so called offender.... Imagine "Hello Mr Bush. My name is Steve Johnson Legal Counsel of North Korea. After your State of the Union Address you have left us with no recourse but to contact your backbone provider Sprint to report your abuses of it's services. Consider this your Cease and Desist letter.

      Good Day"

      it's pathetic but anybody who disagrees with anything you say just has to contact who is hosting/providing/carrying your traffic with a big scary legal letter and voila... you're shutup without so much as a word in sidewise. Of course I have no objection to blocking child pornographic sites.... there's a not so fine line between art and child porn.

      -----Notes for those who want to censor this ----
      contact the site admin for as that is your fastest route to shut me up

  • Sure, the medium has changed, but fascists were burning books well before the Internet came along. All of this talk of being so aghast that censorship is happening of the Web should really be taken with some historical perspective.
  • Skeptical (Score:5, Interesting)

    by maelstrom ( 638 ) on Tuesday February 26, 2002 @11:31AM (#3070348) Homepage Journal
    Although FreeNet, Peek-A-Booty, Crowds, and other tools make it easier than ever to "route around" the damage caused by censorship, these are by no means a guarantee to freedom. It is more important than ever to stand up for inherit rights at the source of the problem, rather than creating band-aid solutions around them.

    Its nice to be able to distribute political pamphlets (for instance) anonymously without fear of retribution or censorship, but its even better to be able to do it in a major newspaper or website and claim authorship knowing you have the freedom to do so.

    My gut tells me a government totalitarian enough to curb free speech on the Internet could find ways around these tools and sites. Implementing the death penalty for anyone caught writing an anti-government editorial would have a chilling effect on free speach, simply because like all software, there will be bugs. Would you trust FreeNet enough to protect your life?

  • World Wide Web (Score:3, Interesting)

    by PowerTroll 5000 ( 524563 ) on Tuesday February 26, 2002 @11:31AM (#3070350)
    It's the first two words in the subject line that makes censorship on the web difficult. It transcends state and country boundaries. You can access content from servers almost anywhere in the world from the comfort of your home or office.
    • It's the first two words in the subject line that makes censorship on the web difficult. It transcends state and country boundaries.

      This simply makes it more difficult for national governments to censor. Though not impossible. This simply means that the greater risk is from entities such as megacorps which also transcend internationa boundries.
      • Re:World Wide Web (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Irvu ( 248207 )

        Sadly it's not that difficult at all. Take, for example the case of China [] where the government Allows international Access but still manages to filter out most (but not all) 'offensive' materials. Other governments such as France [] have chosen to use Legal actions or simple thuggery (see here [] and here []

        I agree with you about the Megacorps. AOL has caved in in the past and even smaller non-gvernmental groups can have a Big Effect. [] This ruling [] will only make that easier for them.

        Much as I like some of JonKatz's prose, and much as I support the efforts of the File Room I think he overlooks just how weak the net potentially is. It's not just about my ability to put up a server (for all its abstractness the net depends upon physical objects), its about other people's ability to get to that same server. If I get sued out of business or simply attacked by thugs the server goes down. If a government or large media company chooses to deny their people/customers access to my server it might as well be. Either way I have been effectively silenced.

    • It's the first two words in the subject line that makes censorship on the web difficult. It transcends state and country boundaries. You can access content from servers almost anywhere in the world from the comfort of your home or office.

      Unfortunately, governments still keep trying. For example, Shannon Laratt [], the owner of BMEZine [] received a letter from the German government stating that BME was effectively banned in Germany.

      Your statement might be true under certain situations, but not all. Also, lets not forget that the comfort of an office usually means business-related content only. I would go on BMEzine to look for that letter from the German govt., so I could link it here, but I'm blocked from BME on my company's internet connection.
  • Meta-mod (Score:5, Funny)

    by spellcheckur ( 253528 ) on Tuesday February 26, 2002 @11:32AM (#3070363)
    Censorship is just the government abusing it's unlimited supply of moderator points. Unfortunately (in the "free world"), too many voters don't take advantage of their meta-mod capabilities.

    I just read my most. Now I know I need to take a break from /.

    • The very definition of the word "censorship" is "to remove or suppress what is considered morally, politically, or otherwise objectionable" ( []). Moderation does not remove or supress information, it merely highlights parts of the information. I know this one is just a joke, but I think slashdot readers should be aware of this fact.
      • Deliberately obscuring information to make it difficult for the average user to find isn't suppression? My former employers in the U.S. government will be glad to hear that as this tactic was used regularly to keep citizens from effectively fighting government practices and policies.

        But hey, since it ain't *censorship* I guess there's no cause for alarm....

  • by Torinaga-Sama ( 189890 ) on Tuesday February 26, 2002 @11:33AM (#3070373) Homepage
    Censorship arises out of what I will say is a postive desire to protect our collective consiousness. Think of information as food. You can eat a steak, an apple, or some draino. Is it wrong to label the draino as toxic? I don't think so. Now is it wrond to make Draino unavailable to the public? No, it provides a function, and almost all information does.

    Let us face the facts that some information, in the minds uncritical people, is dangerous. What is important is the discussion on the possible uses and function of this information. An attempt to censorship is a dialouge, and is an important freedom of expression itself.
  • The one thing the net is forcing us to do as a whole is making us define a global set of standards. No longer will a specific country's social ethics stand, but be replaced with a global ethic of what is offensive and what is not.

    Obviously and not surprisingly, sexual material has become widely acceptable globally... and the taboo's of individual country's in regards to the "maturity" are being replaced with what nature has decided is "acceptable".

    The same would be said for political and financial ethics. The ethics for money as a whole on the net are much more tightly restricted simply because people on a global scale are conservative about their financial resources.

    Forget the U.S. as "the great melting pot", the net will do what no country ever could....DEFINE US!
  • "The Internet regards censorship as a hardware failure and just works around it."
    • "The Internet regards censorship as a hardware failure and just works around it."

      That would be true if the topology of the Internet was much more mesh-like. As it is, comparatively few backbones carry most of the Internet's traffic, so censorship can be implemented by controlling only relatively few routers. This is particularly true of national governments regulating Internet content -- a typical nation is served by only a handful of incoming backbone links.

  • by nakhla ( 68363 ) on Tuesday February 26, 2002 @11:36AM (#3070392) Homepage
    One of the things I love most about America is our right to free speech. The ability to live in a country where we can publicly speak out against injustice and oppression is priceless. Where would our nation, and even the world be if Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was not free to challenge his people to practice nonviolent protest?

    However, the issue of free speech is not so cut and dry. I hope that most people will agree with me that COMPLETELY free speech is NOT a good thing. For example, what if a witness was free to lie when testifying at a trial? Laws against purgery are technically "curbing" free speech. However, these kinds of restrictions are necessary in order to promote justice and freedom for all. Laws against slander, libel, death threats, and the proverbial "yelling fire in a crowded theater" fall into the same category. These laws are designed to protect the general public from the misuse of free speech.

    So where do issues like pornography and hate speech fall? The question is, if purgery is prohibited in order to protect the public, could hate speech be prohibited for the same reason? And, exactly what constitutes "free speech"? I'm certainly no expert on the Constitution, but I believe that the first ammendment was put into place not to allow citizens to say and act whatever and however they please, but rather to act as a guard against the kind of oppression that was found in England at the time.

    "Free speech" was intended to allow citizens to protest the actions of government when government overstepped its bounds, or was acting improperly. A prime example of this is the civil rights movement. I don't believe that the first ammendment was intended to protect individuals who want to post child pornography on the Internet.

    And, although it's rather controversial these days, I don't believe it protects those who want to make copies of DVDs and CDs and distribute them over the net or to their friends. That is an issue of "Fair Use", not free speech.
    • Where would our nation, and even the world be if Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was not free to challenge his people to practice nonviolent protest?

