Tag Archives: censorship

Open letter to Government of Canada against new online harms rules

Dear members of the Canadian government’s “Digital Citizen Initiative,”
I am writing to express my alarm and disapproval over the proposed “online harms rules” legislation that the Canadian government now proposes—a combination, it seems, of the worst, most rights-violating regulations adopted in other jurisdictions, many of which aren’t exactly known as bastions of democracy and expressive freedoms.
Your proposed legislation’s combination of
* prohibitions of broad and poorly defined speech categories;
* disproportionate penalties for insufficient blocking; and
* requirement of rapid compliance without time for adequate assessment or counter-notifications
all guarantee that the major tech firms, on which the onus of your proposed regulations falls, will block all kinds of legitimate speech — and will disproportionately affect marginalized and minorities to persons and communities, as has been shown where such rules have been implemented elsewhere. (See @doctorow’s analysis and that by U Ottawa professor Michael Geist.) Online harms rules have proven a human rights disaster in other jurisdictions; France’s rules were recently ruled as unconstitutional.
I urge you to take this whole proposal either back to the proverbial drawing board—or entirely off the table. The Canadian government surely has bigger and more urgent priorities then over-regulating and preferentially censoring citizens’ constitutional expressive rights and freedoms.
Sincerely
– Mark A. McCutcheon
Professor, Literary Studies
Chair, Centre for Humanities
Athabasca University

[PS: Have your say—contact the Government of Canada’s “Digital Citizen Initiative” to tell them what you think of the new online harms rules legislation.]

Make the Trans-Pacific Partnership (#TPP) a bigger issue in the 2015 federal election: it’s not “free trade,” it’s anti-democratic privatization and censorship

After I posted this message about an anti-TPP petition to Twitter and Facebook, a friend asked:

I am interested in knowing exactly what parts of this you disagree with and why. I don’t know too much about the deal.

To which I replied (in a possibly too-long-for-Facebook comment that might work better as a blog post):

In brief: the TPP is less a “free trade” deal than a corporate rights deal that undermines the national sovereignty of signing countries. It has been negotiated for years – in secrecy. Particular concerns (to name only a very few, in addition to its anti-democratic cloak of secrecy) are:

  1. Investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) provisions that let foreign companies sue our government on grounds of lost profit; four instance, legislation to protect the environment or the public interest – or Crown corps like CBC or Canada Post – could be grounds for a company to say this legislation hurts their profits, and the action would be decided in a secret tribunal. (These kinds of actions have already been happening under NAFTA; in the late 1990s, a company that manufactured a harmful gasoline additive successfully sued the Canadian government for millions in damages after the government passed a law banning it from gasoline.)
  2. Copyright term extension from 50 years after author’s death to 70, to conform to US copyright law. (Meanwhile, many copyright scholars agree copyright need last no longer than 15 years after a work’s publication.)
  3. Loss of digital privacy and threats to Internet access by forcing ISPs to spy on customers and deny them internet service – this is a provision much like the US’ controversial SOPA act defeated in 2011.
  4. Job losses: Harper says the TPP will create jobs – but he’s already pledged billions to dairy and auto industries against their expected losses.

For more details, see MichaelGeist.ca and OpenMedia.ca and take a look at this short introductory video:

And following up to better explain the ISDS thing, which isn’t well or widely enough understood, I also shared this infographic (by the Council of Canadians):

CanadiansOrg_ISDS101

The Canadian public needs to understand the wide-ranging, anti-democratic, and socially and ecologically destructive implications of the TPP agreement. Its text isn’t even public yet, and it’s not at all a done deal – it will need the formal approval of signing nations’ governments, meaning our Parliament. So the TPP should be a much bigger issue in this federal election. If you think so too, consider signing this petition against it.

And if you’re wondering how the Harper government has been able to pursue this agreement in the midst of an election period, when the Canadian government is supposed to stop its regular Parliamentary functions and maintain only a “caretaker” status:

Further Reading

John Nichols, The Nation: “The TPP Prioritizes the ‘Rights’ of Corporations Over Workers, the Environment, and Democracy.” 7 Oct. 2015.

“The TPP agreement ‘would overhaul special tribunals that handle trade disputes between businesses and participating nations’ in response to ‘widespread criticisms that the Investor-State Dispute Settlement panels favor businesses and interfere with nations’ efforts to pass rules safeguarding public health and safety.’ … Bernie Sanders was blunt about the fundamental flaw in the pact. The TPP, said the Democratic presidential contender, lets ‘multinational corporations rig the system to pad their profits at our expense’.”

Jordan Pearson, VICE: “What we know about the secretive Trans-Pacific Partnership that was just signed.” 5 Oct. 2015.

“Buried in the reams of dry legal jargon of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (‪#‎TPP‬) are stipulations that will affect everything from access to pirated movies and music, to government spying, to the price of life-saving drugs around the world. …
“When the TPP is finally released, expect the policy shitshow of the decade.”

Maira Sutton, Electronic Frontier Foundation: “Trade Officials Announce Conclusion of TPP – Now the Real Fight Begins.” 5 Oct. 2015.

