Cuties, the stupid non-controversy against Netflix that simply will not go away. The film, which won awards at international film festivals, centers on a pre-teen and is a coming of age story about a young lady growing up in both a strictly conservative upbringing combined with living in the hyper-sexualized Western culture. While the whole story is about this juxtaposition, Netflix rather stupidly promoted the film using images that focused on the latter. The result was chaos, with large swaths of Puritan-Twitter screaming about boycotting Netflix entirely and one pandering prosecutor in Texas bringing an indictment against Netflix for promotion of lewd visual material depicting a child.
With everyone very quickly lighting themselves on fire over an award winning film, Netflix sat back and calmly explained what the film was about and why it had… just kidding, Netflix is now out here issuing DMCA takedowns for those tweeting critiques of its decision to distribute the film.
Netflix’s takedown requests, which are still rolling in today, seem only to have targeted tweets that described the film negatively, although some more than others.
“IMAGINE A CHILD SEEING THIS #Cuties #Netflix #CancelNetflixCuties,” one message read. “WARNING CONTAINS EXPLICIT CONTENT,” another similar message said. “Go ahead and try to justify how this film is an appropriate representation of 11 year olds. I’ll wait. #CancelNetfilx.”
Some of the dozens of tweets Netflix issued DMCA claims against used clips from the actual movie, TorrentFreak reports, in which case Netflix’s claims are understandable. However, many of the tweets in question shared the film’s trailer, which is widely and publicly available on YouTube for anyone to view or share.
DMCA takedowns of trailers, as we’ve explained before, never make sense. Ever. Ever ever. What Netflix is doing instead is lay bare its intentions behind these takedown notices, which are obviously centered on attempting to censor critical commentary around its decisions surrounding the film. This becomes especially apparent when put in the context for how and for what Netflix has, in the past, bothered issuing DMCA takedowns.
TorrentFreak notes that the cluster of claims is unusual for Netflix, which has sent roughly 300 DMCA claims to Twitter in the past month, half of which centered on tweets related to Cuties. Before Netflix started targeting Cuties tweets, most of the claims it sent were related to accounts known for distributing pirated content.
And so the Streisand Effect kicks in. By trying to bury criticism, the public becomes all the more aware of that criticism. By trying to censor a controversy that was probably juuuuuuust about to go away, instead it gets recycled back into the news cycle.
Netflix, tech company as it is, should absolutely know better. Reliant on the First Amendment as it is, it should absolutely not be taking actions like this that tamp down speech. And given that Netflix is not entirely without blame for the controversy in the first place, it sure would be nice if the company demonstrated skin thick enough to take a little heat now and again.
Earlier this week I wrote about the open letter that was published in Harper’s, signed by around 150 very prominent writers/thinkers. My response to it was to heavily criticize both the premise and the specifics in the letter, and to argue that it sought to do the very thing it claimed to be against. That is, it presented itself as support for free speech and counterspeech, and against attempts to shut down speech — and yet, almost all of the (deliberately vague) examples they pointed to were not examples of shutting down speech, but rather examples of facing consequences from speech and counterspeech itself. The open letter could — and in many cases was — read to basically say “we should be able to speak without professional consequences.”
Some people liked my response, and some people hated it. The debate has raged on, and that’s cool. That’s what we should be supporting, right? More debate and speech.
Many people are referring to the letter as being about “cancel culture,” even though the letter itself never uses the phrase. But everyone recognizes that the concept is what’s at the core of the letter: the idea that someone will say something that “the mob” considers beyond the pale, and suddenly they’re “cancelled.” We’ll get to how realistic that actually is shortly.
But part of the problem with the letter was that it was written in terms that could be used to both condemn overreaction by “mob” voices on Twitter and be used by certain people to say “stop criticizing my bad ideas so vociferously.” It provides nothing of consequence to anyone trying to distinguish between the two, and thus when some assumed it was for the purposes of the latter, rather than the former, that should impeach the drafting of the letter itself, rather than its critics. Still, that makes the letter at best useless and at worst, capable of being used not in support of free speech, but as a tool to condemn counterspeech and consequences.
Some well meaning critics challenged my criticism of the post on a few grounds that are at least worth considering. First, was the argument that my post imputes motives to the signatories that were unfair. And I’ll grant that criticism. Indeed, quite often lately, I’ve found that when people leap to assume the motives of others, that’s often when debates and discussions go off the rails. I’m just as guilty of that as anyone else, and I should try to be better about that. But there’s a flipside to that argument as well, which is that there are people out there who purposely engage in bad faith arguments, and go ballistic when you call them on that, insisting that you can’t impute such bad faith into their argument based solely on the words that they spoke (though, often by ignoring nearly all of the contextual relevancy that makes their bad faith evident).