      Wait - he wasn't free. Go read "Letter from Birmingham Jail" which he wrote while in Birmingham Jail.

      The "system" fights every reform and then when it loses, and progress is made, it says "see - the system works!" and we all get taken in by it.

    • The poster seems to be confusing free speech with criminal speech. Criminal speech includes such things as perjury, threats, sexual abuse, and libel. These are not, and have never been deemed protected under free speech laws.

      On the other hand, the supreme court has repeatedly upheld citizen's rights to express their opinions no matter how unpopular, to display art no matter how distasteful, to research and publish biographies of public figures no matter how embarrassing. I believe it was Judge Oliver Wendell Holmes who first stated the still current opinion that "The constitution is only necessary to protect speech that the public finds offensive!"

      There are criminal uses of speech, but freedom of speech is not conditional.
    • Perhaps free speech is more of a choice issue. You have the choice to listen to an idea or ideas (speech), or to broadcast/speak your ideas to others. However, the listener or speaker does not have the freedom to make you listen or prevent you from listening to one or more specific sets of ideas.

      Therefore, it would be censorship of free speech if an outside source prevented you from listening to an idea. It would not be censorship if you set your computer to block out ideas you personally found offensive and did not want to hear about. Provided the citizen has the freedom of choice to speak (or not speak) his or her particular ideas, without forcing others to listen to it, I don't think censorship is an issue. As long as freedom of choice is there, I think all is well.

      There is of course, an exception to this, in that if the freedom of speech exposes one to unnecessary danger or can endanger others, then perhaps it should be censored. This is where I think most of the arguements over censorship occur, as one person's censored material is another person's prized free speech. Pornography is one example. Racist speech is another. Some of us want it, and others don't. One side says its harmful, the other claims its their right to tell dissenting views. Ultimately, its up to the majority to decide what should freely open (dissent and agreement) and what should be either censored or relegated to fringe (you have to put effort into finding it, hearing it, not freely available).

      Countries where Censorship have existed or do exist block choice, and therefore, block the freedom of speech in both directions. The US doesn't do this for the most part, so I think we're fine.
    • Perjury: : the voluntary violation of an oath or vow either by swearing to what is untrue or by omission to do what has been promised under oath (Source

      So, perjury has nothing to do with free speech. Perjury probably falls closer to items like contract law. It also has to do with swearing an oath and there are even protections in the Constitution against self-incrimination to help protect yourself in said situations.

      Other restrictions to free speech are related to injurious statements. Slander and libel are both statutes that cover the improper use of free speech. In those cases it is deliberately using false-hoods or misstatements to injur a person or their reputation. Later these protections were extended to cover corporations as well. Death threats are covered under criminal intent. Finally, the "yelling fire" one is covered under criminal intent as well. In that case you are deliberately attempting to cause panic and probably end up indirectly injuring someone during the resulting evacuation.

      The problem is in the realm of "potential harm". This is where bad laws like COPA and ratings associations step in. Using laws to "protect" us from content that we can very well protect ourselves from is absurd. First, a law is far too inflexible to deal with this dynamic world, second it leads us to the level of the "most easily offended" people dictating to the rest of the world.

      Finally, if it can't be identified cleanly and completely, it shouldn't be restricted. This is why "Hate Speech" is protected. Give me a strong definition of Hate Speech and what the boundaries of it are. Where is the boundry between a misguided bigoted rant and a dangerous hate group's manifesto drawn? The test of "most reasonable people will agree" is not quantitative enough to allow laws to be written that cannot be abused in the future.

      In all cases of restricting free speech we should strongly err on the side of the cautious and only restrict when absolutely necessary and with very clearly defined limits to the restrictions.
    • And, although it's rather controversial these days, I don't believe it protects those who want to make copies of DVDs and CDs and distribute them over the net or to their friends. That is an issue of "Fair Use", not free speech.

      Well, if this is what was happening, I'd not have too much of a problem. Of course, to actually keep people from sharing information with their friends, you'd have to install a policeperson in each and every person's house. And, after doing that a good 25% of the country would be hauled off to jail each year for copyright violation. If that's the kind of world you want to live in, that's fine.

      But, that isn't what's happening. The distributors know that the public would never stand for enforcement on that level. So, they go after software and hardware that enables people to do these things. That IS a free speech issue, particularily in the case of software.

    • One of the things I love most about America is our right to free speech.

      So far, so good.

      The ability to live in a country where we can publicly speak out against injustice and oppression is priceless.

      In theory at least. For all it's great moral principles of life, liberty, and pursuit of hapiness, the U.S.A., in practice, has seen some very ugly violations of same: slavery, McCarthyism, internment camps, etc. I suppose nobody is perfect, and mistakes serve to teach lessons.

      Where would our nation, and even the world be if Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was not free to challenge his people to practice nonviolent protest?

      Well, his freedom got him murdered, because he dared assert it. But, the point is made: his assertion of his principled right to liberty paved the way for greater freedoms for others. If we defend liberty, perhaps only some of us will enjoy it, but if we don't, then none of us will. It takes a while, but I, too, have come to the conclusion that I would rather die on my feet than live on my knees.

      However, the issue of free speech is not so cut and dry.

      Oh, oh! I sense waffling ahead.

      I hope that most people will agree with me that COMPLETELY free speech is NOT a good thing.

      Er, I don't.

      For example, what if a witness was free to lie when testifying at a trial? Laws against purgery are technically "curbing" free speech.

      No, laws against purgery serve to punish those who lie under oath. With the narrow exception of a sub-peona, no one is forced to testify. And, even then, no one can be forced to testify against themselves.

      I think you are confusing a right with the freedom to voluntarily give up that right if you chose (and, indeed, you would not be truely free if you couldn't).

      However, these kinds of restrictions are necessary in order to promote justice and freedom for all.

      Again, no. A functioning judicial system may require those making use of it to accept certain rules of order. You are free to not accept those rules if you chose to not prosecute, and you are free to not testifiy in a manner that would be self-incriminating. In any conflict, we see contrary "freedoms" clash, and resolution requires either the making of war on one another (something neither party is likely to want), or accepting terms of a neutral intermediary to settle the dispute. The jurisdiction of a court is accepted because it is much better than the alternative, not because it is an unwanted restriction on our freedoms.

      An extreme example might help: in theory, I should be free to go around killing people. But, then, it would stand to reason that others would likely go around trying to kill me. It does not take much to realize that giving up the "right" to kill people in exchange for not getting killed one's self, is, er, a pretty good deal.

      Still, there is no law of physics that prevents me from commiting murder. I'm "free" to do this if I really want to. Obviously I don't want to.

      Laws against slander, libel, death threats, and the proverbial "yelling fire in a crowded theater" fall into the same category.

      You're (a) mixing two different things, (b) expressing a common misunderstanding about the "yelling fire in a theater" case.

      First, prescriptions against deceitful or threatening speech exist because such speech causes harm (loss of reputation, or a rational fear for one's life). Even then, the standard is high: truth is a defense against libel, and the expression of an opinion as such is always protected.

      Second, yelling "fire!" in a crowded theater is not prohibited... if there is, in fact, a fire. The reason is that the resulting panic, as bad as it may be, is presumed less harmful than an actual fire, but more so than no fire at all. Because there is no time to weigh the merit of the word "fire!" under those circumstances, it can't quailfy as an opinion, and so, the misleading expression of a state of immediate emergency is unlawful.

      These laws are designed to protect the general public from the misuse of free speech.

      This is a perverse way of looking at it. Such laws prohibit actions that are likely to harm, not speech per se. Except in the case of a threat, the nature of the harm is that of, at least, fraud. Arguing that this is a restriction on speech is like arguing that a prohibition against stealing is a restriction on trade.

