Posts Tagged ‘Freedom of Speech’

prison

Hossein Derakhshan was in prison in Iran for six years, convicted for speech crimes relating mainly to his blogging.  He has recently written about his newfound freedom, but also about how blogging and the internet transformed, not necessarily for the good, whilst he was incarcerated. I recommend you read his article in full, in medium.

I am posting an extract here that I found particularly resonant with some of my own experiences. Maybe one day I’ll be ‘free’ enough to blog about them. In the meantime, I’m relying on the courage and clear expression of Hossein Derakhshan:

‘There’s a story in the Quran that I thought about a lot during my first eight months in solitary confinement. In it, a group of persecuted Christians find refuge in a cave. They, and a dog they have with them, fall into a deep sleep. They wake up under the impression that they’ve taken a nap: In fact, it’s 300 years later. One version of the story tells of how one of them goes out to buy food — and I can only imagine how hungry they must’ve been after 300 years — and discovers that his money is obsolete now, a museum item. That’s when he realizes how long they have actually been absent.

The hyperlink was my currency six years ago. Stemming from the idea of thehypertext, the hyperlink provided a diversity and decentralisation that the real world lacked. The hyperlink represented the open, interconnected spirit of the world wide web — a vision that started with its inventor, Tim Berners-Lee. The hyperlink was a way to abandon centralization — all the links, lines and hierarchies — and replace them with something more distributed, a system of nodes and networks.

Blogs gave form to that spirit of decentralization: They were windows into lives you’d rarely know much about; bridges that connected different lives to each other and thereby changed them. Blogs were cafes where people exchanged diverse ideas on any and every topic you could possibly be interested in. They were Tehran’s taxicabs writ large.

Since I got out of jail, though, I’ve realized how much the hyperlink has been devalued, almost made obsolete.

Nearly every social network now treats a link as just the same as it treats any other object — the same as a photo, or a piece of text — instead of seeing it as a way to make that text richer. You’re encouraged to post one single hyperlink and expose it to a quasi-democratic process of liking and plussing and hearting: Adding several links to a piece of text is usually not allowed. Hyperlinks are objectivized, isolated, stripped of their powers.

At the same time, these social networks tend to treat native text and pictures — things that are directly posted to them — with a lot more respect than those that reside on outside web pages. One photographer friend explained to me how the images he uploads directly to Facebook receive a large number of likes, which in turn means they appear more on other people’s news feeds. On the other hand, when he posts a link to the same picture somewhere outside Facebook — his now-dusty blog, for instance — the images are much less visible to Facebook itself, and therefore get far fewer likes. The cycle reinforces itself.

Some networks, like Twitter, treat hyperlinks a little better. Others, insecure social services, are far more paranoid. Instagram — owned by Facebook — doesn’t allow its audiences to leave whatsoever. You can put up a web address alongside your photos, but it won’t go anywhere. Lots of people start their daily online routine in these cul de sacs of social media, and their journeys end there. Many don’t even realize that they’re using the Internet’s infrastructure when they like an Instagram photograph or leave a comment on a friend’s Facebook video. It’s just an app.

But hyperlinks aren’t just the skeleton of the web: They are its eyes, a path to its soul. And a blind webpage, one without hyperlinks, can’t look or gaze at another webpage — and this has serious consequences for the dynamics of power on the web.

More or less, all theorists have thought of gaze in relation to power, and mostly in a negative sense: the gazer strips the gazed and turns her into a powerless object, devoid of intelligence or agency. But in the world of webpages, gaze functions differently: It is more empowering. When a powerful website — say Google or Facebook — gazes at, or links to, another webpage, it doesn’t just connect it — it brings it into existence; gives it life. Metaphorically, without this empowering gaze, your web page doesn’t breathe. No matter how many links you have placed in a webpage, unless somebody is looking at it, it is actually both dead and blind; and therefore incapable of transferring power to any outside web page.

On the other hand, the most powerful web pages are those that have many eyes upon them. Just like celebrities who draw a kind of power from the millions of human eyes gazing at them any given time, web pages can capture and distribute their power through hyperlinks.

But apps like Instagram are blind — or almost blind. Their gaze goes nowhere except inwards, reluctant to transfer any of their vast powers to others, leading them into quiet deaths. The consequence is that web pages outside social media are dying.’

