Prohibition wars against banned books, pornography, and the Internet can be won | Jobs Recent

June 27, 2011, was a red-letter day for a generation of video game fans. After years of controversy, the US Supreme Court struck down a California law banning the sale of “adult” games rated to children — declaring that one of the youngest art forms of the new millennium deserves the full protection of the First Amendment. This decision, made ten years ago, felt like one step in the march towards unprecedented opportunities for artists.

In the 1990s and early 2000s, the Supreme Court struck down speech violations on the nascent web, including key sections of the Communications Decency Act that restricted sexual content online. Politicians and courts were less willing to call music, movies, and games off limits. Online publishing has eroded the power of soft gatekeepers like Walmart and theater chains, which could curb the sale of unrated music and movies, and crowdfunding has given way to niche media in the world.

But the way forward these days looks very dangerous. Revolutionary web platforms have created their own rules and incentives, shaping what people see online. Broad activism is trying to get books off schools, libraries, and sometimes commercial bookshelves. A series of new laws could make that even easier. And America’s highest courts have proven willing to put even long-settled principles up for grabs.

In 2021, the American Library Association reported 729 complaints about attempts to remove books from libraries, the highest number in 20 years of record keeping. The efforts focused on books about gender identity, sexuality, and race or racism, and while many of them played against the backdrop of local politics, they were fueled by a national political campaign. And they’re not slowing down: Deborah Caldwell-Stone, director of the ALA’s Office of Intellectual Freedom, says 2022 surpassed last year’s figure in November.

Local battles have been paired with state-level laws designed to shut down libraries and classrooms. Florida has passed the Stop WOKE Act, one of many recent efforts to keep so-called expulsions out of schools, with language that some university professors fear will prohibit teaching about racism and genocide. Missouri Senate Bill 775 makes it a felony to display multiple sexually explicit images on private or public school property.

“This campaign to examine books about gender, sexuality, race, racism — we’ve never seen such a concerted effort,” said Caldwell-Stone. “I think we can go back to the McCarthy-era attacks on things that are believed to convey a message about socialism or communism. But it’s almost the same.”

The consequences are far greater than a few books off the school shelves. Public libraries are not just visited by children, and in addition to lending books and movies, they are a web site for many people. “The whole idea of ​​public libraries is to empower people to learn for themselves what they believe,” Caldwell-Stone said. And when librarians have pushed back the boundaries, they have faced harassment or serious criminal complaints. In some cases, that results in communities at least losing their libraries altogether. State laws like Missouri’s threaten to up the ante dramatically.

Some courts have rejected legal attacks on speech. A judge has blocked the Stop WOKE law in an opinion that has been compared to George Orwell. 1984. A Virginia court rejected an attempt to stop Barnes & Noble from selling two books under the state’s vague obscenity law, though after allowing the case to move forward. Texas courts were not impressed when a local official prosecuted Netflix for allowing viewers to stream Cutiesupcoming French film.

But there is cause for concern. A Texas appeals court upheld an Internet modeling law with dramatic effects on speech, and the Supreme Court blocked it by a narrow five-to-four majority. At least two judges have called for the defamation standard to be revised, making it much easier for public figures to sue over negative media reporting. Earlier this year, the Supreme Court overturned decades of legal precedent. Roe v. Wadesomething that may reflect poorly on all kinds of legal doctrines that are supposedly settled.

These efforts to block the books are concentrated among Republican activists and lawmakers. But Democrats have passed a ban on false information and child safety bills that threaten anonymity that could hold sway for years to come. Both parties supported the Children’s Online Safety Act, which is intended to protect children from viewing harmful content — but could also lock them out of sex education or LGBTQ services. Governments around the world are cracking down on “fake news” that threatens press freedom, and some are calling for laws that would allow them to pressure websites to take down even legitimate content.

“I think it’s inevitable that we’re going to see more legal attacks on the legal foundations of free speech online from both Democrats and Republicans in the US and political parties in other countries,” said Evan Greer, director of the digital human rights organization Fight for the Future. . “It’s been going up a little bit, and I’d argue it’s probably going up a lot, over the last few years.”

Many of these efforts have been fueled by the rise of social media, which has given ordinary people a megaphone that puts free speech laws under great pressure. Even as that happens, however, the web itself has undergone a transformation. Users are focused on a few private social networks that play a big role in what people can say – and how they say it.

Social networks can (and to avoid being overwhelmed by spam and abuse, they should) block speech that does not violate the law. But even if this is not formal research, it shapes culture in meaningful and sometimes strange ways. TikTok, which has just exploded as the social giants of the ’10s stood still, is defining how a new generation of creators speak – leading to an ambiguous speech called algospeak to avoid its perceived ban on words from “kill” to “lesbian.” .”

Some algospeak is tongue-in-cheek, but that doesn’t make it any less. “The rules that these big platforms put in place affect what is seen and heard, but they also affect what people see as OK,” Greer said. And increasingly, that means laws against displaying or discussing sexuality and human bodies, a taboo that artists have fought to end. Most major social networks have a ban on pornography, and often define that category loosely, sometimes including any nudity outside of certain exceptions. “People have grown up on the internet where if you see breasts you’re like, Wow, I ended up in the wrong place.”

Even when the platforms search liberal policy, they face discrimination from payment processors and mobile app stores, playing more of the kind of gatekeepers they once had. The head of Tumblr Matt Mullenweg put this situation clearly earlier this year, explaining why Tumblr was not removing its “pornography ban” – a set of rules that clean queer and body blogs, among other things, from the site in 2018. “No modern internet in 2022 will have the rules that Tumblr did in 2007,” laments Mllenweg. “You’ll have to be web-only on iOS and sideload on Android, pay in crypto, have a way to convert crypto to fiat to work without being blocked, do a lot of work over the years and verify your identity and keep up with it. You don’t go to jail, protect all those credentials so you don’t put your users, and make a ton of money.”

But if there’s hope for a more open future, it’s that the rhetoric rarely changes so quickly. The global launch of TikTok was less than five years ago. The recent increase in banning of library books is even more recent. Twitter, which has played a major role in shaping political discourse over the past decade, is facing a restructuring that has led many users to smaller independent platforms like Mastodon. These platforms face their own moderation challenges, but offer the next decade an alternative to the centralized control of the past decade. “I don’t know that anyone can predict what will happen next,” Greer said.

And Caldwell-Stone believes that when people understand the basics of rhetorical warfare, they get involved — and often aren’t on the side of the explorers. “I think that’s where the change should come. It is to encourage everyone to see that what is happening in society is important. That the election of the library board is also important. Voting for the county commissioner who appoints your library board and school board is in part about knowing what their agenda is and what they support. Another thing they should be supporting is the ability of everyone to choose for themselves,” he said. “It is not the government’s job to tell people what to think.”

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