      So where do issues like pornography and hate speech fall? The question is, if purgery is prohibited in order to protect the public, could hate speech be prohibited for the same reason?

      I fail to see how pornography is "hate" speech, though some might find it's general objectification of women as degrading. And, indeed, if it can be shown that the intent of publishing pornography (literally, "evil writing"), is to degrade, it can be restricted. However, there are no scientific studies which suggest that erotic displays of the naked humab body are harmful to any normal person exposed to them, even children; for all the anecdotal evidence that has been presented to support these claims. In fact, there is compelling evidence that social norms that are sexually repressive cause more harm, espescially to children, who grow up with all sorts of hangups or obsessions about things taboo.

      Of course, this does not mean that anyone should be forced to be exposed to images they do not wish to see, either in their homes, or public places where such images would be "out of place". Again, prohibitions against such displays can fall under the fraud stautes: no one expects an X-rated show in place of a kid's magic show, for example.

      As for "hate" speech, or speech which is unpopular, that generally deserves the greatest protection: if it exposes blatent corruption, it needs be told; if it is ugly, it will be ignored. I've written this before, and I'm sure I'll do so again, but the idiot standing on a street corner yelling racial epithets is less harmful than the guy who (secretly) won't give you a job because of the colour of your skin, despite all the appearances of offering "equal opportunity" employment. Yup, fraud, again. At least you can see the bigot for what he is.

      And, exactly what constitutes "free speech"? I'm certainly no expert on the Constitution, but I believe that the first ammendment was put into place not to allow citizens to say and act whatever and however they please, but rather to act as a guard against the kind of oppression that was found in England at the time.

      Er, the oppression of which you speak, was state restriction of unsanctioned expression: criticism of the state, non-approved religeon, etc. Which does raise an interesting issue: it is the government which is prohibited against restraining speech, and not private individuals. This is why business establishments can enforce a code of conduct, and employers can fire people for expressing undesirable views, even if true.

      "Free speech" was intended to allow citizens to protest the actions of government when government overstepped its bounds, or was acting improperly. A prime example of this is the civil rights movement.

      Actually, it is broader than that. Free speech means that the government can't restrict what you can express, unless the act, independent of the speech, is harmful. While this includes critical speech, it is not limited to it. This is important because it allows the expression of statements (i.e. Clinton got a blow job from a White House intern) without having to frame them as critical of government, and letting others decide what they think.

      I don't believe that the first ammendment was intended to protect individuals who want to post child pornography on the Internet.

      Drop the "child". Child pornography is prohibited generally because it encourages exploitation of children against their will, or without their consent, or understanding. Frankly, I always though that a legally emancipated 16-year-old (or whatever the relevant age is in one's jurisdiction) should be free to permit erotic images of herself to be published. The presumption is that she has demonstrated that she is capable of acting as an adult in society and understands the issues. There are, in fact, a small number of just-under-18 professional models who were prohibited from displaying their naked breasts in "calender" style publications. Since their income is derived from their appearance, and the earning years for this profession are generally limited, it could be argued that this was unlawful restraint of one's freedom to earn a living (the idea being that the popularity would increase with a bit of "skin", espescially if it was a calender displaying different models, most over 18, and bearing their breasts, placing the 17-year-old at a popularity disadvantage for future publications).

      One can argue that is isn't the best way to make a living, and shouldn't be actively encouraged, and I'd tend to agree. But, it is not for me to decide what other adults, or people considered adults under the law, do as long as it is peaceful.

      So, that leaves prohibitions against pornography in general, and the case for those has already shown to be flimsier than a g-string.

      And, although it's rather controversial these days, I don't believe it protects those who want to make copies of DVDs and CDs and distribute them over the net or to their friends. That is an issue of "Fair Use", not free speech.

      The idea here is that is not your speech to be freely "spoken". But here too, the first ammendment trumps the temporary protections offered by copyright in the end. Of course, lately, we're seeing a rather unusual definition for the work "temporary".

  • Get real (Score:3, Insightful)

    by heyetv ( 248750 ) on Tuesday February 26, 2002 @11:36AM (#3070394)
    There's more censorship -- all kinds, everywhere, involving more media and culture -- than ever before.

    Um?? Are you forgetting the 50's era, when you couldn't even show a belly button on TV? How about other eras, like when you couldn't vote because you were a woman, or black? Just another form of censorship. Go tell your "oh my god" stories to CNN, they'll post 'em, too.
    • Re:Get real (Score:2, Insightful)

      I don't know what Katz's sources are, but I can surely think of numerous examples that would qualify as more censorship than we have today.

      * The whole eastern block during the cold war
      * One word: McCarthy-ism
      * No one expects the Spanish Inqusition
      * Galileo Galilei had problems in his line of work

      If we go further back in time, you'd be lucky if you were censored. That meant that you had the freedom to express yourself, which has not been the case for most people throughout history.

  • What about the censorship [] that happened here on our very own Slashdot? I don't mean to sound like a troll, but for a site that promotes freedom of speech as much as Slashdot does, that thread definately seemed to be full of heavy-handed, editor-initiated censorship. Anyone else agree?
    • No, I don't agree. Everyone knows that Slashdot is a moderated forum before they post here. If you want to mouth off to your heart's content, there are plenty of unmoderated forums out there; don't pick on this one and whine "censorship" because of the moderation. (Complaining that the moderating isn't doing its job is another matter.)

    • That wasn't censorship, it was editing.

      Censorship is what governments do.
      Editing is what editors do.

      This is a privately-run forum, the content of which is largely decided upon by a handful of editors.

      That thread was a brute-force attempt to change the subject of a pre-decided topic - one that had no relation to "the forbidden topic".

      It was offtopic and moderated as such.

      If it was even like censorship, the posts would have been deleted. They weren't, last I checked. Anyone who wants to set their threshold so low that they see this sort of irrelevant crap can go read all of the posts, exactly as they were typed in.

      Sure, it was an active thread, but it was only popular with a few hundred of Slashdot's half million or so readers. The people who came to read about the Oracle story probably couldn't care less about what this vocal minority was talking about. I doubt that most of the readers of this site give half a crap about trolls and Penis Birds and goatse guys and Natalie WhatsHerFace and whatever she has in her pants.

      Some of us come here looking for stuff that matters to them, not stuff that rightfully gets modded down.

      If this "Troll Investigation" were so important, it should have been submitted as a story. If it got rejected, it should have been sent to ZDNet or Salon or put up on a free Geocities page. For God's sake, print out a few hundred copies of this "story" and pass it out in front of your local city hall. You'd see then just how little people care about this particular non-issue.

      As for heavy-handed editors with unlimited mod points, get over it. Any publication either thrives or fails due to its editorial guidance. I'd say that Slashdot would quickly become completely unreadable if people with too much time on their hands were allowed to hijack a story in which they had little interest to go on a rant about something of so little interest.
      Having a moderation system in place lets me filter out unrelated junk - that thread included. It's not perfect, but it works well enough for me.

      Calling it censorship doesn't strengthen its importance. It shows a mis-understanding of the term. Why not just call it 'Terrorism'? That term is getting mis-used a lot lately with good results...

  • The Spanish Inquisition joke would be appropriate now. How can he think that we are more censored than ever before. He has obviously never even picked up a history book let alone read it. maybe he's never heard of slavery, Salem witch trials, Spanish Inquisition, McCarthy and the Red Scare, Hitler, Stalin. I could go on for hours. I don't know why I even start reading a Jon Katz article. I see more intelligence out of my cat. At least he knows who feeds him.
  • work. Seems some folks here at work have too much time on thier hands and so our company has started blocking sites. The first sites to go were job posting sites... then there was competitor sites... Now there seems to be no rhyme or reason. If you want to access a blocked site you have to submit a business case (I had to do this for HP []!). I don't like it (yes, I could work elsewhere). In my management days, if you had time to surf it was your supervisors fault - they didn't give you enough to do. If you were caught with some p0rn or such on your monitor, well, that was also a case for disciplinary (sp?) actions. Not blocking.