The following principles of academic freedom are taken from an interesting 2009 statement by UCU, one of the major trades unions for academics, researchers and other higher education staff. I recommend reading the whole thing here. ‘Academic freedom includes the right(s) to:

  • freedom in teaching and discussion;
  • freedom in carrying out research without commercial or political interference;
  • freedom to disseminate and publish one’s research findings;
  • freedom from institutional censorship, including the right to express one’s opinion publicly about the institution or the education system in which one works; and
  • freedom to participate in professional and representative academic bodies, including trade unions.’

einstein Monkeys Image from: http://www.prwatch.org/news/2005/10/4104/academic-freedom-aint-what-it-used-be Einstein quote image from:  http://pauleisen.blogspot.co.uk/2014/05/academic-freedom-are-there-limits-to.html

journalism

I saw this George Orwell quote on twitter ( /via @MrDarrenGormley ) and found it quite resonant.

The PR-ification of journalism has been well-documented already.  But maybe what hasn’t been so well documented, is the lengths to which some journalists are prepared to go these days, to censor what they don’t want ‘printed’ – or in the internet age, spoken, tweeted, blogged, etc.

I know the hoi polloi have stormed the stage now, and that makes some ‘professional’ hacks uncomfortable. But if they don’t want to be just another PR, they should embrace the new world, and what it has to offer in the way of ‘citizen journalism’, ‘feedback’, ‘BTL comments’ and diversity of information and opinion.

And if you’re a journalist reading this and thinking: yes but she’s a troll, she has no right to claim her freedom of speech may be under threat. Her speech is beyond the bounds of decency, morality or some other …ity, then maybe you’re part of the problem I’m talking about.

Those who make a living by writing and speaking should value everyone’s freedom of expression. Even mine.

 

twitter-censorship

This week has been a worrying one for twitterphiles like me.  The social media site was blocked by the Government in Turkey, in a seemingly blatant attack on Turkish people’s rights to freedom of expression.  Today a court proposed that the ban should be lifted. As they wait for confirmation that it will be, Turks are using creative means to get round the ban, such as installing   Tor browsers and tweeting via sms on mobile phones.  Whilst representatives from twitter the company did speak out against the ban by Turkey’s authorities, they are not quite perfect ambassadors for freedom of speech. In 2012 twitter.com put their new policy into practice, allowing them to block tweets in particular countries, when they censored output in Germany from neo-Nazis. I’m not a fan of racism in any form, but a social media company making political decisions to restrict access to content concerns me. This seems particularly ironic when we remind ourselves how heavily the actual Nazis relied on censorship  and repression of certain points of view in their regime.

There have also been observations by twitterers that sometimes suspension of individual users can be the result of pressure from groups who dislike them, rather than for any violations of twitter.com’s terms and conditions. I am surprised I’ve never been suspended myself, actually, considering the various political and personal cliques who don’t like the cut of my jib on twitter! (I hope I’m not giving anyone ideas *stern look*). But whatever its faults, I am inclined to agree with Paul Bernal, an  academic who studies privacy, media law and Intellectual Property, that twitter provides great opportunities for freedom of speech:

twitter

I also agree with Dan Hannan, MEP, that whether it is at state or individual level, the calls for banning, censoring and punishing people are always made in relation to other people. A  ‘troll‘  is always someone else isn’t it?. But the kind of rhetoric that demands ‘tougher penalties’ for ‘cyber bullies’ and the values it espouses could have a negative, restrictive effect on us all.

twitter_DH

I have considered leaving twitter a few times in the last couple of years. But there are too many reasons to stay. Apart from the excellent friends I have made, and apart from my ‘professional’ reasons (for that read: ego) for using twitter, illustrated by recent praise for my novella  and for my critique of feminism, Leaving The Sisterhood, I think it’s too important to abandon. I know that I am no different from the majority of twitter users, in that my ‘output’ is often frivolous, or boring, but its my self-expression. My chance to contribute to discussions and debates, to see the events of the world unfold in real time, to learn and expand my horizons.

A lot nearer to me than Turkey, we also learned this week that restrictions have been put on prisoners receiving books and other gifts. Their freedom of expression and freedom to learn is not just curtailed by their incarceration, but now by further, draconian regulations. Even in the comfort of my own home, it is all too clear to me, that my right to talk shit on the internet is not something to take for granted. And it’s certainly not something to give up. They’ll have to drag me kicking and screaming away from that little blue bird, I’m afraid.

 

feminism_q07

Happy New Year!  I hope to introduce you to more writers, thinkers and do-ers  in 2014. Maybe I’m a bit tired of the cut of my own jib, or maybe I’ve suddenly gone shy(!). Either way, I think engaging with a variety of perspectives is always a good thing.

