mfioretti: free speech*

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  1. When Facebook first came to Cambodia, many hoped it would help to usher in a new period of free speech, amplifying voices that countered the narrative of the government-friendly traditional press. Instead, the opposite has happened. Prime Minister Hun Sen is now using the platform to promote his message while jailing his critics, and his staff is doing its best to exploit Facebook’s own rules to shut down criticism — all through a direct relationship with the company’s staff.

    In Cambodia, Prime Minister Hun Sen has held power since 1998, a reign characterized by systematic looting, political patronage and violent suppression of human rights; when opposition parties used Facebook to organize a strong showing in the 2013 elections, Hun Sen turned to the tool to consolidate his slipping hold on power.

    In this he was greatly aided by Fresh News, a Facebook-based political tabloid that is analogous to far-right partisan US news sources like Breitbart; which acted as a literal stenographer for Sen, transcribing his remarks in "scoops" that vilify opposition figures and dissidents without evidence. Sen and Fresh News successfully forced an opposition leader into exile in France, and mined Facebook for the identities of political opponents, who were targeted for raids and arrests.

    The Cambodian government has cultivated a deep expertise in Facebook's baroque acceptable conduct rules, and they use this expertise to paint opposition speech as in violation of Facebook's policies, using the company's anti-abuse systems to purge their rivals from the platform.

    Offline, the government has targeted the independent press with raids and arrests, shutting down most of the media it does not control, making Facebook -- where the government is able to silence people with its rules-lawyering -- the only place for independent analysis and criticism of the state.

    Then, last October, Facebook used Cambodia in an experiment to de-emphasize news sources in peoples' feeds -- a change it will now roll out worldwide -- and hid those remaining independent reporters from the nation's view.

    Opposition figures have worked with independent researchers to show that the government is buying Facebook likes from clickfarms in the Philippines and India, racking up thousands of likes for Khmer-language posts in territories where Khmer isn't spoken. They reported these abuses to Facebook, hoping to get government posts downranked, but Facebook executives gave them the runaround or refused to talk to them. No action was taken on these violations of Facebook's rules.

    Among other things, the situation in Cambodia is a cautionary tale on the risks of "anti-abuse" policies, which are often disproportionately useful to trolls who devote long hours and careful study to staying on the right side of the lines that companies draw up, and scour systems for people they taunt into violations of these rules, getting the platforms to terminate them.

    When ordinary Facebook users find a post objectionable, they click a link on the post to report it. Then a Facebook employee judges whether it violates the platform’s rules and should be taken down. In practice, it’s a clunky process that involves no direct communication or chance for appeal, and the decisions made by Facebook can seem mysterious and arbitrary.

    But for the Cambodian government, that process has been streamlined by Facebook.

    Duong said every couple of months, his team would email an employee they work with at Facebook to request a set of accounts be taken down, either based on language they used or because their accounts did not appear to be registered to their real names, a practice Facebook’s rules forbid. Facebook often complies, he said.

    Clare Wareing, a spokesperson for Facebook, said the company removes “credible threats, hate speech, and impersonation profiles when we’re made aware of them.” Facebook says it only takes down material that violates its policies.
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  2. Here’s how this golden age of speech actually works: In the 21st century, the capacity to spread ideas and reach an audience is no longer limited by access to expensive, centralized broadcasting infrastructure. It’s limited instead by one’s ability to garner and distribute attention. And right now, the flow of the world’s attention is structured, to a vast and overwhelming degree, by just a few digital platforms: Facebook, Google (which owns YouTube), and, to a lesser extent, Twitter.

    These companies—which love to hold themselves up as monuments of free expression—have attained a scale unlike anything the world has ever seen; they’ve come to dominate media

    Not to put too fine a point on it, but all of this invalidates much of what we think about free speech—conceptually, legally, and ethically.

    The most effective forms of censorship today involve meddling with trust and attention, not muzzling speech itself.

