All posts tagged censorship

Photo: StockSnap. CC0/Public Domain license.

I’ve posted on free speech and freedom of expression before here on Green Comet. I talked about how people confused the right to free speech with the right to freedom from criticism for what they say. Some people think that their right to freedom of expression means that they get to say whatever they want and no one can challenge them on it. But there is another way that the idea of freedom is perverted: when it is used to justify hate speech and bigotry. This article on The Seattle Star does a good job of looking at that.

Over the past year, the far right has held a number of “free speech” rallies that are, in reality, testing grounds for how many people they can publicly assemble and launch violent attacks on people …

It really shouldn’t be that hard to tell the difference between free speech, as in the fundamental democratic right; and free speech, as in the amoral, we’ll-attack-whoever-we-want manifesto of the far right.

We’re living in a time when actual free speech rights are as precarious as ever–consider, for example, the autocrat in the White House who orders professional football team owners to fire players who take a knee during the National Anthem. Or the FBI targeting supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement as dangerous “extremists.”

We look back on the foolish things people have allowed to happen in the past and shake our heads. “How could they not see?” we ask. Who will be shaking their heads at our foolishness?

via The Free Speech of Fools – The Seattle Star


zillow-mcmansion-effElectronic Frontier Foundation

Kate Wagner runs an architecture criticism blog called McMansion Hell, where she posts pictures and opinions of examples of what she considers poor design. Mostly she criticizes big houses that are meant to appeal to buyers’ vanities. A company called the Zillow Group sent her a cease and desist order saying the pictures she was using were protected by copyright and couldn’t be used. She did what most people would do when threatened by the lawyers of a big corporation. She shut down her blog.

That wasn’t the end of it, though. The Electronic Frontier Foundation(EFF) got wind of it and stepped in to defend Ms Wagner against the specious order. They sent a couple of strongly worded letters to Zillow’s lawyers and let them know they weren’t going to get away with their bullying.

EFF staff attorney Daniel Nazer said, “Our client has no obligation to, and thus will not, comply with Zillow’s demands. Zillow’s legal threats are not supported and plainly seek to interfere with protected speech.”

Zillow quickly changed its tune, claiming that they never had any intention of interfering with Ms Wagner’s freedom of expression. They just thought they were protecting the copyright of the owners of the images she was taking from Zillow’s website. The EFF let them know that they were wrong.

EFF’s response called Zillow’s legal complaints “baseless” and its allegations “unfounded and unsupportable” as it laid out a variety of legal arguments for why McMansion Hell and Wagner were not bound by Zillow’s terms of use and why her use of photographs sourced from Zillow are indeed protected by fair use.

The McMansion Hell blog is back up and running and Ms Wagner is breathing easily again. Chalk up another one for the EFF, those heroes who defend our freedoms.

via Zillow drops complaint against ‘McMansion Hell’ blog after backlash over copyright claim – GeekWire


Electronic Frontier Foundation – CC-BY

Almost a year and a half ago, Green Comet had a post on the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s (EFF) series called Stupid Patent of the Month, where they call out the bad practises of patent trolls and other miscreants. The stupid patent in our post had Microsoft suing Corel.

A little less than a year ago, the EFF featured another stupid patent held by the Australian patent troll, Global Equity Management (SA,) or GEMSA. This company’s only apparent activity seems to be suing people over patents. It seems GEMSA didn’t like that and is now suing the EFF for defamation. Even though the EFF is based in the United States, where freedom of expression laws protect it, GEMSA wants Australia’s more repressive laws to apply. They are accustomed to abusing people with stupid patents, and now they think they can use national laws to invoke an international chill on freedom.

The EFF is not so easily cowed, and they have a few lawyers of their own. After GEMSA demanded that they take down the article, and every other reference to it on the internet, they launched a countersuit in California seeking a ruling that the Australian injunction should not apply in the US. They should be successful because the US already has a law that makes foreign laws invalid in the US unless they respect freedom of expression.

Here’s the story at ars technica and the Courthouse News Service. Here’s Motherboard’s list of the eleven stupidest patents of 2016.

In its complaints, GEMSA said that the EFF’s article made it harder for them to bring their patent suits in the US. Well, good. Now it seems their injunction has raised the profile of patent trolls, which are coming under closer scrutiny. Also good.