In other words, there certainly are mixed motives among the signatories, and I’d argue that some signed on in good faith in the belief that the world really is being pushed by illiberal forces that are shutting down realms of speech, but also those who just seem to be upset that people are calling out their bad ideas and they’re suffering the consequences for it. I focused on the latter, when a more charitable read perhaps should have focused on — or at least acknowledged — the former.
And as someone who has spent decades fighting for the importance of free expression, at times at great cost to myself, I have quite a lot of sympathy for what a “good faith” reading of the letter appears to want to say. But I think the letter fails to make its case on multiple grounds, even removing the question of the motives of the signatories.
First, there’s the question of how widespread “cancel culture” truly is. I would argue that it exists, but is vastly overstated — and I’m saying this as someone who has had friends expelled from their jobs unfairly in my view following online mobs ganging up on them. I do believe that, as with any speech, it is possible to use it to galvanize actions I disagree with. But, as I said in my original writeup the details matter. Many of the claims of “cancel culture” remind me of the claims of “anti-conservative bias on social media.” Lots of people insist it’s true, but when you ask for examples, you get back a lot of platitudes about “look around!” and “it’s obvious” and “you’re blind if you can’t see it!” but rarely many actual examples. And, in the few cases where examples are given, they frequently fall apart under scrutiny.
This is true of many — though not all — of the examples of “cancel culture.” Last fall, Cody Johnston did an amusing video arguing that cancel culture isn’t a thing. I’d argue it is exaggerated, and a few points it makes are also misleading, but on the whole he’s got a point. Many of the examples of “cancel culture” are really just the powerful and the privileged receiving some modicum of pushback for horrific actions or statements, that maybe pushed them down a rung from the very top of the ladder, but still left them in pretty privileged positions compared to just about everyone else:
Are there more relevant examples? Perhaps. A lot of people pointed to Yascha Mounk’s recent article in the Atlantic entitled Stop Firing the Innocent, and I mostly agree with that article. There are a few examples out there of people being unfairly fired in response to online mobs misinterpreting or overreacting to things. The story of David Shor in that article is certainly one that many people pointed out, and it does highlight what seems like an overreaction (Shor appears to have been fired for merely tweeting a link to a study about historical voting patterns in response to violent v. non-violent protests, and some, somewhat ridiculously, interpreted the conclusions of that study to somehow be a condemnation of some of the current protests). Another set of well known examples comes from John Ronson’s book from half a decade ago, “So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed,” which highlights a few cases of arguably unfair overreactions to minor offenses.
But, here’s the thing: after lots of people (including Mounk) called out what happened to Shor (more speech), many people now agree that his firing was wrong. And so, the cycle continues. Speech, counterspeech, more counterspeech, etc. Sometimes, in the midst of all that speech, bad things happen — such as the firing of Shor. But is that an example of cancel culture run amok, or one bad result out of millions? It is very much like our debates on content moderation. Mistakes are sometimes made. It is impossible to get it right every time. But a few “bad” examples here and there are not evidence of a widespread trend.
Also, I’m still hard pressed to see how the level here is any worse than it was a few decades ago. There may be different issues over which public shaming may occur, but it wasn’t that long ago that people would be ostracized for suggesting it’s okay to fall in love with someone of the same gender or someone of another race. On the whole, I’d argue that we’ve made a lot of progress in opening up avenues of discussion — and while we should be concerned about the cases that go wrong, the evidence that there’s some big change beyond what has happened in the past are lacking. Indeed, I feel like I remember this nearly identical debate from when I was a kid and the fight was over “too much political correctness,” which is a form of the same thing.
I think it’s natural for some folks to always feel that they are being treated unfairly for their beliefs, and that people overreact. It’s not a new phenomenon. It’s not driven by the internet or some other new idea. Indeed, as philosopher Agnes Callard tweeted, you can go back to John Stuart Mill’s “On Liberty” to find him discussing “cancel culture” as well:
And, again, the details matter, and in many cases the different degrees of criticism and “cancellation” make a huge difference in whether or not the situation was just or not. The circumstances behind each of the stories matter not just in what happened but to whom and why — and this is why the questions were raised about the signatories and their motives. In some cases it certainly seemed that at least some of them are upset that they are facing more criticism or that they may be excluded from certain privileged platforms. But not being able to publish a nonsense opinion in the NY Times op-ed section is not being cancelled or silenced. It’s one thing to have a non-public figure thrust into the limelight and effectively have their career destroyed. I can see how that’s a problem. That, however, is entirely different from a very public figure having a bunch of people tell them that their ideas are bad and hurting others.
And while some signatories of the letter insisted to me that they meant the letter to be about those non-public figures, the letter itself does not make that clear and, again, can be used to serve both purposes.
