Tag Archives: censorship

Fair play and censorship. Where do you cross the line?

Fair Play

Two matters have struck a chord with me this week. The first is the cricket. The vice-captain of the Australian cricket team coached a bowler to roughen one side of the ball using sand paper, and the captain condoned it. It’s called ball-tampering and has happened in cricket over the years. This article explains in simple terms what it’s all about. In essence, there’s a line between fair handling of the ball, and ball tampering, which is cheating. The Australians crossed that line.

I expect many of you are sick of the whole thing, especially put in the context of what’s important in life. But I think it has to be considered against what Australians believe about themselves. As a sporting nation we punch above our weight, given our relatively small population, although we haven’t been quite as successful over the past decades. As a result, Australian teams are expected to win. Australians also have a perception that we Aussies are always fair, that we win by playing better. We’re also very quick to point the finger at other teams we suspect of cheating. So the cricket-loving public has been outraged by this overt cheating by an Australian team. Not just one player messing about with the ball, but a leadership plot to cheat.

It’s interesting to compare the two interviews Steve Smith gave about the matter. In the first one, just after the incident became public knowledge, the overall impression was shrug, we got caught. Sorry about that. Won’t happen again. He clearly did not appreciate the storm that was about to hit him.

When Smith appeared on the news last night the full horror of what he and Warner had cooked up had hit him. Sponsors have abandoned the team, all three have been sacked, and Warner and Smith banned for a time, they have lost personal sponsorships, as well as their contracts with the Indian IPL. Smith was chastened, in tears. I actually felt sorry for him. Smith, to me, has always looked like the top car salesman who is given the job of sales manager. The two jobs require very different skills. Smith is a great batsman, but not a leader. I’m not surprised at the news that Darren Lehmann has also resigned. If he didn’t know what was happening, he should have.

Shock jock commentator Alan Jones is not my favourite person for lots of reasons, but his open letter to Cricket Australia boss, James Sutherland, is balanced, sensible, and well worth reading. Apart from anything else, Jones has been coach of an Australian (rugby) team, so he knows a bit about what happens in a dressing room. For what it’s worth, having been initially rather like the Red Queen (off with his head) I now tend to agree with Alan Jones (please don’t tell him).

Australian cricket will always have to carry this stain on its reputation, just like the infamous underarm incident. Come what may, Cricket Australia has its work cut out to recover the trust of Australian cricket fans.

And now for something much more important.

Censorship.

I’ve spoken in the past about backdoor censorship, where book sellers refused to accept books with what they believed to be unacceptable erotic content. Censorship is stupid relates to a 2017 episode which led to Draft 2 Digital (a popular integrator for Indie authors like me, which formats books and sends them on to sales sites like Kobo and Amazon), tightening up its guidelines on ‘unacceptable’ content. And in The Vexed Question of Censorship in 2013 I waxed lyrical about censorship in general – and this:-

“Recently we had a case where Kobo withdrew ALL the indie (ie self-published or small publisher) titles sourced from Draft 2 Digital, a knee-jerk reaction to erotic material being made available for children. It was Dinosaur porn, you see, and everyone knows kids love dinosaurs. (rolls eyes) Plenty of people remarked on the hypocrisy of the table thumpers, pointing out that Fifty Shades of Grey was not withdrawn. It seemed erotica from large publishers was acceptable.”

What’s happening now is almost sinister. It seems Amazon is trawling through its titles, removing reviews and down-grading rankings for books with erotic content. The process is called ‘stripping’. The ostensible reason is the “Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act,” or FOSTA, where internet sites can be prosecuted for allowing material that might promote prostitution (and no doubt other things). Read more about it here. My Facebook newsfeed is full of discussion by affected authors. For them, Amazon downgrading a book’s ranking and removing reviews means reducing that book’s visibility andtherefore  potential sales. It’s not just Amazon. I’ve mentioned the Kobo example, and Apple has always refused to sell what it deems to be unacceptable erotica or porn. It seems Google is in on it, too.

I accept that any book-seller has the right to dictate what they will or will not sell. But Amazon  and the other big sellers use automated programs, not people, to process the millions of titles they have on their sites. The results can be totally unfair and ugly. One author I know said, “My teenage books are stripped. Two teenagers falling in love, no sex, nothing freaky, just paranormal. No rank because it’s romance. It’s bloody bollocks.” Another author who normally writes science fiction romance had her perfectly innocent non-romantic Young Adult novel pulled because it had the word ‘sister’ in the book’s description. Presumably the automated process put that story down as incest. This reminds of an email filter management imposed at a place where I once worked to stop emails containing rude words being delivered. Any email with obvious swear words like ‘fuck’ were held. But it swept up possibly innocent words like ‘tit’ (as in blue tit) and allowed words like ‘dick’ and ‘cock’. Processing language is not a precise science.