The ruling has come down in this case and, as I predicted, it is in favor of the plaintiff, the Electronic Frontier Foundation. They have every right, in the US anyway, to call GEMSA’s patent stupid.

Kurt Opsahl, EFF’s deputy executive director and general counsel, hailed the ruling as a victory for free speech.

“We knew all along the speech was protected by the First Amendment,” Opsahl said in a phone interview Friday. “We were pleased to see the court agree.”

You can find the Courthouse News article here.



Credit Michael Vadon – CC-BY-SA

The ongoing war on science has received reinforcements. Government has joined with industry to suppress facts in the name of commerce. In this so-called post-fact era when an unknown percentage of the information we receive is fake news, they are openly suppressing anything that might threaten to counter their version of reality. The Canadian government did it a few years ago — see this post — telling our scientists that they couldn’t report their findings without first having them approved. Now the US is doing it, in part by putting people in charge of scientific institutions who are actively hostile to their goals. They have been waging this war for a long time — think tobacco — and they’re very good at it. They know how to get people to believe what they’re saying, and when they can’t do that, they know how to make them doubt the truth. Scientists, and others who believe in following the facts rather than making them up, are beginning to see that simply making the facts available isn’t enough. The noble assumption that the truth will win simply because it’s true is being shouted down. They need to stand up and come to the defense of science, which is under threats not seen in a long time.

The linked article does a very good job of identifying the problems, and of suggesting solutions to them.

The systematic use of so-called “uncertainty” surrounding well-established scientific ideas has proven to be a reliable method for manipulating public perception and stalling political action. And while certain private interests and their political allies may benefit from these tactics, the damages are something we will all have to face.

The reality is that science touches everything we do, and everyone we love, which is why the War on Science is so deadly serious.

They suggest five approaches that can counter these ongoing attacks.  Some of them are well outside the normal comfort zone of scientists, but they are learning that they need to take action.  Here are the five steps.

1. Portray an Inclusive Vision

2. Do Get Political

3. Don’t Fall into the “Culture War” Trap

4. Balance Facts with Meaningful Stories

5. Be Forceful

See the linked article for details.

via How to Defeat Those Who are Waging War on Science – Scientific American Blog Network


Theodor Kittelsen - Public Domain

Theodor Kittelsen – Public Domain

Trolls get a lot of attention, but never as much as they want. That pretty well sums up the problem, and its cause. Right, then. Let’s wrap this up and call it a day, shall we? No, we shan’t. This post is called Trolls Observed and all we’ve done so far is stereotype and dismiss them. They deserve nothing less, of course, but today we’re going to give them something more. We’re going to look at a few attempts to define and analyze them.

Let’s begin with the definition of troll in the Urban Dictionary.

One who posts a deliberately provocative message to a newsgroup or message board with the intention of causing maximum disruption and argument.

That is a good and succinct definition, shorn of their self-aggrandizement and their detractors’ invective. Next up is a Slate article looking at a psychology paper by Erin Buckels of the University of Manitoba, which

… sought to directly investigate whether people who engage in trolling are characterized by personality traits that fall in the so-called Dark Tetrad: Machiavellianism (willingness to manipulate and deceive others), narcissism (egotism and self-obsession), psychopathy (the lack of remorse and empathy), and sadism (pleasure in the suffering of others).

To save you the trouble of following the link and finding out for yourself, yes, there was significant correlation between trolling and the Dark Tetrad, especially sadism. Next, a Mother Jones article about the negative effects of trolling on rational debate.

… it polarized the audience: Those who already thought (one thing) tended to become more sure of themselves when exposed to name-calling, while those who thought (the other thing) were more likely to move in their own favored direction. In other words, it appeared that pushing people’s emotional buttons, through derogatory comments, made them double down on their preexisting beliefs.

The effects are negative indeed. The trolls’ aims of disruption and derailment are met, almost invariably. This final link is to an example of the damage done to one person by trolls. I strongly advise you to follow this link, because it’s impossible for me to encapsulate it, and I really think you’ll enjoy it.

Ben Garrison is the most trolled cartoonist in the world. His trolls love him so much, they recreated him in their own image.

Trolls get a lot of attention. They’re annoying time-wasters who can take the pleasure out of our interactions on the internet. But they’re worse than that. They can be hurtful. They can undermine civil discourse. And, in bad cases, they can ruin people’s lives. They’re not just a mildly diverting aberration. They can be really harmful. They need to be managed, like any destructive parasite.