Indeed, a response letter that was crowdsourced and put together by an even bigger list of people (though perhaps without as many “recognizable” names) walks through each of the vague examples in the original Harper’s letter and looks at the likely details. And, with the exception of the one example of David Shor — which it describes correctly as “indefensible, and anomalous,” the other examples highlight the issue here: the details have been twisted to hide situations in which people were censured for actually making huge mistakes, not for just taking a contrarian view.
And, once again, that gets at the problem of how awful the letter is: its language can be used both to defend free speech and to paper over truly awful behavior, and while some of the signatories meant it to do the former, it certainly gives the appearance of being used by others to do the latter.
One other criticism I received, along the lines of it being unfair to pin motives of some of the signatories on all of them, was this is the nature of getting a bunch of people to sign onto an open letter. By definition, those things will get watered down as more signatories have opinions, and many people will sign on without necessarily reading through the details. That’s not a good excuse. Recognizing the intent of the letter and who you are joining with is part of understanding context. And, as if to prove what a silly criticism that is, take a look again at the crowdsourced letter above, also signed by a bunch of people, and worked on together as a group. It makes key points much more directly and is a much, much, much riskier letter in many ways.
The signatories call for a refusal of ?any false choice between justice and freedom.? It seems at best obtuse and inappropriate, and at worst actively racist, to mention the ongoing protests calling for policing reform and abolition and then proceed to argue that it is the signatories who are ?paying the price in greater risk aversion.? It?s particularly insulting that they?ve chosen now, a time marked by, as they describe, ?powerful protests for racial and social justice,? to detract from the public conversation about who gets to have a platform.
It is impossible to see how these signatories are contributing to ?the most vital causes of our time? during this moment of widespread reckoning with oppressive social systems. Their letter seeks to uphold a ?stifling atmosphere? and prioritizes signal-blasting their discomfort in the face of valid criticism. The intellectual freedom of cis white intellectuals has never been under threat en masse, especially when compared to how writers from marginalized groups have been treated for generations. In fact, they have never faced serious consequences ? only momentary discomfort.
I think that Jill Filipovic’s response to the letter may be most aligned with my thinking: that cancel culture is overstated, that some of the signatories of the letter were signing on because they’re upset that a wider public with a voice is criticizing them, but that there are at least a few cases of egregious overreaction to online mobbing, and sometimes that involves the loss of a job. Her argument makes some amount of sense — that you shouldn’t be fired for your bad opinions if your bad opinions have nothing to do with your job:
So yes, most of the ?cancel culture? complaints are overwrought. On the long list of things worth caring about, cancel culture is very low down. Criticism is not cancelation. Conflict is not censorship. On all of these issues, the right is far, far worse (how many voices opposing the party line are at Fox, or on right-wing websites, or speaking at conservative religious colleges?). Often, the right uses this narrative of the ?intolerant left? to cover for its own misdeeds and groupthink, and it?s an underhanded, bullshit tactic that too many progressives fall for.
It is also true that there have been instances ? many instances ? where people have been fired from their jobs (and not just in media) for holding opinions that have nothing to do with their ability to perform said job, and who are fired entirely because an employer doesn?t want the PR headache.
Of course, even that is not always so black and white. If your opinions create larger problems for a company — including costs that go beyond just giving PR a headache — does it really make sense to just say that the companies need to shoulder that burden? But I do think it’s fair to try to explore context more deeply. What is the context in which the statements are being made — and who is making them? Is it a situation that involves speaking truth to power? Or is it a situation that involves using a position of privilege to keep down the less fortunate?
That is to say, as with so much, it’s complicated.
And part of that complication is not just that different people have different motives and that mistakes are made, but that the level of “penalty” people receive differs quite a bit as well. If the original letter had legitimately focused exclusively on some of the more significant consequences, and could clearly demonstrate were out of bounds, it might have a good point. But it lumps “public shame and ostracism” in the same category as more significant retribution. And that was part of what made me think the original letter was so lame. Sure, some people were signing onto it to highlight those few egregious cases (though, again, it’s unclear that those situations are new or any different than in the past), but the letter lumped in a much wider variety of things.
Another part of the complication is that as times change, our understanding and sensitivities to certain ideas shift as well. In my original piece I argue it’s not evident from where I sit that the space in which ideas can be discussed is shrinking. There are so many things today that can be seen, discussed, and read that were impossible to get out there just a few decades ago, and that’s incredible. That said, it is true that there are certain things that used to be more commonplace that are now much more sensitive areas. But a big part of that is actually our recognition that things which used to be considered okay (e.g., casual bigotry) are no longer considered okay. And a huge reason those are no longer considered okay is that we’ve opened up this wider “marketplace of ideas” to more voices, often from folks who were previously unable to share their points of view, and their persuasive speech has convinced many that what used to be deemed okay is not and, in fact, never was.