    I don't plan on filtering what my kids can surf too. I plan on being involved with them and having an open enough relationship.

    They tried filters at the library but since they block proxy sites they really didn't block anything. The took the filters off and put the comptuers out in the open where folks could walk by and see what was going on. THAT was the best filter.
  • Justice Talking (Score:3, Informative)

    by the_rev_matt ( 239420 ) <slashbot&revmatt,com> on Tuesday February 26, 2002 @11:44AM (#3070449) Homepage
    I highly recommend checking out "Censoring the Web" (Kathryn Kolbert with Zak Mettger). It consists of a debate between Nadine Strossen (ACLU) and Bruce Taylor (National Law Center for Children and Families) along with relevant legal documents and annotation. [] usually has some decent content...

  • by foo fighter ( 151863 ) on Tuesday February 26, 2002 @11:45AM (#3070465) Homepage

    . . .censorship as a contemporary idea is virtually impossible.

    This is so untrue. So very, very untrue.

    Mr. Katz, if you would read Professor Lessig's book _Code_, or even just think about this for a minute, you would realize that the technologies that enable unprecedented freedoms of communication also enable unprecedented censorship.

    Technology makes it easier and easier to intercept communications and to punish those who initiated the communications and their intended recipients.

    As a community, we (the well education, rich, techno-savvy, elite) like to think we have the moral high ground, and because we have the moral high ground we can sit back, complacent in the knowledge that the good guys always win. Or, we can sit back knowing "someone else" will take care of the problem.

    That attitude will result in things getting worse before they get better, if they ever get better.

    The lack of activism, the unwillingness to study the basics of law in our society, the hypocrisy, and the complacency shown by this community makes me very sad and I worry about the type of society in which my children will live.

    The bottom line: censorship is more of a threat now than ever, and it is only vigilance and activism on our part that will stop it.
    • Mod this guy up.

      He's exactly right. Any technology that does +A also does -A. Censorship is faster and easier than ever .. if anything, the net makes it harder to keep critical thinking 'underground' until it reaches some kind of social critical mass. Critical thinking is now easily found and identified, and censorship is exercised in far more subtle ways than outright silencing.

      BTW, censorship is only half of what a pwoer elite needs to mold the thinking of it's citizens. Authority to punish works in a kind of pro-active way .. as critical thinkers are silenced and charged with 'anti-whatever' offences, it works to silence others who were considering taking the risk of being critical.

      What's sad is that we now rely on technology to fight censorship - as individuals, we imagine these great devices we are creating alleviate the need for people to take a social resposibility to stand up to censorship of critical thinking. As it stands, we're only hoping that those designing the technologies are doing it with our values in mind, which has increasingly not been the case. One day we will wake up, and find out we have nobody to blame but ourselves for not remaining vigilent against the the ever-present ever-greedy power elite (and I'm talking about the companies here .. the government simply has legal grounds to be puppets these days. It really isn't their fault that there are few laws to protect government from the infleunce of big business.)

      Yes, the Internet allows anyone to be heard, but it also allows authority to identify and silence in far more precise and quick ways - the activism and critical thinking is so centralized that it is easily squashed.
      • > Any technology that does +A also does -A.

        No. No it doesn't. If it did, there wouldn't be public key encryption. Some things are easy to do, but difficult to reverse.

        Finding ways round censorship are easier than blocking them. What could seem like perfectly ordinary internet traffic, could, in reality, be discussing some censored work. How would anyone decide which was which if it took several weeks of continous processing power to check each time?

        The only perfect way of internet censorship is to shut down the internet.
        • The timing is perfect. You relied on a technology to fight censorship (not social climate and social responsibily .. ), and the next /. story is all about your misplaced faith.

          Difficult to reverse is only as strong protection as you perceive it to be. Reality and faith in technology are worlds apart, as evidenced by the current top /. story []. Now you have people who don't use your encryption technology (as no technology is absolutely universally adopted, and usage goes down as power of technology goes up generally, in relation to the complexity of use of said technology.), and frankly, don't even think censorship is an issue because we've relied on a technology to cover our traditional social wants.

          Call me a luddite, or whatever, but your faith in technology as a solution for social problems is grossly misplaced. There exist extremely few cases where the problems created by a technology were not equal (if not more difficult to identify and attribute to the perpetrating technology) to the solutions it was designed to solve. The real loss is that the social resposibilty fades in social behaviour as reliance on that technology grows.
        • . . .if it took several weeks of continous processing power to check . . .

          This is my point. Technology continuously advances, making what once took several weeks only take several seconds. The pseudo-anonymity we take for granted on the Internet now isn't inherent to the system; authentication as a real-life person could easily be required for access to the network.

          And it won't be humans analyzing the bit stream, it'll bots with smart enough AI to know when something "bad" is being communicated. A flag will then be raised.

          And after that flag is raised, it soon won't be humans who take immediate action, but more bots who can implement whatever punishment is necessary more quickly and efficiently.

          If you are asking how bots can deal out "meat damage", that isn't necessarily the best punishment. Think about how difficult it would be to live with your bank account frozen, your utilities cut, or your records being "lost" in the various government systems.

          It seems like science fiction now. I hope it stays that way.
  • Traditionally "censorship" means only government supression of information, as you can see from all the definitions quoted on this web site. Only the quote from the touchy-feely "Academic American Encyclopedia from Prodigy on-line" suggests that "censorship" can be applied to non-governmental entities. The web site itself has quite a different idea, however. The idea that "subtle, pervasive, and often invisible psychological methods" of hiding information could be called "censorship" is pretty weak. If you expand the definition of the word to include corporations that supposedly control what you see, you're weakening the meaning of the word in its classical, and most dangerous, sense. Maybe the RIAA is somehow keeping me from hearing all the really good underground bands, but that's nothing compared to government repression of ideas that are "dangerous" (to the current government, of course).
  • by GMontag ( 42283 ) <gmontag@[ ] ['guy' in gap]> on Tuesday February 26, 2002 @11:47AM (#3070482) Homepage Journal
    The strange dichotomy is that the more censors try to curb information, the bigger and richer "The File Room" grows. Sadly, the site makes clear that the United States -- the creator of the modern idea of free speech -- has become one of the world's most ubiquitous censors.

    This criticism does not sound very well founded.

    1. If the USA was actually a big censor state it would not allow the posts to get to "The File Room" in the first place, no matter where the posts originated. The Soviets, Chinese, Cubans, Germans and North Koreans (insert others here) were all very well skilled at this type of prevention. It is well documented that it is possible to some extent and it is obvious when it is happening.

    2. In the USA one is protected from GOVERNMENT censorship ONLY, not the censorship by one's next door neighbor nor the censorship by the contributors to the local art gallery.

    • In the USA one is protected from GOVERNMENT censorship ONLY, not the censorship by one's next door neighbor nor the censorship by the contributors to the local art gallery. The government is by the people. If you are the only one in town who views pr0n as art and the other 99 people view it as filth, and the town leadership represents the 99%, you will have to defend your right. This may take your time, your money (in hiring an attorney to defend you, or to fight whatever local statute you've had your collection siezed, possibly court fees) and you may ultimately lose any goodwill among your neighbors. So it's not just a matter of law, it is financial and political.
      • Protection from the government, in my post, is protection from government power and authority.

        Your statement is a very good example of the abuse of government power, authority and resources but you mix in "the people" as if every neighbor has a badge, gun and a jail cell waiting for you. The Constitution makes a distinction between the two: people and States have rights, the central government has power and authority. I am making the same distinction.