This is not the first time something like this has happened. A couple of years ago Kobo had a similar purge, tightening up its rules on acceptable content. It’s interesting that these often-draconian measures are applied to writers of (erotic) romance, but any small author who has written romance novels might well be caught up in the ritualistic cleansing.

While Amazon prides itself on customer service, that doesn’t extend to authors. It never enters into discussion about decisions it makes. However, the online sales giant has stated that it is targeting romance titles, especially erotic stories. At least this time, it’s not just small Indies in the cross-hairs. Even EL James’s new books – Fifty Shades of Grey written from Christian Grey’s point of view – have been hit.

I don’t write erotica, let alone porn. (I wouldn’t know how.) I doubt any of my books would be affected, but nobody’s books should be censored in this way.

While we’re on the subject, it seems Microsoft has been forced to appoint itself arbiter of acceptability, as well. Its position is also based on the FOSTA legislation. You will probably have received an email from Microsoft explaining the new terms and conditions, which you very likely did not read. The new terms of service include this clause under Code of Conduct.

  1. Don’t publicly display or use the Services to share inappropriate content or material (involving, for example, nudity, bestiality, pornography, offensive language, graphic violence, or criminal activity).

From there we proceed to what happens if you’re naughty.

  1. Enforcement. If you violate these Terms, we may stop providing Services to you or we may close your Microsoft account. We may also block delivery of a communication (like email, file sharing or instant message) to or from the Services in an effort to enforce these Terms or we may remove or refuse to publish Your Content for any reason. When investigating alleged violations of these Terms, Microsoft reserves the right to review Your Content in order to resolve the issue. However, we cannot monitor the entire Services and make no attempt to do so.

Microsoft to ban offensive language from skype xbox office and other services talks in more detail about what may or not may be affected by the changes, which come into force in May. But what it means for most of us is that if you write ‘fuck’ in an email, or use the word in a Skype call, Microsoft has the right to deny service. And if you write erotica and store the document on their One Drive system, they can delete it. However, as Microsoft makes clear, it does not intened to vet everything everbody writes. It can’t – the task would be beyond even that giant company’s resources. You’ll be safe – unless you’re ‘investigated’.

I THINK any requirements coming from the FOSTA bill are only appropriate in the US, since it is American law. But the global nature of the internet (in Western countries, anyway) means some of this stuff will rub off on us. I’ve heard that though the US Senate has approved the bill, it may be unconstitutional, in which case it’s likely to be bogged down in the courts. But even so, the damage will have been done. I don’t see the corporations removing their new requirements.

So much of this stuff is subjective. What one person calls a good sex scene is somebody else’s porn. That word “offensive” is so politically correct these days. I find gratuitous, graphic violence offensive, but that never seems to be targeted in these purges. Is ‘bugger’ a swear word? Will my books be banned because some character said ‘fuck’?

And to what end? How is any of this going to help prevent sexual trafficking or paedophiles?

I don’t know. I really don’t. Giant corporations, at the behest of the Government, set up as the arbiter of morals, telling people what they can and can’t write, what they can and can’t read, what they can and can’t say. That’s another line the US Government has crossed, and I don’t like it one bit.

Since we entered the twenty-first century, we seem to be going backwards in so many ways.

Makes me glad I’m 67, not 17.

It’s Easter. For some, it’s a particularly important Christian festival, for others, it’s a four-day long weekend, or a celebration of Spring. Whatever it means to you, enjoy the holiday.

Censorship is stupid

Recently there has been some consternation amongst my writer friends. It seems that Barnes and Noble has decided to take what it perceives as the moral high ground and not only ban erotic novels that do not meet its ‘decency’ standards, it deletes the accounts of offending authors. See article in Publisher’s Weekly. To quote, ‘The content policy in question states that titles subject to removal include “works portraying or encouraging incest, rape, bestiality, necrophilia, paedophilia or content that encourages hate or violence.”‘

This is not the first time something like this has happened. A couple of years ago Kobo had a similar purge, tightening-up its content. It’s interesting that these often-draconian measures are applied to writers of (erotic) romance, but any small author who has written romance novels might well be caught up in the ritualistic cleansing. One author I know who normally writes science fiction romance had her perfectly innocent non-romantic Young Adult novel pulled because it had the word ‘sister’ in the book’s description. That happens when you use software, not people, to make judgement. I’ve also heard in the current debacle that author accounts are being cancelled because a book that had been published in the past, but was no longer available, was deemed retrospectively unsuitable. And if an author had one offending title out of (say) ten novels, that was too bad. Author cancelled. The article in Publisher’s Weekly was updated to suggest management has had a second think on the issue, and has agreed to reinstate some of the closed accounts. I should hope so.