Finally, I’d argue that while it’s possible that some people make innocent mistakes, and that we should try to take into account whether or not saying a truly dumb or hurtful thing was an uneducated mistake or outright maliciousness, we can and should be able to judge that by what happens next. That is, I agree with the letter writers that people shouldn’t lose their job over a single innocent tweet taken out of context. But it’s much, much harder to make that case for someone who doubles down, refuses to learn, refuses to investigate why their words are causing so much pain and hurt, and then attacks those who are trying to educate them on their truly awful stance.
So if I were to try to rewrite the letter to make the actual point that the authors seemed to want to make, I’d probably go with something like the following:
Free speech is a key foundational idea and value which we support. Along with that, though, we recognize that speech has consequences, and some of those consequences may include counterspeech that may lead to action. We recognize that persuasive speech that leads to action may be for things we agree with and also for things we disagree with. We are concerned about situations in which the actions and consequences of speech may unfairly and disproportionately punish people for innocent transgressions — and how that may create unnecessary chilling effects that run counter to the ideal of free speech. Yet at the same time we recognize that this is complicated, and situations may appear differently to different people.
The world is a complicated and ever changing space. Some of that change is for good and some is for bad. There are people with all kinds of motivations out there, and it is all too easy to leap to the worst conclusions about motivations. We should all strive to be cautious in assigning motive, and we should investigate why someone said what they said before leaping to conclusions or rushing to condemn them to the level at which they’d face reprisal — while also recognizing that there are those out there who will argue in bad faith. Distinguishing between the two is often difficult.
In many ways, the world is more free and open for debate today than in the past — new and previously unheard voices are being heard and promoted and celebrated for the first time and we should encourage that. This open debate and discussion has also resulted in a changing societal consensus on what is, and what is not, appropriate. Quite frequently this is also for good. We are becoming more sensitive to the harms that people have faced and are reckoning with all of those, thanks in part to the robust debate and discussion about these ideas.
At the same time, in our ongoing and righteous zeal to revisit areas that were previously overlooked and underexplored, there are times when people may go too far. There are times when the nuance and details and context are not initially clear, and some people — including ourselves — may overreact. That overreaction often leads to consequences which, when the full situation is explored and understood, seem unfair. We should seek to be aware that this may happen, and try to avoid it. Furthermore, we should recognize that as fallible as humans are, we will sometimes discover this too late, and should seek to rectify it when we do.
The details will always matter. We should not assume simplistic narratives all of the time, when often there are mixed motivations and complex factors and variables involved. There may be situations that appear similar on the surface, but upon deeper exploration turn out to be quite different. We should be willing to explore those details and to recognize that, sometimes, people we like will face consequences for their speech for an extended pattern of truly reprehensible behavior.
However, we should leave space open for people to learn and to grow. We should recognize that a single misdeed may be innocent and should treat it as such. We should see how people respond to such feedback. At the same time, we should also recognize that a pattern and practice of questionable and hurtful behavior may suggest a person who is deliberately, and in bad faith, seeking to game the system.
This starts with us. We, who have signed this letter, have not always lived up to these ideals either. Everyone will make mistakes sometimes, and we hope to learn from them as well. We are excited about the power of new voices to be heard and join the conversation, and realize this often challenges our strongly held beliefs. We hope that, in the spirit of learning from these new voices that criticism of other views will also take on a recognition that there is room to understand and to change — or, on the flipside — to build stronger arguments to the contrary.
I think that approach would have made the point much better. It would acknowledge that things are often more complicated than they appear on the surface, that there are different motivations behind actions, and that sometimes speech does lead to consequences that not everyone will agree with. But, most of all, that approach acknowledges that everyone makes these kinds of mistakes at some point. The original letter framed the issue as if the signatories were the righteous believers in free speech, against the “others” out there trying to shut them down — without any recognition that some of the signatories and the letter itself often seemed to be advocating for the silencing of others as well.
In the end: free speech is important, but like with so many things it’s more complicated the deeper you explore, because free speech itself has consequences, and we should strive to understand the impact of our speech, to learn, and to expand our own thinking over time as well.
If you’ve been on the internet for basically any length of time, you probably know about the Downfall parody videos, sometimes referred to as the “Hitler Finds Out” videos. These are videos that take a clip from a 2004 German movie about the final days of Hitler, and post over them English subtitles of Hitler getting angry over… just about anything. We wrote about it a decade ago, and while the Downfall parodies have become somewhat less common these days, it’s still a bit surprising that anyone might be offended by them.
But, alas, in a yet another (more real world) example of how content moderation is impossible to do well, a popular senior lecturer of accounting, Catherine West Lowry, at UMass Amherst was removed from her teaching role after a student complained that she showed a Downfall parody about accounting made by a former student to the class (found via Reason.com).
