Tag Archives: censorship

Who Watches the (Internet) Watchmen?

Self-appointed internet censors mess with Wikipedia.

Everyone loves a bit of self-regulation. But what happens when world-views collide?

Today it has emerged that a ruling by Internet Watch Foundation — a charity-status QUANGO established to help self-regulate internet content in the UK — has led a number of UK ISPs to block access to a (community-regulated) Wikipedia page for heavy metal band Scorpions.

Why? Because the entry includes an image of an album cover which features a naked child. Internet providers began to block access to the page after the IWF warned them the picture may be illegal under UK law. An IWF spokeswoman said a reader had brought the image to the foundation’s attention last week and it had contacted the police before adding the page to their content blacklist.

The album cover itself is a pretty nasty piece of 70s schlock art but it is widely viewable elsewhere on the Internet.

Censorship is a big issue for the Wikipedia community, and policy is hotly debated. In July 2008, Wikipedia community editors then made a joint decision not to remove the Scorpions cover art from the site. According to the discussion page from that time, “Prior discussion has determined by broad consensus that the Virgin Killer cover will not be removed.” Indeed, the current Wikipedia page for Scorpions explains that in the United States (where the websites of the Wikimedia Foundation are hosted), the image is not considered obscene under the criteria of the Miller test, which requires that an obscene work lack “serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value” (as album art is used to “brand” the album, it is considered to be artistic).

On the other side of the fence, the IWF is a UK-based charity, funded by ISPs and others, and endorsed by the UK Government. It was established in the mid-90s to self-regulate around the issue of USENET porn. Since then the IWF’s remit has expanded to include identification of racist and criminally obscene content, although its focus still seems to be on images of the abuse of children. Unlike Wikipedia, their process and website offers for no community discussion. There is apparantly no way to object to or appeal against their classification.

To us, the message of this story is plain. The kinds of ground-up regulation and consensual decision-making we value on-line only exist — if they exist at all — at the discretion of the State and its possibly-well-meaning but generally opaque proxies. If you want a voice, get out and shout. Yes, you.

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Censorship Alive and Kicking in the UK

A Nan Goldin photograph has been seized by UK police on suspicion that it may have breached child pornography laws

The Daily Telegraph reports:

The shot, from the artist’s Thanksgiving series, was to be exhibited at the Baltic Modern Art gallery, Tyneside, this week along with some of her other work in a collection owned by Elton John (there’s the mainstream hook). But the day before it was due to be viewed by the public, police came and removed the image over fears that it might be breaking the law. It is thought that one of the assistant directors at the centre called in the authorities last Thursday after a private view as he was concerned that the picture could be offensive. The picture is now being examined by lawyers at the Crown Prosecution Service.

A Northumbria police spokesman said yesterday: “The circumstances around who may have been involved in the production of the image and who may have owned it or owns it forms part of the investigation.”

According to the obviously really well researched article, “Goldin, 54, is well known for her shots of young, semi-clothed girls.” Strange — the Nan Goldin we know and love is famed for her images of people on the edges of society, drug addicts and AIDS patients. The work concerned is also readily viewable on this art auction site as well as on various blogs (where it has been well before this particular storm).

UPDATE: The case has been dropped, but not before causing the gallery to close the show after only nine days. It was due to run until January 2008 …

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Switch Off the Internet

In order to prevent users accessing porn, a Michigan library has done just that.

The Mt. Clements Public Library switched off its internet access this Monday, because people were using the computers to look at pornography. Library Director Donald Worrell said, “Where the terminals are located it’s quite possible that children and young families can see this. It’s totally inappropriate.” The library claims that it isn’t practical to just move the terminals (to a top shelf?) and that instead it is working with its attorneys to find a way to bring the public library back online.

Source: WXYZ via Techdirt.

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Subverting Search

Pro-censorship site removes its search engine after discovering it was promoting violent shows.

We love a bit of search subversion. In this latest story of When Search Goes Bad, the Parents Television Council (PTC) has removed its search function after discovering that it had been used to promote the very same TV shows that the PTC regularly condemn.