“The fact that close to 800 million Internet users’ rights to free expression, privacy, and access to knowledge online hinged upon the outcome of squabbles over trade rules on cars and milk is precisely why digital policy consideration do not belong in trade agreements. Hollywood, other major publishers and even big tech companies have taken advantage of this secretive, corporate-captured process to pass rules that they could not otherwise get away with in an open, participatory process.”

An overview of current threats to balanced copyright and a free Internet

This blog, 17 Jan. 2012

This blog, 17 Jan. 2012

Under neoliberal hegemony, the critical decisions of state governance continue to retreat from the formal, public political sphere to the private corporate sphere of lobbying and trade negotiations. That retreat deliberately makes it harder to detect and track political-economic transformations; however, the present freedom of the Internet goes far to bring some of these to light. Which is likely why the Internet itself is such a major target for increasingly restrictive and repressive political and economic regulations.

This post just presents a summary of those major current threats to Internet freedom and balance in the copyright regime; they represent an array of policies, trade and vendor agreements, legal practices, and digital techniques. The list does give more attention to threats and issues facing Canada specifically. If you know of other such threats, please feel free to comment below.

This is already a lot to keep track of, but what else is this list missing?

Operation Black March: Boycott Big Content

In which Anonymous acts on Public Enemy’s culture industry thesis

A couple of weeks after I blogged about boycotting Big Content to protest copyright-censorship bills like SOPA, Anonymous has launched “Operation Black March” – precisely such a boycott – via a Youtube video that is viralizing nicely. As the video explains:

March 2012 is the end of the 1st quarter in economic reports worldwide.
Do not buy a single record. Do not download a single song, legally or illegally. Do not go to see a single film in cinemas, or download a copy, Do not buy a DVD in the stores. Do not buy a videogame. Do not buy a single book or magazine.
Wait the 4 weeks to buy them in April: see the film later, etc. Holding out for just 4 weeks, maximum, will leave a gaping hole in media and entertainment companies’ profits for the 1st quarter, an economic hit which will in turn be observed by governments worldwide…

I’m not claiming any credit; I’m just digging the coincidence. If we want to give credit where credit is due for a Big Content boycott (never mind one dubbed “Black March”), we should take a fresh listen to Public Enemy’s scathing critique of the culture industry: “Burn Hollywood burn,” from their 1990 album Fear of a Black Planet.

Writing to the government against smuggling SOPA into C-11

... Again! Only in Canada this time, eh! (Image CC-licensed from DonkeyHotey)

I’ve sent the following letter to Heritage Minister Moore and Industry Minister Paradis, with CC to my MP and to NDP digital critic Charlie Angus.

In the process, I’ve learned: that personal letters are more effective than click-and-send form letters; that shorter letters are more effective than longer (e.g. one page maximum); and that typed letters are more effective than handwritten (I forget where I’d picked up the contrary notion, but I appreciate type’s easier on MP staff’s eyes).

Anyway, if you don’t think SOPA has any more of a place in Canada than it did in the USA, tell your MP so, and do it soon.

I am writing to register my objection to the digital lock provisions in Bill C-11, and to strenuously oppose any new “enabler” provisions, based on the disastrously designed SOPA legislation that failed (justly) in the USA, but which entertainment lobbies are now pushing here in Canada.
Aside from the digital lock provisions, Bill C-11 stands to benefit Canadians; however, SOPA-style enabler provisions threaten the very structure of the Internet itself, and would grievously jeopardize Canadian business, national security, and citizens’ rights and freedoms. You have previously committed to passing C-11 unchanged; I urge you to maintain that commitment and refuse any changes to C-11 that would either introduce enabler provisions or further tighten digital lock provisions. Such changes would turn the bill’s existing compromise of the public interest into a downright public menace.
Thank you for considering these concerns.

For more reading on the threat of SOPA in Canada:

“Dear They.” “A Copyright Quickie: Canada is about to pass SOPA’s evil little brother. Politely.” 26 Jan. 2012.

—. “C-11 Form Letter.” 2012.

Geist, Michael. “The Behind-the-Scenes campaign to Bring SOPA to Canada.” 23 Jan. 2012.  

 

████ SOPA

On differing online

Three flashes of the spirit of the age:

  • A friend on Facebook recently posted something to the effect that “maturity in the 21st century means un-friending somebody instead of getting into an argument with them.”
  • Lauren Beukes’ SF novel Moxyland refers in passing to (and I’m paraphrasing this too) “news feeds so ideologically customized that people only ever hear what they want to hear anymore.”
  • “Troll, n.2: … In extended use: an unpleasant or ugly person.” (Oxford English Dictionary, Sept. 2008 draft addition)

A social network is a strange place when people start to disagree. Last November, a friend on Facebook re-posted a link I had shared — an op-ed about the exploitation of Remembrance Day on behalf of present Canadian military campaigns — and later reported that he had lost two friends over the posting. Seems he got into a status-update thread of debate over the piece, a debate that got so heated he ended up dropping the two friends.