To make the class more fun, Lowry had long offered students extra credit for producing entertaining or “fun” videos about concepts in the accounting class, and someone back in 2009 (at the height of the Downfall parody popularity) made this one about accounting concepts and the class:
On November 12th, Lowry showed that video to the class after some students asked her to share a video:
?The point was to engage students in an otherwise dry and difficult subject material,? Lowry said. ?Accounting is really a foreign language for so many of these students.? The videos, she added, have proved ?very successful with bonding with students,? and instructors at other colleges across the country have used them in their own classes.
Lowry occasionally shows past videos in class as a way of introducing a concept to students, but she hadn?t planned to do so on November 12. Still, a few students asked her to show a video at the start of class, she said, and the Downfall clip was relevant to the day?s lesson. ?So I did it, and they clapped and loved it. And that was that,? Lowry said.
However, at least one students was offended. While none of the articles specifically describe what was seen as offensive about the video, it is implied heavily that someone took offense to the idea of showing Nazis/Hitler in class (not that the video or movie in any way glorify Nazism or Hitler). And rather than recognize that perhaps someone was overreacting, the Dean decided to yank Lowry out of class, which appears to have upset many of her students:
On November 14, Lowry sent an email to her students apologizing for the incident. ?I want to apologize to any student who was offended by the Hitler xcredit video on Tuesday. My intent was never to offend or upset anyone. I was unaware of what was going on on campus,? Lowry wrote, according to a copy of the email provided by a student. ?While I?ve received hundreds of wonderful, thoughtful, creative videos over the past 11 years, this issue, along with an earlier issue this semester, has caused the end of these extra-credit videos.
?I truly am sorry,? she continued, ?and I have never wanted to offend or hurt any of my students. Your success and happiness is most important to me.?
Massey, the dean, briefly spoke to the class the next time it met. She announced that another Isenberg professor would take over teaching for the rest of the semester, according to three students The Chronicle spoke with. Some students shouted, ?Bring back Cat,? a reference to Lowry?s first name. Eventually, several dozen students walked out in protest.
While some are arguing that this is another example of over-sensitive students, it’s not clear that’s the case at all (given that it appears many of the students were perfectly fine with this, and it was potentially the administration that overreacted). But, more to the point, it once again highlights the “impossibility” of content moderation, even in real life, rather than just on the internet. A key point that we’ve made about content moderation is that context matters, and everyone has different context, or may not be fully aware of the cultural context around any particular content.
That’s likely the case here. The offended student(s) perhaps were completely unaware of the Downfall parody meme, and simply reacted to a professors showing a film depiction of Hitler. Without the wider context — and adding in the other context of a rise in Neo Nazism — I can see how someone may have overreacted. The real issue, then, is that the administration failed to be the cooler heads that prevailed, and defaulted to removing the professor from teaching. Also, as the Reason piece notes, since UMass is a public school, there are 1st Amendment implications in punishing her over speech.
In the end, it really does seem that the University and, in particular, Dean Anne Massey, should have been able to come up with a much more reasonable approach here. Merely notifying Lowry that at least one student was offended, seems like it would have been more than enough to keep things in perspective. Indeed, Lowry has said as much:
?I was shocked when this came out.? Had a student expressed concern, she said, ?I would have been mortified. I would have addressed it. I?m not trying to make some statement here.?
But, rather than understand that and understand the context, the University and the Dean went to an extreme position instead.
A mother and her 9-year-old daughter were separated for 36 hours after the child fell into U.S. Customs and Border Protection custody because agents at the border didn’t believe she was who she claimed to be, a mother says.
This debacle started the way something like this usually does: with US citizens engaged in activity they engage in every day. In this case, mother Thelma Galaxia’s children were being driven from Tijuana to the border crossing in order to attend school in San Ysidro, California. This was the normal state of affairs for her 9-year-old daughter and 14-year-old son.
Traffic was heavy at the crossing so her friend told them to walk across the border to make sure they got to school on time. Both children were questioned by CBP officers. These officers decided 9-year-old Isabel Medina didn’t resemble her passport photo. They accused her of actually being her cousin, Melanie.
That wasn’t enough for the CBP. It also decided to terrorize her 14-year-old brother, Oscar, by accusing him of being a criminal.
Galaxia said officers made Oscar Medina sign a document that said his little sister was his cousin.
“That is not true,” Galaxia said. “She is my daughter. He was told that he would be taken to jail and they were going to charge him for human trafficking and sex trafficking.”
The intimidated 14-year-old signed the document, thus making the CBP officers technically correct in their assumptions. They now had a paper signed by a human trafficker family member stating that Isabel Medina was actually someone other than the person she actually was.
Galaxia’s children might have been detained longer if she hadn’t gone to the press. NBC7 reports the Mexican consulate contacted the station while Galaxia was being interviewed by journalists, saying the children were being released to her. Presumably, the station’s requests for comment from the involved government agencies got the wheels rolling on her daughter’s case. The CBP, meanwhile, has refused to comment on this detention, claiming it’s still in the middle of investigating this incident.