The search function at parentstv.org was showing up sponsored links to shows along with the site’s archived content criticising televised sex, violence and profanity during prime time. According to Broadcasting & Cable,

So a search for, say, Without a Trace — a CBS show that has been hit with a proposed multimillion-dollar FCC fine, thanks to PTC member complaints — would yield a list of critical articles topped by a prominent link pitching downloads of Trace episodes so you ‘don’t miss your favorite primetime TV shows on the CBS Network.’

Likewise, a search for FX’s Rescue Me would get you the headline “PTC Outraged Over Graphic Rape Scenes on FX’s Rescue Me” — and a helpful link advertising: “Low Prices on Rescue Me. Qualified Orders Over $25 Ship Free.”

Last week, however, the search feature disappeared. Because “the ads frequently listed things that were contradictory to our mission,” explains PTC spokeswoman Kelly Oliver, the “free search service” was removed from the site Nov. 6.

Story via Gawker.

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EU Moves to Censor Online Video

Media and tech companies have come out fighting against EU proposals to bring the Net under existing broadcasting rules.

BusinessWeek reports that an alliance of British companies — including ITV, BT, Vodafone and the UK subsidiaries of Yahoo! — have said that a European Commission proposal to impose rules for traditional broadcasters on new media providers could have ‘unintended consequences’ and hurt investment (not to mention hurt their own potential business growth). The EU wants to make IPTV and TV-like services follow the same set of rules as existing broadcast programming. Currently the rules include limits on hate speech, advertising and the kind of content that can be broadcast to children.

All we can say is: good luck.

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Google and Freedom

Google began the week an online hero after refusing the US government access to its data. And then it launched a self-censored service in China …

Brandrepublic US reports that Google is now facing legal action from the US Department of Justice. George Bush’s administration claims that it needs the information in order to defend an internet child pornography law that is unrelated to Google and that has been struck down by the Supreme Court. Google has refused this request on a number of grounds including that the request was vague and unduly burdensome, and that it would reveal trade secrets. Not to mention representing a massive infringement of civil liberties. Nicole Wong, a lawyer for Google, said:

Google is not party to this lawsuit and their demand for information overreaches. We had lengthy discussions with them to try to resolve this, but were not able to and we intend to resist their motion vigorously.

And then the story gets rather more murky. The Financial Times points out that Google does not actually cite privacy as the primary reason for refusing to comply. Instead, the company’s main objection is to the government’s attempt to use its ‘highly proprietary’ search database to access and use to defend its position in court. Fair enough – Google has a right to protect its brand. But maybe in today’s United States the ‘personal privacy’ card just isn’t worth playing.

A mere few days after this story broke, Google announced that it would backtrack on its previous position and self-censor its service in China. Looks like freedom of expression and information just isn’t part of Google’s empire-building agenda. A BoingBoinger has undertaken a little test:

Phillip sez:

To make for more transparency in the discussion on Google’s censorship in China, I’ve collected a selection of search results which differ in Google.cn and Google.com. For example, for the keyword “Tibet” over 33 million pages seem to be missing on Google.cn.

So much for the company’s much vaunted ‘don’t be evil’ code.

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Get out of MySpace

MySpace bloggers riled by News Corp ‘censorship’.

The Independent on Sunday reported this weekend that News Corp has apparently come over all Big Brother at newly acquired community site MySpace. Users have complained that references to rival video swapping site YouTube were mysteriously deleted and downloads from the site led to blank screens.

By removing access to YouTube, execs at MySpace are definitely missing a trick. MySpace has built up a key reputation in the music industry as a place to communicate with other musicians and share music. YouTube is already the fastest-growing video site online, according to Nielsen//NetRatings. Its monthly visitors more than doubled from October to November, reaching 1.1 million in November. The site only began operating in February 2005.

In a typical clash of old media vs new, users have responded to this the only way they know how: by complaining loudly. One wrote,

This is sooo like Fox and News Corp to try and secretly seal our mouths with duct tape.

Following some 600 complaints and threats to switch allegiance to rival sites such as Friendster, News Corp restored the links. However, MySpace managers still shut down the blog forum on which the members had been complaining. That’ll do it.

UPDATE: shortly after this story broke, News Corp announced plans to introduce video downloads as one of many new services on MySpace designed to nuke the competition. Because that’s what media moguls do.

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