    What’s more, all this online speech is no longer public in any traditional sense. Sure, Facebook and Twitter sometimes feel like places where masses of people experience things together simultaneously. But in reality, posts are targeted and delivered privately, screen by screen by screen.
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  3. Facebook will almost certainly draw up a list of acceptable news outlets of passable truthiness, boosting their distribution at the expense of second-tier (or no-tier) content producers.

    There’ll be some clear downsides though.

    The death-by-algorithm of the media gatekeepers meant that many new voices rose to the fore that would never have jumped through the arbitrary hoops of conventional publication. XKCD, The Oatmeal, Stratechery, Slate Star Codex, Ribbonfarm, Wait But Why—all those weird but clever bloggers or cartoonists who joked, scribbled, or illustrated their way to online fame, viral post after viral post—the new crop of those will find it very hard to hustle themselves an audience. The lone, nonconforming online genius may just be muted along with that Russian political ad farm. Your byline isn’t on Slate or The Washington Post? Too bad, lone content creator.

    Which brings us to the other ironic thing about all of this: In order to preserve our political democracy, which elevates the most popular among us (though perhaps not the finest) to power, we’ll seemingly abandon a total democracy of thought, which does the same for ideas.
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  4. In Norway, the Norwegian bank DNB has taken the lead. And since politicians in general are trained to do as financial capitalism bids, we can say with almost total certainty that legislation banning cash will be passed. If cash payment is banned by law, we will no longer have money. Or rather: we will no longer have any control over our own money. Whether we’ll be able to use them or not, will be decided by the banks and the authorities. We can no longer withdraw money from the bank and hide them under the mattress, even if the banks should introduce a five percent negative interest rate. And if the authorities decide that a certain person should be blocked from their account, they cannot buy as much as a bus ticket or a piece of bread. The totalitarian society on steroids.

    This neo-fascism, or this post-democratic society – or whatever we should name this nightmare – is matched by the draconic legislations against so-called “fake news” and the introduction of public-private censorship bodies. As noted before, a militarization of opinion formers worthy that of a dictatorship, is taking place. And it is happening without the slightest protest from those who supposedly support the freedom of the press and free speech.
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  5. If it’s cool, why do you want to break it?

    There are two sides to that coin. The existence of the technology they’ve developed should be rightly concerning to anybody who wants to put something on the internet. Not everything needs or deserves freeform annotation by users, and some things – some people – may be actively or disproportionately harmed by it. Genius has made special arrangements with some sites, such as the New York Times (which is also my employer), but hasn’t provided a way for smaller users to either opt in or opt out. This means they’re effectively forcing it on everyone.

    I’m also firmly of the opinion that we’ll all be better off if functionality like this is handled by a standards body like the W3C, or a non-profit like the WikiMedia Foundation, or at least an open-source software project. Annotations are a pretty fundamental expression of the nonlinear ways we talk, write, and think, so I’m nervous about the possibility that the content and mechanisms could end up owned by a single for-profit tech startup.

    Look, I don’t think Genius annotations are inherently bad — they’re perfectly innocuous in most contexts, and cool in a small handful. But at their core, they scrape content, and thus are unquestionably parasitic. Unilaterally forcing that on the entire internet through a sin of omission is not a mature or reasonable way to treat the rest of the world.
    Tags: , , by M. Fioretti (2016-03-29)
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  6. A tool that allows my abusive ex-boyfriend to interact with me and my content is a tool that should not exist.