It seems like one of the CBP officers might have tried to contact the children’s parents to straighten this out. But I guess it’s a lot easier to intimidate children into false confessions when there are no other adults around standing up for their rights or contradicting the CBP’s assumptions.
Three students face felony charges of making a terroristic threat for posting online two brief videos where they act out a school shooting in someone’s house.
The Albany County Sheriff’s Office said the videos were made by Ravena-Coeymans-Selkirk students aged 10, 14 and 15 and posted to Instagram. They show a student with a fake gun barging into a living room and “shooting” two other students. In one video, students, who are all white, use a racial epithet.
Sheriff Craig Apple called the videos “very graphic, very racist and horrifying.”
Lots of movies, books, TV shows, and videogames contain “graphic and horrifying” content. Some even include “racist” dialogue, just as this video did. At no point did any of the participants mention a school, mention an intent to perform these acts at a school, or even tag other students/schools in the posting. It was simply a dramatization of events that happen far too often in this country.
The videos were noticed by a student of the school the three arrested students attended. No one’s faulting the school for handing over the videos to law enforcement, but the sheriff’s office should have recognized the students were engaging in protected speech, not issuing terroristic threats. A simple conversation about why the videos might be disturbing to others should have been the end of it. Instead, there are now three arrests and a bunch of civil rights lawyers pointing out exactly why these arrests should not have occurred.
Manhattan civil rights lawyer and television commentator Ron Kube said the videos don’t rise to the level of terroristic threat because there was no specific target or agenda. “This appears to be a wild overreaction driven by the legitimate concerns about school shootings,” Kube said Monday.
Civil rights lawyer Normal Siegel, former executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, also said there was no terroristic threat and that the videos appeared to be an attempt at acting.
“The arrests raise serious and substantial First Amendment concerns,” said Siegel. “Making a video is protected by the First Amendment.”
Content disturbing to others is present in a lot of content. Just because this dramatization happened to be produced by students and distributed by Instagram doesn’t somehow entitle it to less First Amendment protection than a motion picture released by a major studio. Just because the participants happened to be school students doesn’t mean their speech is less protected than someone with a multi-million dollar budget.
Sheriff Craig Apple’s speech — as moronic as it is — is also protected by the same First Amendment he won’t extend to these students.
“There’s been enough shootings going on around the country. This is despicable artistic expression, if that’s what it was.”
Sheriff Apple is free to hate the expressive speech. But he’s not free to arrest people for speech he doesn’t like. And all the “but what if a shooting actually happened?” excuses don’t make this any less of a compound civil rights violation.
We’ve already talked a couple of times about the intersection with the UK’s disastrous Counter-Terrorism and Security Act and its intersection with the country’s educational system. As part of its effort to weed out terrorists, the UK tasked teachers with keeping a watchful eye on their students to try to identify those that would be radicalizedin the future, a concept that sounds like something out of Airstrip One rather than England. Shortly thereafter it was discovered that a software package that teachers had been given to help with this was exploitable in the typically laughable ways. But the tech isn’t the only shortfall here. As one would expect when you take a group of people whose profession has in absolutely no way prepared them to act as counter-terrorism psychologists and ask them to be just that, it turns out that the human intelligence portion of this insane equation is off by several integers as well.
Remember a time when someone would harp on you for something you’d written on the internet with spelling or syntax errors? Remember what you called those people? I call them grammar police. It turns out that the UK actually has grammar police.
A simple spelling mistake has led to a 10-year-old Muslim boy being interviewed by British police over suspected links to terrorism. The boy, who lives in Accrington in Lancashire, wrote in his primary school English class that he lived in a “terrorist house”. He meant to write “terraced house”.
His teachers did not realise it was a spelling error and instead reported the boy to the police, in accordance with the 2015 Counter-Terrorism and Security Act, which states that teachers are obliged to alert the authorities to any suspected terrorist behaviour. As a result, the child was interviewed on 7 December by police and the authorities examined a laptop found at his family home.
So, a situation that could have been resolved in thirty seconds with a conversation between the young man and his teacher instead devolved into police activity, with authorities actually traveling to the boy’s terraced house to look at a laptop at what they thought might be a terrorist’s house. This would be funny if it weren’t so frustratingly sad. Keep in mind that this spelling mistake occurred in the child’s English class. So, in other words, the very teacher tasked with teaching the boy how to spell properly involved the police in that boy’s life because he wasn’t spelling properly. One imagines that, assuming this is allowed to continue, the country had better make sure it has only the best and the brightest teaching children how to spell the native language, or else the police can expect to be quite busy.
A cousin of the boy, who has not been named to protect his identity, said his relatives initially thought it was a joke, but that the boy had been traumatised by the experience.