        I did not say that your neighbors are not allowed to disagree with you, dislike you or even hate you for your beliefs and if they do it is not censorship either.
  • Misinformation... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by brogdon ( 65526 ) on Tuesday February 26, 2002 @11:48AM (#3070491) Homepage
    Personally, I find misinformation and omission much scarier than censorship. They're both far more of a threat to us here in the US.

    Foucault used to say that he who controlled and influenced the way people think had the real power in the world, because he could control what is true and what is false, since the concepts really only exist in our minds. Media companies and governments know this, and not just in China.

    For a modern example, think about Iran. Most Americans, when asked about Iran, would respond that they don't like the Iranian people, and think they're a bunch of terrorists. Why? The average American doesn't know any Iranians. How you can you hate them when you don't know the names of more than one or two at most? Because all you see on Television is Iranians burning flags, holding up pictures of militants, and holding guns. You never see the average Iranian farmer, or baker, or homemaker. You never see the normal, decent people of that country. Same thing goes for North Korea. People have these amazingly harsh opinions about people and countries they don't know anything about simply because of what they've been told by the media.

    It works both ways too. Most of what those people see of us is our President saying mean things about them that get repeated over and over by their media, and the business end of our military photographed onto their front page. They never see the average Joe working his construction job, or Mom baking an apple pie.

    So now you have two groups of people that barely know each other, but hate the other side with wild abandon.

    Like I said, misinformation scares me more than censorship.
    • Another fun one is when people try to control the definition of words. You'll see a lot of that in the media as well.

      For instance, you'll see a certain amount of hypocrisy in the way people throw around the word "terrorism". If it's violent acts with disregard for loss of innocent civilian life, how does one not then apply the word to some of our allies (or even our own military), who don't have such a great track record when it comes to collateral damage? Never mind the School of the Americas...

      Then the politicians start trying to tell us what the words mean, and start throwing around judgements like "evil" or "terrorist haven". An interesting sidebar, for insance -- we consider Iraq a huge threat, both evil and a haven for terrorist activity. I don't necessarily dispute that point, but one thing I'm wondering: in the past decade, have Iraqis killed more Americans than Americans have killed Iraqis?

      Interesting how that works out, but don't worry, it's all about the "defensive war" now, we have to hit the enemies before they hit back. Unfortunately, in case you weren't listening, Osama Bin Laden's been using the same logic to justify his attacks on the WTC&P, except in that case, he has some historical context to work with. And not that we need to justify ourselves to him, but we do need to see this from the point of viw of Mr. and Mrs. John Q Muhammad whom we're imploring to love us while we bomb their neighbours, using logic that rings about as hollow to them as Bin Laden's does to us.

      I mean, why don't we just admit that we only want certain nations to have all the power and be done with it? Why hide behind silly definitions that our comrades will already believe because they want to believe, and our enemies won't believe because (a) they see them for the silly definitions they are, and (b) even if they weren't silly they wouldn't want to believe them anyway...
    • Exactly! Like the misinformation on that very website! Or the giant heap of misinformation on /. itself. Fact, science, understanding and tolerance have no place on the net it seems. Fevered belief campaigns, hate and just plain misrepresentation are the oder of the day here and everywhere else on the net. Very frightening. Censorship is small potatoes compared to the damage that the net does all by itself.
  • by skunkeh ( 410004 ) on Tuesday February 26, 2002 @11:51AM (#3070506)
    I found this quite amusing. One of the cases detailed in The File Room describes how Brown University closed down a site hosted there called "The Bondage, Domination, Submission, Sadism, & Masochism Web Page". The University computer support staff deemed the content inapropriate: DisplayCase.cfm?id=297 []

    I did a google search out of interest to see if the site ever found a new home. I didn't find the site, but I did find out what became of the intrepid creator of the site, Daniel C. Robbins: []

    Yup, he appears to be working at Microsoft as a 3D User Interface Designer. Strangely enough the BDSM site is noticably absent from his online CV ;)

  • by pmz ( 462998 ) on Tuesday February 26, 2002 @11:52AM (#3070518) Homepage
    The importance of the U.S. Constitution cannot be overemphasized when trying to regulate websites in the U.S.A. When people post material onto their website, they are making a willing expression of their ideals, which are protected under the First Admendment.

    I know that I will encounter material on the Web that I find offensive, bigoted, and hateful. This is no different than walking through the wrong part of town or watching day-time talk shows. However, restricting the people behind this material will only restrict me in the long run. This is the irony of free speech, but we must not let it sour our attitude towards content on the WWW.

    Censorship is never the solution. We just need to know when to avoid the dark alleyways of the Web.
  • by shilly ( 142940 ) on Tuesday February 26, 2002 @11:52AM (#3070520) the Katz that cannot see.
    He writes "Sadly, the site makes clear that the United States -- the creator of the modern idea of free speech -- has become one of the world's most ubiquitous censors."
    1. The site makes no pretence of being a full or comprehensive view of censorship around the world.
    2. The site is a US project based on the web. It is not surprising that many examples of US censorship are submitted
    3. Even a moment's cursory attention or thought (we could only wish for such a thing) would have led our dear scribbler to the blindingly obvious fact that the US doesn't even get *close* to the top of the censorship list when the following countries and regimes are/have been around:
    the USSR
    Each of these regimes has/had engaged in systematic and comprehensive efforts to control free speech. The scale of these efforts far outweigh anything seen in the US. Buying a copy of the Talmud in Syria, or hardcore porn in Afghanistan, or looking at a anti-government Tibetan website in China, or reading the Koran in the USSR or listening to the BBC in Zimbabwe--these are all illegal acts. *This* is the sort of censorship that should terrify us.
  • I would say that the world wide web gives corporations and the countries that they sponsor a huge incentive to build empires of influence. As long as someone nation out there somewhere is truly independant, those with Intellectual Property are threatened.

    Ukraine's decision whether or not to embed tracking information in the CD stamping systems made there was important enough to the US that they bullied the Ukraine into changing their minds and pursuing a course contrary to their self interest.

  • by Wizard of OS ( 111213 ) on Tuesday February 26, 2002 @11:56AM (#3070543)
    I've already posted this comment today at another story, but it seemed relevant again :)

    In the Netherlands, a big project is going on currently called 'kennisnet' (or, translated, 'knowledge-net'). The idea is to put all elementary schools (I hope I translated that good, schools for children from 4 to 12 years old) on a 'subset' of the internet. They will be linked together and have access to the internet too, but on a filtered basis. Every school may choose which filter they want to have activated (Filternet [] is the biggest one that claims 99% filtering), to ensure that the children don't see pr0n and such when the teacher is unaware of it.

    Frankly, I find this quite a good idea. Ofcourse, I'll have a bunch of people replying on this that information shouldn't be censored and that filtering is evil, but think of this: how would you react if your child, aged 9, interested in technology, viewed this page and accidently clicked on a goatse link?
    • You pick an extreme and make that your full case.

      I know most of my friends wouldn't want to accidentally click on the ol' goatse link either. The problem is where those "filters" draw the line. Should they keep the youngsters from getting to goatse or to slashdot? How would it handle displaying a slashdot thread when there happens to be one profanity laden troll appearing in the list? How does it handle the difference between a Breast Cancer and a Big Breasts site?

      There are two large objections to filters: 1) They just don't work. They have some level of success and depending on their filtering method have a level of false positives AND negatives. 2) It still comes down to some group's opinion of what is good and bad. Truely, these are noble ideas, and it is a nice thought to protect people from the more "colorful" sections of the 'Net, but how do you distinguish all those shades of grey? Data comes to fast and the whole is way too complicated to do it manually, and computers are just too gosh darn stupid to do it programatically.
    • but think of this: how would you react if your child, aged 9

      Gee.. I don't know. Probaly the same way when we walk on a street and he moves his head to a newstand with porn magazines on it. When we drive and there are 'erotic' theaters around. Better yet, when we among people and someone shouts "Holy sh%t!", or when we are watching TV and the news guy says "30 killed, blood every where, look at their moms crying".