    News Genius, I am asking you to provide a simple, accessible way for creators to disable Genius annotations on their sites. I am asking you to respond to genuine criticism from survivors with respect and consideration, not tell us that you’re doing us a favor by sending us thoughtful engagement and traffic (as happened to me on Twitter). That is the bare minimum required to keep people safe and not contribute to an online environment hostile to women, the LGBTQ community, and people of color. Give me the same ability that the New York Times has to select which articles are available for annotation. Or better yet, make Genius truly opt-in.
    Tags: , , by M. Fioretti (2016-03-29)
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  7. While most of the major players are making their lawyers happy by being purposefully vague in public, Ellen Pao’s resignation as CEO of Reddit has reignited the debate over how to handle the squirming underbelly of the internet. This underbelly consists mainly, but not exclusively, of angry white dudes who want to spew as much hate as possible at women, people of color, and LGBT people. While most of them hide behind the auspices of “free speech,” it’s increasingly clear that these trolls are motivated mainly by a deep desire to silence: to use harassment as a tool to run off anyone who values meaningful discourse or wants an environment that is inclusive to all sorts of people. This silencing campaign has harmed Pao and, as she fears, the “trolls are winning."

    While the new CEO of Reddit has promised to keep with Pao’s program to clean up Reddit and make it safe for non-toxic people to use, it immediately became clear that the white male-heavy leadership of Reddit has zero intention of actually doing anything about it. The smart, easy move to make is to just start shutting down subreddits that exist exclusively to perpetuate hate and bigotry. While it’s true that these places don’t necessarily create bigots, it is also true that finding communities of likeminded people in mainstream places like Reddit—which hosted a presidential forum, for god’s sake!—empowers bigots to believe that their views are more mainstream and acceptable than they really are, which is one of the sustaining myths that keeps bigotry going.

    the entire justification for going to such lengths not to just ban these subreddits has a libertarian-sounding tinge to it. CEO Steve Huffman says he is “uncomfortable projecting my worldview on others” and “people have more open and authentic discussions when they aren't worried about the speech police knocking down their door.”

    The problem is that this isn’t really about free speech. For one thing, people who aren’t allowed to post on Reddit can go elsewhere. This isn’t government censorship, but a private company making choices about what kind of content to put out there. Worse, having a light hand with trolls actually stifles free and lively discourse. Allowing a handful of people to come into a room screaming the N-word or trying to re-traumatize rape victims shuts down open and authentic conversations in the same way that someone projectile vomiting all over the place will shut a party down: People are going to leave rather than put up with it.

    In reality, this amounts to a battle over who gets to own Reddit as a space: Poop-flinging bigots or ordinary people who want to have free-wheeling conversations that still maintain enough decency to be actual conversations?
    Tags: , , , by M. Fioretti (2015-07-28)
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  8. Il Fatto con Charlie è andato esaurito in 5 minuti. Dentro c'erano le opinioni di quattro disegnatori, questa è la mia. In assenza del giornale ve la propongo qua. Sono laico e agnostico, il mio unico dio è la Ragione. Ma qualche riflessione è giusto farla.

    "Nessuno può essere ammazzato per un’idea. Ovvio schierarsi con la gente che sfilava a Parigi. Però diciamocelo: le vignette incriminate facevano cagare. Ma non è questo il punto. Erano mirate giuste? Su papi medioevali, preti pedofili, IOR, cardinali con attici da 700 mq ho disegnato di tutto, con Padellaro vicino allo svenimento in tre occasioni. Ma non disegnerei mai Cristo in modo offensivo. Quando mi ci sono avvicinato (accade a noi atei spritosoni) nel mio retrotesta non mi sono sentito a posto. Cristo non è un uomo ma un simbolo. Non ero a posto nei confronti di cattolici onesti, di preti poveri con i miei stessi ideali, perfino nei confronti delle vecchiette che giaculano in Chiesa per alleviare la paura da fine vita. E’ giusto fino al rischio attaccare gli uomini e le loro azioni, ma è stupido attaccare i simboli della ricerca spirituale, la stessa di cattolici, ebrei, islamici e…atei, ognuno a modo suo a cercare risposte, tutti spaventati dal viaggio nell’ignoto che è la vita, tutti sperduti su questa insensata palletta. E come li contrastiamo i mostri veri come i terroristi e Salvini se mentre facciamo appello ai musulmani moderati, insultiamo i simboli della loro ricerca spirituale? E adesso lapidatemi come il Protomartire omonimo: per me esistono due livelli decisionali, uno alto, bello, quello degli Ideali, uno basso, detto a mezza bocca, quello dell’Opportunità. Col primo si fanno meritati figuroni, col secondo, vergognoso e maleodorante, si evita che si incendi il mondo." Stefano Disegni
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  9. Ci chiedi di ridere delle caricature del Profeta, ma ignori il vilipendio dell'Islam in tutto il continente (sei mai stato in Germania negli ultimi tempi?), nonché la diffusa discriminazione nei confronti dei musulmani nel mondo dell'istruzione, in quello del lavoro e nella vita pubblica -- specialmente in Francia. Tu chiedi ai musulmani di denunciare un pugno d'estremisti in quanto minaccia esistenziale alla libertà di parola, e allo stesso tempo chiudi un occhio di fronte alla ben più grande minaccia ad essa rappresentata dai nostri leader eletti.