Popular book distributor Draft to Digital has informed authors that:

Going forward, Draft2Digital is no longer able to accept or distribute books that feature the following subjects:

  • Rape
  • Incest (included step brother/step sister, or any familial relationship)
  • Paedophilia and underage sex
  • Bestiality
  • Pornography
  • Content that promotes hate towards a religion, race or ethnicity, or sexual orientation
  • Any content that our distributors deem objectionable or in violation of their content restrictions

Please take note especially of the last line. It means they can refuse to accept anything they like. At the end of the day these retailers are censoring what they will sell, and I suppose that is their right. Personally, although I find all of those topics (except the last one, which says nothing) distasteful, all of them happen in our world. Adults should be able to read what they please. I suppose people who write those books will have to market their work at select vendors.To a large extent writers of erotica are already in that situation.

Let’s look at that quote again. “works portraying or encouraging incest, rape, bestiality, necrophilia, paedophilia or content that encourages hate or violence.” Instead of pointing a finger at the bible, maybe I’ll just mention that B&N should be pulling Game of Thrones off all their shelves, and cancelling Mr Martin’s account. Except that won’t happen because Mr Martin’s novels sell rather too well. Oh, and didn’t Ruth Rendell write a murder mystery about an incestuous couple? (Yes, she did) That’s probably a bit mainstream, too. Will they have to remove Nabokov’s Lolita from the shelves (again)?

Nazis burning books

By Unknown – United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1253020

What particularly bothers me about this growing trend to regulate what we the public gets to see is that it’s part of a greater wave of control. Back in the 1930s the Nazis carried out their own form of censorship by burning books. “The books targeted for burning were those viewed as being subversive or as representing ideologies opposed to Nazism.” The behaviour by book retailers comes very close to the same sort of mind set.

Which segues neatly into another form of censorship, the recent spate of destruction of historic statues. It hasn’t just happened in the Southern US states. Demands have been made by ‘offended’ black students to have the statue of Cecil Rhodes removed from Oxford. There’s been some talk about removing Admiral Lord Nelson from his column because he participated in the slave trade, and a few years ago I wrote an article about a move to have Jan Pieterszoon Coen’s statue removed from Hoorn. (He was known as the Butcher of Banda, a tyrannical governor of the city of Batavia -now Jakarta – in the 1620s.) And now in Australia we have statues of Captain Cook being defaced.

It’s idiotic, an attempt to white-wash history. It’s like the Catholic Christians destroying Mayan and Incan buildings and artefacts. It’s like the Taliban destroying the statues of the Buddha, or ISIL destroying the monuments in Syria and Iraq. We’re still ruing the destruction of the Library of Alexandria. What priceless knowledge have we lost from all those actions? You can bet the Taliban and ISIL won’t be saying sorry any time soon.

The latest assault is the resurrection of the move to rename Australia Day, which is commemorated on 26 January, the date when the NSW colony was founded by Arthur Phillip and the First Fleet. Some aboriginal leaders and left-wing sympathisers want to rename it to Invasion Day. Maybe Australia Day should actually be 1 January, because it was on 1 January 1901 that Australia became a nation, and not just a number of separate states. But it’s a bit busy at that time of the year.

I hasten to add that I’m glad to see that aboriginal history is taught in schools these days. When I was a child very little was said about the original inhabitants of this continent and their struggles. But let’s not white-wash them, too, seeing them as innocent nomads, living in harmony with their world. Massacres happened on both sides, and the aboriginal tribes fought each other. Most aborigines these days live in the cities, just like we whites. And most of them are of mixed race.

Maybe it’s time we Westerners stopped apologising, recognise that mistakes, sometimes egregious mistakes, happened in the past, and move on. We can’t change the past, but we can learn from it. Provided it’s still there to learn from.