An independent-minded UK-based blogger/tweeter I like is Jacobinism. He has begun the year with a thought-provoking post entitled Racism; Censorship; Disunity. He puts forward the view that the ‘Left’, and ‘intersectional’ activists and writers within the Left, can be blind to oppression and violence unless it comes from white people. To illustrate his point he uses a case study from within the feminist blogosphere, where a young feminist woman was attacked and then censored by ‘intersectional’ feminism, for her views.  Jacobinism writes:

‘There is a damaging idea fast gathering influence on the Left that – like a lot of contemporary postmodern Leftist thought – urgently needs dismantling. This idea holds that racism is only possible when prejudice is married with power.

The corollary of this premise is that racism may only travel in one direction – from the powerful to the powerless – and it is therefore nonsensical to discuss, still less condemn, racist attitudes expressed by ethnic minorities. In the West, racism is the preserve of the white majority who use it – often, it is claimed, unconsciously – to sustain their advantage and to oppress those they deem to be ‘other’. In the geopolitical sphere, meanwhile, this racism is the preserve of the world’s wealthy democracies and is expressed as Orientalism, Military and Cultural Imperialism, and Neoliberalism, all of which are used to dominate and subjugate the Global South.’

Jacobin’s discussion of the feminist ‘storm’ that illustrates his points is probably best read in full. To give a flavour of the ‘case study’ here’s some extracts from his post:

‘On 20 December, the feminist writer and activist Adele Wilde-Blavatsky published an article in the Huffington Post entitled Stop Bashing White Women in the Name of Beyonce: We Need Unity Not Division. Wilde-Blavatsky’s post was a rebuke to those – on what she described as the post-colonial or intersectional feminist Left – who use identity politics and arguments from privilege to delegitimise the voices of white feminists speaking out about the abuse of women in the Global South and within minority communities in the West…

The response to this argument from the bien pensant Left ranged from the incredulous to the vitriolic.

In the comment thread below her article and in a storm which overwhelmed her twitter handle and her hashtag, Wilde-Blavatsky (who tweets as @lionfaceddakini) was derided with accusations of arrogance, ignorance, bigotry, racism and cultural supremacism. She was advised that she had not listened sufficiently closely to authentic voices of women of colour.  Others declared her to be beneath contempt and an object example of white feminism’s irrelevance. She was accused of using a fraudulent call for unity as a way of advancing an argument from white victimhood. It was demanded that she immediately re-educate herself by reading various academic texts on the subject. Her “white woman’s tears” were repeatedly mocked, as were her protestations that her own family is mixed-race. And, of course, there were the predictable demands for retraction, penitence and prostration…

To accept that one’s unalterable characteristics can play any part in the validity of an opinion is to submit to the tyranny of identity politics and endorse an affront to reason. Arguments about rights and ethics must be advanced and defended on their merits, irrespective of who is making them. There is no other way.’

I applaud Jacobin for taking on this thorny subject, and for referring to feminism in doing so. Not only do feminists find it difficult to have aspects of their dogma questioned, they find it particularly hard to stomach coming from a man. But I have a couple of points to make that disagree with his argument.

1) All feminism suggests men are ‘innately’ powerful and women not.  I agree with Jacobin  that actions should not be protected from criticism simply due to the identity of those taking them. But I am wary of Wilde-Blavatsky’s  allusions to patriarchal culture and behaviour in her criticisms of violence against women in ‘the Global South’. Isn’t the term ‘patriarchy’ a way of playing ‘identity politics’ too? Don’t men get dismissed by feminism in general for having views on gender because of their ‘unalterable characteristics’?

2) All feminism reinforces the gender binary There have always been tensions within feminism and different schools of thought within the ‘movement’. However as I have said in my ‘controversial’ piece Against Feminisms, all feminists rely on the binary of man v woman with ‘man’ being found powerful, oppressive and so not worth listening to. And so

‘ feminist theorists such as bell hooks and Julia Serano and Beverly Skeggs, even when they are referring to other divisions such as ethnicity, class and transgender identities, are still relying on the reification of the man v woman binary to support all their arguments about gender.’