    Non ti disturba vedere Barack Obama saltare sul treno della libertà di parola dopo aver preteso che lo Yemen lasciasse dietro le sbarre il giornalista anti-droni Abdulelah Haider Shaye, incarcerato per "reati di matrice terroristica" in seguito a un processo farsa? Non ti ha fatto venire la nausea vedere Benjamin Netanyahu, premier di un paese che nel 2014 si è reso responsabile dell'uccisione di sette giornalisti a Gaza, partecipare alla "marcia unitaria" di Parigi? Bibi si trovava in compagnia di Angela Merkel, cancelliera di un paese in cui la negazione dell'Olocausto è un reato punibile con un massimo di cinque anni di detenzione, e di David Cameron, che vorrebbe proibire agli "estremisti" non-violenti impegnati a "rovesciare l'ordinamento democratico" di comparire in televisione.
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  10. la libertà di deridere una religione si scontra con il diritto al rispetto e all’onorabilità culturale e religiosa. Diritti e responsabilità non dovrebbero venire mai disgiunti proprio perché incarnano quella tensione, quel compromesso che dovrebbe essere alla base della convivenza tra persone e gruppi che trovano identificazione in oggetti diversi.

    Ma c’è dell’altro oltre al cattivo gusto. La linea editoriale della rivista era intrisa di un peculiare razzismo di stampo illuminista, una tentazione che va ben oltre la battaglia per la laicità dello Stato. Ciò che a Charlie Hebdo non andava è che la gente credesse in Dio (e lo dico da agnostico), suggerendo come base per la costruzione della cittadinanza la rinuncia dell’ingombrante fardello religioso. Non è questa una politica di esclusione travestita da libero discorso? La sensazione è che qui ci si trovi molto distanti dalla satira irriverente de “il Re è nudo” che mette alla gogna potenti e fanatici. Molte delle vignette di Charlie Hebdo incarnavano proprio i vizi contro cui apparentemente combattevano: volevano includere, in realtà tagliavano fuori. Il messaggio, infatti, era che per appartenere a questa società (quella della République) non devi solamente abbandonare il dogma fondamentalista, ma la tua religione e la tua cultura tout court: spogliati del tuo retrivo e antiquato bagaglio e, voilà, anche tu potrai godere delle gioie infinite che regalano le società libere, dove si ragiona e si pensa scientificamente, dove tutti aderiamo a un minimo comune denominatore (il nostro) e abbandoniamo credenze e usanze che la Storia è destinata a scrollarsi di dosso. E’ un rullo omogeneizzatore, tutto fuorché plurale: in questo senso, la posizione del giornale francese ricalca l’ipocrita pluralismo di stampo liberale, dove l’Altro è assimilato o annientato.

    E quindi giù di blasfemie gratuite, di offese non solamente ai fanatici, ma alla fede in sé, a ciò che di più caro hanno milioni di persone. L’Islam era diventato un bersaglio preferito per i vignettisti francesi, sfornando rappresentazioni stereotipate, offensive, reazionarie.
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