 

About that Clean Reader app…

canstockphoto6077467Of course I’ve got an opinion about the censorship app. But today is my turn on Spacefreighters’ Lounge, so you’ll be able to see me up on the soapbox over there. https://spacefreighters.blogspot.com.au/2015/03/if-that.html

Come on over and say g’day.

 

 

The vexed question of censorship

Book-burning Berlin 1933

Book-burning Berlin 1933

Censorship The very word conjures up visions of Big Brother, of somebody leaning over your shoulder, ready to snatch the latest book or movie or song or whatever out of your hands. The mind turns to dictatorships or communism or any other form of totalitarian state and I, for one, shudder.

That interpretation is far too shallow, though. Forms of censorship have been around forever in all societies. When I was about to attend university (a few years ago, yes, but well within living memory) the Kama Sutra was banned, as was D.H. Lawrence’s “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” and “Portnoy’s Complaint”. To mention just three rather innocuous titles. Perth in those times and later was noted for the prudishness of the city fathers. You couldn’t get a drink on a Sunday less than thirty kilometres from town. The women in a Zulu group from South Africa performing their native dances were required to wear brassieres on stage; a performer – I can’t remember if it was Billy Connolly, Kevin Bloody Wilson or Rodney Rude – was arrested, or banned for using the F word on stage. Maybe all three – use of the F word is a trade mark for all of them. Rodney Rude was actually charged with obscenity.

They’re all forms of censorship, somebody else telling us what we can and cannot see or hear. So often the arbiter is the church, or an appointee of Government. The very notion raises my hackles. What right does anybody else have to determine what I, as an adult, can and cannot see? What makes them better, purer, less likely to be stained than me? I will decide for myself if I wish to see gratuitous sex or violence or horror or hear a comedian say a swear word or watch dancers perform nude.

That’s the self-righteous bit over with. It’s never so simple though, is it? Now we get into the murkier waters of when is it censorship and when is it not? I don’t object in any way to the grading system for movies and other material (R, M, MA PGR etc). That’s to advise and inform. I do have to wonder why sex between consenting adults is seen as so much more prurient than graphic violence, but that’s another story. I’m a supporter of freedom of speech – within reason (is reason not a form of censorship)? I don’t have the right to denigrate another person or their belief systems in public and that’s fine by me. People are also not allowed to say the Holocaust didn’t happen. Personally, I think there is plenty of hard evidence to prove it did; I put Holocaust nay-sayers in the same box as the idiots who say we didn’t land on the Moon – yet one group is permitted to spruik its stuff while the other is not.

Recently we had a case where Kobo withdrew ALL the indie titles sourced from Draft 2 Digital, a knee-jerk reaction to erotic material being made available for children. It was Dinosaur erotica, you see, and everyone knows kids love dinosaurs. (rolls eyes) Plenty of people remarked on the hypocrisy of the table thumpers, pointing out that Fifty Shades of Grey was not withdrawn. It seemed erotica from large publishers was acceptable.

One of the most interesting cases of censorship I’ve seen is the battle a couple of years ago over a book available on Amazon which was a sort of ‘how to’ manual for paedophiles. Some of you may remember it. Under the weight of outraged public opinion, Amazon was forced to withdraw the book. I was one of those who was horrified that such a book could be bought. Pull it off the virtual shelves! It’s wrong! Paedophilia is disgusting – and I don’t say that lightly, believe me.

Then I noticed a discussion on a writer’s group I belong to. One woman decried the writer of the book and Amazon for allowing people to buy it, very much a mother defending her children (and others) from monstrous acts. Another person, a man, presented a different argument. Note that the discussion was conducted strenuously but amicably and the two people actually knew each other. I lurked, reading both sides of the discussion with interest. The man pointed out that there are books available on how to build a bomb, mix poisons, carry out terrorist attacks and that such books can be purchased by people like writers for no other purpose than research. Yes, paedophilia is disgusting and depraved and such people should not be encouraged, he said. But is there not some value in knowing what techniques these people use to lure their prey? Moreover (said the correspondent) where does it end? This censorship? If the weight of public opinion rails against the koran or the bible, should these be withdrawn?

At the end I was convinced the male person in this discussion was right. “Censorship” is another word for removal of freedoms. Apple at this time has its own form of silent censorship because you cannot buy items it deems as unsuitable (such as erotica) from its online store. You might say it has the right to limit what it has available to the public – but can you then say Amazon does not have the right to sell what it wants?

Judgement is based on knowledge. Censorship ultimately leads to ignorance. I’ll end with Voltaire.

I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.”