“You can imagine it happening to a 30-year-old man, but not to a young child,” she told the BBC. “If the teacher had any concerns it should have been about his spelling. They shouldn’t be putting a child through this. He’s now scared of writing, using his imagination.”
Let freedom ring, I guess. The freedom from having to think in a common sense manner, at least, as teachers under this law are incentivized into this kind of over-reaction. Putting any class of citizen under this kind of microscope is abhorrent in and of itself, but to do this to children? I had hoped the West was better than this, but now I’m not so sure.
“See Something, Send Something” allows anyone to capture suspicious activity as a photo or written note and send the information to the New York State Intelligence Center. From there, the tip will be reviewed and if relevant, sent to the appropriate law enforcement agency. Public service announcements promoting the campaign will be played at DMV offices and service areas along state highways.
By using the app, which can be downloaded for free for iPhone and Android phone users, there is no worry about who to send the tip to or what phone number to call—users can simply send a photo of the suspicious activity using their device’s camera, by choosing a photo from its library, or sending a written note. It also includes information on what to look for and when to report suspicious activity. The service is already available in Colorado, Louisiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia.
The governor’s press release reminds New Yorkers that the app is for reporting of suspicious people/objects/actions only and very definitely not for criticizing the government’s terrorist hysteria or regaling local DHS Fusion Centers with an assortment of dick pics.
In order to keep the app focused on safety, users should report only suspicious behavior and situations (e.g., an unattended backpack or briefcase in a public place) rather than beliefs, thoughts, ideas, expressions, associations, or speech unrelated to terrorism or other criminal activity.
The governor’s office also links to recommended reading material to better inform would-be See-Senders about the warning signs of potential terrorist activity.
Terrorist cells have been known to record and monitor activities, taking pictures and making drawings.
ALSO: new parents, artists, people with excessive amounts of time on their hands, public sector employees, everyone who possesses a smartphone, etc.
A clarifying note inside the app that will probably be read by no one adds some cautionary wording not found on the NY DHS website.
Taking pictures or video of facilities, buildings, or infrastructure in a manner that would arouse suspicion in a reasonable person…All reporting on photography should be done within the totality of the circumstances.
But acting as an extra set of eyes for a city that has millions of them — some even located in human skulls — doesn’t just help fight the War on Terror. It also helps fight the War on… Fire.
Being observant supports homeland security and fire prevention efforts.
If nothing else, the app comes highly recommended by someone who watches a lot of cable news programming.
This App was on Cnn, Cnbc, Msnbc.. Due to IsIs we have to do all we can to protect ourselves
The app itself has been around since January 2013. Despite that, it’s apparently still only usable in six states. And there seems to be no information available on how many suspicious activity reports the app has generated, much less if it’s actually resulted in any attacks prevented.
What it is, though, is “something,” the favorite activity of politicians looking to capitalize on tragic events. My Mobile Witness is nothing more than “Do Something: the App.” It gives those who feel they need a direct line to local DHS offices something to do with their idle fingers/paranoia and gives the state’s top legislator something to say in the wake of the Paris attacks. Everybody wins… except maybe those who are accosted/arrested for whipping out their sketch pad within eyeshot of a public structure.
Yet, pushed by their sources in the government, the media quickly became a sound wall of noise suggesting that encryption was hampering the government’s ability to stop these kinds of attacks. NBC was particularly breathless this week over the idea that ISIS was now running a 24 hour help desk aimed at helping its less technically proficient members understand encryption (even cults help each other use technology, who knew?). All of the reports had one central, underlying drum beat implication: Edward Snowden and encryption have made us less safe, and if you disagree the blood is on your hands.
“…News emerging from Paris ? as well as evidence from a Belgian ISIS raid in January ? suggests that the ISIS terror networks involved were communicating in the clear, and that the data on their smartphones was not encrypted.
European media outlets are reporting that the location of a raid conducted on a suspected safe house Wednesday morning was extracted from a cellphone, apparently belonging to one of the attackers, found in the trash outside the Bataclan concert hall massacre. Le Monde reported that investigators were able to access the data on the phone, including a detailed map of the concert hall and an SMS messaging saying ?we?re off; we?re starting.? Police were also able to trace the phone?s movements.
The reports note that Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the “mastermind” of both the Paris attacks and a thwarted Belgium attack ten months ago, failed to use any encryption whatsoever (read: existing capabilities stopped the Belgium attacks and could have stopped the Paris attacks, but didn’t). That’s of course not to say batshit religious cults like ISIS don’t use encryption, and won’t do so going forward. Everybody uses encryption. But the point remains that to use a tragedy to vilify encryption, push for surveillance expansion, and pass backdoor laws that will make everybody less safe — is nearly as gruesome as the attacks themselves.