–But surely these were just “Facebook friends,” I asked.
–No they were actual friends, he said (then mentioned that they’d been on his shit-list for other offences for some time).

Earlier this year, I commented on a different Facebook friend’s support for Toronto mayor Rob Ford’s suggestion to repeal a plastic bag tax. I commented because I found it odd that this person tirelessly fundraises for cancer research but opposes a tax that would curb the use of toxic products. No further comments, on- or off-thread, followed mine. More recently I’ve had lively discussions with yet another Facebook friend over the upcoming election.

While I’ve arguably played the troll in these exchanges, neither of these Faceook friends — who are definitively Facebook friends (i.e. not people I look up when I’m in the area, or people I’d send holiday cards to) — have un-friended me over them. They are people whose political convictions oppose mine, and I appreciate their willingness to field my comments, even if they don’t agree or even respond to them. Here I should say that I’m not, categorically, any firm believer in “free speech.” For one thing, any decent grounding in poststructuralist theory quickly reveals, like the red pill, what a restrictive matrix is the prison-house of language in the first place; for another, free speech has been arrogated by the more strident and extremist parties to public discourse, for which it’s become a moral-panic smokescreen to cover all types of barbarism. “Free speech,” as my ex-pat friend in NYC reminds me, “is no excuse for being an asshole.”

But while I wouldn’t defend to the death the right of someone I disagree with to say whatever it is that I happen to disagree with, I might defend it to the pain. Not just tolerance of but critical engagement with difference of opinion is a hallmark of both a robust research culture and a vital political culture. Unfortunately, both seem to be turning into cultures we may have actually have to fight to keep and strengthen. A colleague in MA-IS recently shared some thoughts on current developments in how the political right is exploiting discourses of accountability and ideological “bias” to silence leftist dissent, while funding private think tanks to more thoroughly colonize the public sphere with ever-further-right hegemony:

“Legally, replete with a full moral rationalization emphasizing public disclosure, freedom of information, and the elimination of political bias in the use of public funds, the political right comes to completely dominate the public sphere of discourse. As public broadcasting is defunded out of existence, tons of private money goes to propaganda strategists in the think tanks and to propaganda distributors on cable TV/radio (e.g. Fox News, a form of which by the way is coming to Canada). It’s not hard to imagine the day when any voice of opposition is effectively silenced either legally (criminalization of dissent when any aspect of one’s livelihood has anything to do with public funding) or economically (little private funding available to mount effective public voice or a grossly disproportionate availability compared to what is available to the above-mentioned propaganda machine).”

Larger socio-political machinations like this make the personal of the social network seem a lot more political. I don’t know that there’s any general principle of tolerance or openness that should be applied in each and every case of differing online; I’m not suggesting the friend who un-friended over Remembrance Day hostilities should instead have suffered fools, gladly or otherwise. And I certainly agree that trolls — of the anonymous and cretinous kind that lurk in the comment fields of major news outlets, and among the general-interest hash-tags of Twitter — are not to be fed. But I might counsel a moment’s critical reflection if and when the opportunity arises to un-friend or otherwise cut off some disagreeable associate or acquaintance. The postmodern feminist sex-performance artist Annie Sprinkle once said during an interview that she was glad of such a teeming abundance of different and diverging opinions in the world. The interviewer challenged her on this, citing zealous anti-NEA conservatives like Jesse Helms, with their total, dehumanizing disregard for controversial art (which I’d say has only extended since to cover most art in general) — who, the interviewer pointed out, would never afford Sprinkle the same courtesy. Sprinkle stuck to her guns, and insisted on everyone’s right to a different opinion, however radical or extreme.

Like I said, I don’t think I could bring myself ever to excuse ignorant assholery as principled free speech. But does the health of the public sphere perhaps depend on cultivating its biodiversity, rather than culling its noxious weeds? And who gets to define “noxious”? I’ve blogged before about the inherent ideological premises of social networking technologies; so where on the political spectrum sits the one-click ability to cut off a voice with whom you disagree?

Cross-blogged from the AU Landing

Is Facebook suppressing this image?

So today a friend of mine shared this great picture* on his Facebook page.

So of course I shared the picture today, too, and saw this evening that another friend shared it as well. But as of now, the shared picture no longer appears on any of our three Facebook newsfeeds. Has Facebook just deleted it? I know Facebook’s policy about offensive content sometimes suppresses or censors critical content (try planting a link in Facebook to Seppukoo), but this seems a bit Orwellian (and, at the same time, a bit petty). Another possibility, I guess, is that the FB user whose image link I shared (an unknown friend-of-friend) has deleted it. (If so, why?)

In any case, I’m going to put it right back up in Facebook, and reblog it ad nauseum too. It’s too shrewd and wry a point to get lost in (or suppressed by) today’s most visited website.

* Not sure who made the picture; I’ve seen a “Captain Thermostat” credited, but the text is quoted verbatim from a December 2010 Saturday Night Live sketch:


Cross-posted from the Athabasca U Landing