      Things that our children are not supposed to see exists in all areas. I guess one of the most important things, is not to 'hide' from them that all this 'evil' exists, but instead, teach them what are the moral paths that a healthy and sane human being should follow to live happier, to not hurt other people.

      If at the end of the day, they can divide what is real and what is not, what is wrong and what is good, I said we have done a good job.

      That's one of the things parenting is about, right? Inform them what is the best path. I know this might sound harsh to some of you, but take abortion for example. You are denying someone their 'right' to live (personally, I am not against abortion). And so, after they are here, and there, and everywhere, you are denying life itself, by artificially making the world look like it's a better place than it truly is.

      But correlating abortion and freedom, I am not taking sides. Just using some points that conservative people usually take. Also, not saying that you are a conservative, that's not a personal reply (since I went to far away from your original point).

      I guess somethings can change, but an important question is, should we change it?
    • The big problem is the false-positive filters. I'll give you a cogent example.

      Let's say you're a 5th grader (age 10-11) and you're doing a research project in 2000 on New Media. But your school filters out one of the most prominent new media commentary sites ( in a mistaken belief that it's porn.

      Let's say you're a 5th grader now and you want to understand what's going on with Enron -- you can't go to (or whatever) because of the same mistaken filter.

      And of course the whole AOL breast cancer nonsense, and NetNanny filtering the National Organization of Women... well, you see the trouble.

      I don't mind school filtering for *little* kids -- sub 10 years old, in general -- but once a kid is old enough to start wanting to gather information independently, the school's filtered computers become useless.

      I encountered the first example myself attempting to show a niece some new media journalism at the SJ Tech. Suck was filtered; fortunately, I could still get through to Salon as a poor substitute :-(

      Filters aren't a panacea. While I applaud the filtering of the more mature sexual and violence sites, the actual filters I've encountered in .edu type sites are pitiful.

      I hope your experience in .nl is better than mine here in the us.
  • It's all to easy to see this issue as "the man" keeping down free speech, but what if I desire to limit what I see? In the book of Job in the Bible, Job says "I have made a covenant with my eyes not to look at a young woman" (presumably in a lustful way.) Like Job, I have no desire to see anyone naked besides myself, my wife and my kids (when bathing them.)

    I am coming at this issue from a Christian perspective, but devout Muslims feel strongly about this, too.

    Yet, it is extremely difficult for me NOT to see lewd and crude images displayed on my PC.

    Some will say - "just don't go to those sites" but the fact is that I receive dozens of SPAM messages with pornographic images each week. These are unsolicited, and unwelcome. They appear in all of the mailboxes that I have, whether or not I use those addresses to post to usenet groups or websites.

    Finally, I have tried implementing controls within my browser to respect the self-imposed ratings on web sites and have found that to be relatively worthless because most sites do not participate.

    I was SHOCKED to find on my work PC running Linux with xscreensaver that one of the screensavers (it's configured for random mode) contains a photo collage in which one photo depicts a woman penetrating herself with a vibrator! Regardless of my personal convictions on this issue, I could be fired for having that on my PC!

    For my house, I'd like to limit the information that is delivered to my home. I don't watch "R" rated movies anymore, (unless the content is so compelling that it calls for me to watch - something that has occurred only once or twice) so why should I allow R and NC17 materials to enter my home through other means?

    I want to have good tools for limiting access to that kind of material. Isn't that permissible, or does your picture of "free speech" include jamming whatever content you feel like generating down my throat?


    PS - God loves you and longs for relationship with you. If you would like to know more, please email me at tom_cooper at bigfoot dot com.
  • Interesting Concept (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward
    but not possible.

    Two items:

    1) What is censorship and who defines it, as well as what it should be applied too? This has been tackled through out human history. Only in the "information age" has it been tackled so much by so many people, countries, religions, and ideologies.

    Censorship, at it's core, is the masking of ideas and concepts that mainstream majority deems counter to their own standards of "right" or moral "good". This is a rough definition, but sound none the less. You could refine this based on situation, replacing majority with words like "those in power" or "the moral majority" or a litany of other things.

    Censorship takes so many forms. From "understandings" in free societies that frown upon certain ideas and their expression by others, to formal laws and punishments or activities that curb "dangerous" thought or action that would otherwise upset the accepted norm or vision of society/government/organization that a group holds.

    In the US we have a right to be free from censorship, or so the ideal goes. The reality is that a great deal is censored daily and that censorship is a common allowance in our laws dating back to the articles of federation and the constitution itself. This is not wrong, rather a political necessity.

    Why is necessary? Free thought and ideas that run counter to the needs and stability of a nation, religion, or culture are always censored. Moral and ethical censorship follow the same preceipt, if for different stability issues. Censorship serves a purpose.

    The problem lies in determining what should and should not be censored, at least in open cultures and societies. Should comments and ideas that run counter to sexual norms be allowed? Should that which exposes change to meet the needs of a minority group be allowed? Etc...

    I think it boils down to the simple fact of who gets hurt by ideas and actions stemming from them? I would think that 99%+ of you here would agree that censorship of pedophilic ideas and materails should be banned (censored). Far less of you feel that way when confronted with free thought on politics or law, for instance the concept of anarchy and the "anarchist state" (you may not agree, but our general "rights" as citizens allow us to explore and understand these thoughts and ideas at a bare minimum, if not act on them in a way that threatens the current government and the nations stability).

    The democracies of the world, in varying ways, are extremely "free" of censorship, when compared to other types of governements and political organizations. This does not mean that the US is free of censorship, nor could it be and hope to exist. Counter culture ideas and concepts are constantly filtered out by censorship (law making and punishment of "crime") to ensure a level of stability in the governement and society it is built upon.

    Indeed, you can extend this to the concept that all crime and their associated punishments is a cycle of censorship. Society deems murder incorrect and puts into place laws and punishment towards the individual who perpetrates such activities. This curbs the spread of murder (okay, so this is a upfront and simple example, but you get the point).

    2) Technology is the great equalizer. For every technical innovation that can assist in censorship efforts, a counter technology is developed and made public to ensure that censorship in the "information age" is not entirely viable. Only with penalty against the individual can censorship enjoy any practical advance (crime and punishment).

  • I've only ever seen slashdot remove comments from its site twice, both DMCA related. So the other day i was surprised to find 3 of my comments deleted, and replaced with an explination which said:

    "This comment has been removed since it was clearly in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 871 (Threats Against The President) and / or Section 875 (Interstate Communications: Extortions / Threats). You can Read More Here. We're sorry to have to do this, and while we don't necessarily agree with this, it is still the law. When the Secret Service gets involved, we don't have many options. We appreciate your understanding in the matter. Please call (202) 406-5000 if you have any questions."

    Now, don't get me wrong, its not /.'s fault. Its that ****ing pig-****er Bush's fault. I'm gonna **** that ****. Ok, i can understand why a threat to the president of America could be dangerous - the secret service need to know whats going on. But why censor it? is that not protected speech?

    Let me put it another way: If i throw a brick through the whitehouse window saying "Die Bush" on it. That is a threat to be taken seriously. I would be a threat, i should be arrested. Now, if, i write an comment on a web site a thousend miles away, that tells people what i think of a certain someone, it is my right to free speech.
  • change (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Em Emalb ( 452530 ) <ememalb@g[ ] ['mai' in gap]> on Tuesday February 26, 2002 @12:16PM (#3070667) Homepage Journal
    It's hard to censor something that changes so often. Broad sweeping generalizations will get you no where. Sorta like sterotyping people. It doesn't work.