3) Feminism is more ‘united’ than it seems I will write more on this another time, but my view is a lot of the ‘conflicts’ in feminism are not exactly fabricated, but they’re superficial.  Feminism does have common characteristics.  I find this ‘flowchart’ that was doing the rounds online recently, laughable. But it does indicate a basic worldview that I would suggest all feminists share to a large degree. It also illustrates clearly how not being a feminist is unacceptable and derided by feminists of all stripes (click image to enlarge):

FEMINIST-570

I don’t want a young woman writer to be censored for having the ‘wrong’ outlook. But I think young men are ‘censored’ from expressing their views on gender before they even begin. Gender studies and media output on gender are dominated by versions of Wilde-Blavatsky. I don’t privilege (‘white people’s’) racism over gender but I don’t think gender inequalities function how any feminist presents them. If that makes me persona non grata at some dinner parties who cares? I can have my own party (and the booze is always great)!

The surest aid in combating the male’s disease of self-contempt is to be loved by a clever woman – Nietzsche

It is now well-documented that in my -frequent – arguments with feminism, my ‘sisters’ sometimes end up resorting to calling me a ‘man’ to dismiss and demonise my criticisms of their dogma. So, if the cap fits…

Recently I have made connections with some of the bloggers and activists who run A Voice For Men website. Loosely self-defined as ‘MRAs’ (men’s rights activists) these men – and a few women allies- provide a non-man-hating perspective in amongst the cacophony of misandry that is ‘mainstream’ feminist gender culture.

I like the subtitle to AVfM – ‘masculine counter-theory in the age of misandry’. It succinctly turns on its head the received wisdom that suggests it is misogyny and sexism against women that is the biggest gendered problem in society.

So I was delighted to be asked to contribute to the site. So far I have written two pieces. The first took quite a lot of soul-searching and emotional effort as it describes my break with feminism, that I grew up believing was the only logical, and moral lens through which to analyse gender. My essay is called:

Leaving The Sisterhood – A Recovering Feminist Speaks

The second is an edited post I initially put here at QRG HQ. (Thanks to  Laura Agustin for feedback which led to a few changes). It’s entitled:

Second Wave Feminism Is Dying (Slowly)

I only found the Nietzsche quote today, and I don’t know its context. But I like its suggestion that masculinity suffers from a pathological bad rep that needs to be transformed. And the suggestion that women must be involved in that shift. This is subtly but vitally different from the feminist concept that men themselves are ‘bad’ and need to change (with the help of enlightened feminist women). My view is that all that needs to be altered is how we LOOK at men and masculinity…

While I go back to my Nietzsche to see if I haven’t read too much into it, I hope you take a look at my posts at AvFM and the rest of the site.

The future is bright. The future is mixed-gendered!

_______________

Thanks again to @deanesmay for the encouragement to write for AvFM

There is an interesting post by Paul Bernal, directed to the Labour Party, but with general relevance to our approach to freedom of speech in the digital age:

http://paulbernal.wordpress.com/2012/08/28/a-progressive-digital-policy/#comment-557

Paul writes:

‘In the current climate, there are regular calls to deal with such things as pornography and ‘trolling’ on the internet – but most of what is actually suggested amounts to little more than censorship. We need to be very careful about this indeed – the risks of censorship are highly significant.’

Chris Ashford ( @Lawandsexuality ) has endorsed all the points Paul makes:

However I do not know how sincerely or deeply Chris has engaged with the post. I have pointed out before how he has deliberately curtailed my ‘freedom of speech’ in the past:

https://quietgirlriot.wordpress.com/2012/07/27/justice-at-last-for-paul-chambers-twitterjoketrial/

My comment under Paul’s post is ‘awaiting moderation’. It says:

‘Hi

Good post.

I am passionate about free speech. but I find that many ‘liberals’ from whatever party allegiance tend to pay lip service to free speech whilst actively limiting it when it suits.

Chris ashford for example, who said he agreed with your post blocks me on twitter and only publishes some of my comments on his blog. He also calls me a ‘troll’ which serves to undermine trust in me as someone with anything worthwhile to say.

But then I always did think ‘hypocrisy’ was on every major party’s manifesto.

QRG’

Apart from blocking me on twitter, calling me a ‘troll’, not publishing some of my comments on his blog, and telling his academic colleagues to ‘ignore’ me online, I now have discovered that Ashford has also ‘badmouthed’ me to individual academics he knows personally. I found out because we have friends and colleagues in common.

As I said on twitter before, some academics treat me as if I am completely separate from their ‘world’. All they need to do is to flick their wrists and I will be gone. No. I am part of their world, for better or for worse. I was BORN into it. My academic ‘credentials’ and lineage is stronger than most.  It is going to be difficult to get rid of me.

And that should be thought of as a good thing by Chris Ashford. He believes in freedom of speech, right? Even for trolls like me!