    I believe if a large company, say AOL or MS, starts censoring information, people will do one of two things:

    1) complain heavily, gaining the attention of the government

    2) not care.

    I am betting on #2.
  • Overusing the term (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Dr Fro ( 169927 ) on Tuesday February 26, 2002 @12:24PM (#3070745) Homepage
    Now, I firmly believe real censorship is wrong.

    However, when you widen the definition too much then you lose the battle when something that really is censorship comes around... For instance, the ACLU has supported the same suits the Christian Coalition has. However, for a good amount of people, they see some of the cases they suppport and then decide it's *all* a bunch of nuts.

    But I digress...
    (I can't believe I'm posting in a Katz editorial...)

    I wish people would read the First Ammendment before they reference it. The Constitution guarantees you the right to not be stopped by the government from speech ("Clear and present danger", fire in theatre, laws aside).

    It does not guarantee you a podium, your right to buy a podium, or an audience.

    If you are using the equipment owned by even the government - a library or school - and they limit what you can "hear" or "say" over their equipment, feel free to disagree with it, say it's pointless, a bad idea, etc.

    But don't say it's censorship. The only legitimate Constitutional gripe I think anyone has for these type of things is if they would filter unevenly, esp. regarding religion - i.e. let pages promoting Islam come through but ban pages promoting Buddhism.

    As for ISPs...
    They are corporations and as such have one goal - making money for their shareholders. And before anyone wants to generally comment on corporations being evil, I suggest they dump any 401(k) plans they have.

    ISPs are going to make policies to keep members from posting things that are going to harm their image, which affects the bottom line when they can.

    I'd think that often they might do so not because of policy but fear of being sued by anyone "hurt" by a customer's speech. Of course the gov't can legislate they have to apply any such policies equally as a civil rights issue.

    But the bottom line is this - it is not censorship when a private group tries to stop speech. If you have the right to say "I think I should be able to say X" then doesn't someone else have the right to say the opposite?

    If they resort to illegal means you can call it vandalism or property destruction but that's something else. It is also not censorship when the owner of the computer or network connection you are using, public or private, limits speech access, especially if it's done equally.

    It is censorship if the government makes a law or enforces the idea that you can't make or receive certain speech on your own time with your own capital. And that's about all it is.
  • by ackthpt ( 218170 ) on Tuesday February 26, 2002 @12:32PM (#3070810) Homepage Journal
    narrow-minded idiots all over the planet trying to turn back the clock.

    This is one of the worse and most overused cliches, almost as bad as the constant use of "For the first time since ..." Ideas change over time and what's acceptable follows. At one time what was very much acceptable may not be now, in reference to within the USA. I have examples of newspaper comic strips which were syndicated and widely distributed in the 1930's which would herald a flood of outrage letters to features editors if run today, simply because they may depict a child getting drunk. Very much the same, Foster Brooks was funny as a drunk on TV, but that's unacceptable now, but lovers talk of jumping from bed to bed and not knowing who the father is, etc. is now acceptable, at least to network censors.

    One of the primary reasons, IMHO, why there's the appearance of so much censorship in the USA is because there are a lot of people coming up with ideas. Rather than out in the field or factory all day, and coming home too tired to care, americans have lots of leisure time, also it is one country which has embraced the internet rapidly, bringing millions into it. Trolls or artists, that's up to the reader to decide. Censorship is usurping the readers freedom to decide, perhaps acceptable in cases regarding children, but it's the symptom of subcultures populated with people who don't consider who may be in their audience (or are just to damned to care) and despotic people who would project their own set of values on everyone. As hard as one extreme pushes, equally hard the other pushes back. The context of the battle changes, but the field remains the same and always will.

  • My two cents (Score:4, Interesting)

    by wonder ( 218298 ) on Tuesday February 26, 2002 @12:33PM (#3070819)
    When the issue of internet censorship pops up (which of course is unfortunately frequently), i always find myself wondering why it's not ok (or in many cases "legal") to say on the internet what is perfectly ok or legal to say in person.

    If i was to say "G.W.Bush sucks cause i don't like his haircut." to a friend of mine on the street while hundreds of people walk by, that would not be a crime, or worthy of censorship. In fact, nobody would give it a second thought. Granted, that sentence is rather ridiculous, but content aside, i'm trying to make a point. Now if i were to post that same comment on the internet, on my own personal web page, am i still allowed to do that? Am i defaming Bush? Am i going to be censored? Maybe, it all depends who sees it and who takes offense. I find that rather incredulous. I can stand on the street, and speak defamation and obscenities to all who pass by yet all that will come of it will be those who agree or get a chuckle out of my ranting, or those who think i'm a social deviant or want to beat me up. Still, i CAN say it. I just can't write it. Is it the perception that the internet is no longer individual voice but rather it is in fact a form of mass media?

    Lets say i do the exact same thing, i stand on the street spouting off all my ill-gotten opinions on whatever subject i like, to hell with political correctness. Only this time, a local news crew shows up and broadcasts my rant. Should i be silenced then? What if it were a national news crew? I think the likelihood of someone seeing my rant on national news is far more likely than someone finding my one little page among the endless quagmire of web pages.
    My point is, it's ok to think freely. It's okay to voice your opinions freely - but on a small scale. Our freedom to express our ideas was curbed long before the net came along. It's all about how many feathers you ruffle, and to whom those feathers belong.

    You piss off 1000 average joes in downtown Chicago, so what. You piss of one person that for whatever reason decides to have you silenced, well... it could be the 1st or the 1001st person you come across. So to what lengths do our freedoms really exist with respect to free speech? Is the censorship on the net really a new brand of restriction on our percieved right to free speech, or is it just the line that was always there resolving itself into something more distinct, more perceptible to us all? I'm arguing it's the latter. I'm arguing that our right to free speech is just local at best. We can think whatever we want, we can say whatever we want, just so long as we say it quietly.

    There is an exception to that rule, and while this exception has become the agent of many a revolution for good, i'd argue that it's become the agent of tighter censorship on us all. That exception is that it's okay to speak out, IFF you can find enough people that agree with you. You want to end slavery? Fine, so do a whole bunch of other people. Great, speak out, slavery's gone. Phew - dodged a freedom bullet there. But wait, now we've gone and reinforced the idea that you can't speak out against anything unless you can get a bunch of people that agree with you.. You can have free speech, but not as an individual. I think that idea has very ominous ramifications, and this is what we're seeing now on the net. An individual or small group cannot post ideas that will ruffle feathers, else, you face censorship. Welcome to the new age, America.
  • Does this mean we can submit Slashdot's own Michael for the situation?

    Actually, that's pretty damn ironic.

  • by satsuke ( 263225 ) on Tuesday February 26, 2002 @12:37PM (#3070857)
    "Despite relentless efforts to curb art, speech, software, writing, thinking and the free flow of ideas, censorship as a contemporary idea is virtually impossible. The Net killed it, and now the Web is becoming a living, global archive of ideas people want to kill. "

    It maybe impossible to completely censure everyone. However the ability to squelch the vast majority is undiminished as it has always been.

    Just now instead of speech being heard - being more a function of political or monetary abilitym now on the internet it will be ones technical ability to circumvent censorship filters or knowing where to go to see all the available information, rather than just someone elses view of what should be seen or not.

    Example might be, in Kansas City there are multiple library systems in the metro area. 7 counties, city libraries, colleges, etc. One area decides to only make available filtered internet access. Another does not filter any content, a third asks a question of what type of access is desired.

    The technical knowledge of what library offers what access determins what can be seen.
  • Okay JonKatz, (Score:2, Interesting)

    by flikx ( 191915 )

    If censorship on the internet is so futile, explain this [], this [], and others. Right here on slashdot itself. Not to mention the rampant censorship that happens every day all over the internet.

    Foes of various content generally go directly to the ISP hosting the offending material. (Just ask the guy running this site [].) That gets things shut down really quick. Just because it's not always the government shutting something down, doesn't mean that is doesn't qualify as censorship.

    Futile indeed. Having been censored myself on occasion, I'd hardly say the efforts were as such.

  • by Malc ( 1751 ) on Tuesday February 26, 2002 @01:12PM (#3071040)
    Why is stopping my children going in to strip clubs not considered censorship, and in fact the correct thing to do, but blocking adult web sites and getting upset about pornographic spam viewed as being bad?

    Well, I don't have children yet, but they're on the horizon. I find much of the spam I get offensive and certainly wouldn't want it in my child's inbox. I'm against censorship and I will do my best to educate my children properly. But I can't hold their hands the whole time, and unlike the real world, none of the crap on the internet has a bouncer on the door to keep minors out.

    It's easy to see why so many people have become rabid and sponsored the installation of censorware. I'm very computer literate, but I'm not sure yet how I will deal the issues. With that in mind, how are the great unwashed masses supposed to handle it?

    Until somebody finds a way to give children the same protection on the internet that they have in the real world, then what Jon is calling "censorship" is not going to go away. Without any kind of self-restraint and moderation by the offensive parties on the internet, the censorware lobby will not show any either. The battle will not end, and I suspect it will only get worse. Yet again, your head is in the clouds with your idealism, Jon.
  • by istartedi ( 132515 ) on Tuesday February 26, 2002 @01:17PM (#3071075) Journal

    ...try: goryHomePage.html []

    It will save you some mindless clicking.

    As for the USA being #1, let me offer several observations.

    1. Many of the USA incidents were artists feeling "oppressed" because the owner of a private space refused to show their work. What would it say about censorship in the USA if owners of private spaces were compelled to show works they did not like? Isn't my blank wall or un-defiled Madonna also freedom of expression? Now, if the gallery is public it's a different story, but it's still not censorship. After all, you take a government hand-out, you play by the governments rules. True censorhip is when the government refuses to allow you to publish that which you are capable of publishing yourself, or takes your money to support views opposite yours. So, why isn't the public school system listed as a form of censorship? I takes money from Christians, and refuses to allow the preaching of Christianity in the school. Anybody who opposes censorhip must support vouchers for this very reason.

    2. Reports for countries that are genuinly oppressive cite fewer incidents because the censorship is against broad classes of speech. For example "no religion". This type of censorship is far more damaging than the single localized incidents cited in the USA. If you took all the USA reports on libraries and simply wrote a brief "Libraries are often pressured by community groups over sexual material" the result would be "people who really want it use their own Internet connection". There would be a lot fewer incidents in the USA category.

    3. Reports from other countries are harder to obtain. Duh! They're censored. This also proves the point

    4. People in other countries won't even try some of the things that people do in the USA. The flag thing is a great example. The penalty for desecrating the flag in some of these other countries is probably death. No wonder nobody has tried such "art" over there.

    Distilling things down to the number of reports and saying the USA has the most is unscientific to say the least.

  • You just ran one hell of a great ad for a very good site that is doing something mildly important.

    Okay, now are you a marketer, or are you a journalist?

    Surely, you're aware that people have collected censored works since, well, since censorship began occurring. You can find accusations of possessing banned information dating back pretty much to the first examples of written language.

    When you're dealing with censorship, and protecting the ability of people to access information, you have to realize that you cannot look at it from the point-of-view of the technoliterati or the intelligentsia. You have to go down to the people.

    The Internet isn't so much more difficult to censor than any media has been. All of network television in America is controlled by, what, 5 companies? So, censorship is easy. How many backbone routers have to be reconfigured to censor an internet site for an entire country, Jon? How many companies would you have to contact to have them censored? Here's a hint: not very bloody many.

    The File Room is difficult to censor in the same sense as an activists library of banned materials is difficult to censor: it's small, and it can migrate, and other people can choose to copy the works and possess their own library, which others can access and copy. Oop! We're talking about P2P, here, another meme that's a favourite of yours -- so why didn't you connect them?

    The File Room is largely meaningless. It's a good resource for people like us to use to access censored information, okay. How much does it help the guy in North Korea, though? He jumping on board to read those censored documents? He probably doesn't have a computer, Jon.

    The Internet is fragile. It can be controlled on a regional level, because 99% of any populace will be using optic lines that are basically under the control of the government. Sure, you'll have a couple of people hitting a dial-up server over international long distance, but those people have always existed -- they were the people who kept private libraries, who published anonymous newsletters, etc. This is NOTHING NEW.

    Why an advertisement, Jon? Why not look at the efforts of various governments and corporations (cease and desist!) to censor the internet, and real media to boot? How successful have they been? Are people aware that things are being censored? Do they care?

    What, really, does all of this ballyhoo about freedom of information and censorship *mean*? What does it mean to people who are fighting for their freedoms? What does it mean to the people trying to take it away?

    Internet penetration is highest per capita in countries that are already pretty permissive about information sharing. To the people who really have few freedoms, who really want more, I don't think the Internet really matters. D'you? Tell me why. Don't give me an advertisement for a website that I find occasionally enlightening, but mostly annoying. The criteria "Stuff that somebody somewhere finds offense" makes for an awful lot of muck.

  • here ya go:


    You forgot a close-paren up there.

    You're welcome.

  • The idea that the 'net somehow makes censorship magically impossible is a pernicious and dangerous one. From the point of view of the absolute control of information, censorship has always been impossible. There has always been pornography, heresy, sedition. "Dangerous" information. The web multiplies the sources of these things, just as printing or photography did in the past.

    But wherever control can be organized censorship can occur. Did you know, for example, that pror to the September terrorist attacks on the USA, AG John Ashcroft was planning a massive prosecutorial attack on pornography? A lot of people on sites like Slashdot seem to think that with a few exceptions (i.e. kiddie porn) you can say anything you want and get away with it because of the First Amendment. But the First Amendment doesn't apply to "obscenity" and obscenity is defined by the entirely subjective principles of community standards and redeeming social value. Don't think censorship ended with Larry Flint, and don't forget what happened to Mike Diana. With the "new" threat of terrorism you should, in fact, expect things to get worse for certain kinds of information and expression.

    And let's consider the case of DeCSS (to get out of the seedy stuff at least somewhat). They haven't made much headway with that code as expression argument yet, have they? That's a whole 'nother can of worms, where communication that contains NO proprietary elements and is not intrinsically obscene or dangerous (in a here's how to make a bomb in your shoes sense) can nonetheless be made illegal. Thank you DMCA, for building prior restraint into the constitution.

    As long as people are being successfully sued, prosecuted, punished and imprisoned, censorship is occuring and it is far from "futile" from the points of view of those that practice it.

  • Jon Katz is obviously a shill, a catalyst to spark discussion around here. I can't think of anything he has posted that didn't cause people to shoot down his "opinion", and quite convincingly. He seems to take a mediocre opinion, spices it up with catch phrases and the latest lingo, and BOOM - the /. community is off and running with it. Usually several people make very good observations about why he is wrong.

    My question to the /. community is, do we really need him? He is either formulating his opinions on purpose, for the sake of the discussion, or he really is that clueless. Either way, he makes people around here think and reaffirm their beliefs. So knowingly or not, he is an important part of /..

  • Governments can and will censor (no matter what the medium), and one always has to be vigilant. Let's not pat ourselves on the back and get complacent just yet.
  • If that's true, then why the hell aren't we getting any royalties for licensing the Idea of Free Speech to other countries?

    Dammit, if these rogue nations aren't going to pay up for the privilege of using our idea, we'd damn well better shut them up until they do! Otherwise all our intellectual properties will become vulnerable to the idea thieves!

The optimum committee has no members. -- Norman Augustine