Several years ago, we wrote about a fan game that had been shut down by Hasbro because it incorporated My Little Pony intellectual property. Yes, an expression of fandom was bullied out of existence by Hasbro. The argument trotted out by those in support of the company was the same argument that’s always trotted out in these instances: the company had to shut the game down, or else risk losing its trademark protections through non-enforcement of its rights. That’s not actually true, of course. There were many smart business routes to go for Hasbro, including offering a low-cost license to the gamemakers to allow the project to continue. Hell, we’ve actually seen instances in which Hasbro has chosen to enable fans to do some things with MLP characters, such as these 3D printing capabilities. But Hasbro chose to be the bully. And how’d that turn out?
Well, the company essentially might as well have done nothing as far as the end results go. Yes, the fan game is back, albeit with a barely different name, fractionally altered game characters, and with the collective understanding by everyone looking at it that this was supposed to be My Little Pony in a fighting game but now isn’t because trademark. What was Fighting is Magic has become Them’s Fightin’ Herds and it’s every bit as insane as it sounds. Oh, and they actually got someone who has worked on MLP properties to boot.
Them’s Fightin’ Herds is a 2D PC (Windows) fighting game with adorable animals in an original universe designed by Lauren Faust (producer and developer for “My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic”; creator, director and developer for “Super Best Friends Forever”). It is the spiritual successor to “Fighting is Magic”, with improved gameplay mechanics and graphics, an entirely new (and awesome!) dynamic music system, a graphic lobby, and a whole bunch of new features.
So, let’s review. A group of My Little Pony fans created a fan fighting game using the Hasbro property. Hasbro, rather than spending ten seconds looking for an amicable route that would protect its interests while allowing this expression of fandom to continue, instead decided to sic the lawyers on its own fans. Those fans complied and took the game down…only to slightly rework it to avoid the legal issues and are now releasing the game pending its crowdfunding campaign, which has managed to generate over $100k of its $436k goal in one day, as of the time of this writing. The game is blatantly similar to the original MLP game, save for the changes made to avoid Hasbro’s interference. And it looks like the team has a good chance of cashing out in a major way.
So, the legal route got us all to a barely different place than we would have all been three years ago. How much time and money did Hasbro spend on this? And, whatever that amount was, was it worth it just to get us to what could have been passed off as a possible example of what the many-worlds theory would look like in practice? A barely different adjacent reality that is nearly identical to our own, save for a few ultimately meaningless differences? And, the better question, why didn’t Hasbro learn this lesson the first time, when its legal action against Scrabulous resulted in the exact same outcome?
Ahmed Mohamed, age 14, arrived at school with a clock sitting inside a pencil box. It was obviously a hoax bomb, which is a Texas thing that allows people who don’t possess bombs to be prosecuted as if they did. Fun stuff. I’m sure everyone involved wishes their day had gone another way — with the exception of Ahmed Mohamed, who has now been invited to Facebook, the White House and MIT. Everyone on the other side of the equation has been invited to do other stuff — most of it involving nearly-impossible sexual acts or perversely scatalogical feats.
Here’s another story about a student with an interest in things school personnel tend to find inordinately worrying. The climate of fear far too many schools actively encourage with zero tolerance policies played a part here, as did law enforcement’s worrying willingness to feed off the negative energy this climate generates. On the plus side, overreaction and idiocy played nearly no part in this incident.
Lt. Raul Denis, spokesman for the Horry County Police Department, says someone found the two notebooks containing disturbing material inside a classroom at Forestbrook Middle School. A school resource officer was alerted of the discovery last Wednesday.
The notebooks belonged to an autistic 13-year-old. Here’s what police found inside them:
Police say the journals contained information on “sensitive subjects like weapons and explosives science, maps, blue prints, jobs and stories pertaining to a video game called Balloon Tower Defense 5.” Denis said in a release there was also a reference to a school the student had once attended.
The contents have not been published, so we’ll never know how much of a threat was posed by the teen’s Balloon Tower Defense fan fiction. The “sensitive subjects” deemed “disturbing” by the school are also easily Googled subjects. And this student was hardly the first teen boy to express an interest in weapons and explosives. Perhaps the real problem was the mention of a school, which is like waving a red flag in front of a bull camera in front of a tank factory.
But there’s a happy-ish ending to this story. While we may find issue with the contents of the notebook being inherently suspicious, the police did the sort of thing they’re supposed to do: they investigated before leaping to ridiculous conclusions.
For a very brief period, the autistic teen was facing charges for “disturbing school.” The statute is, as expected, incredibly vague, which makes it a handy thing to use to detain teens with scary notebooks while everything is sorted out.
(A) It shall be unlawful:
(1) for any person wilfully or unnecessarily (a) to interfere with or to disturb in any way or in any place the students or teachers of any school or college in this State
The rest of the statute deals with loitering and “acting in an obnoxious manner.”
But this was a very brief detention. The police did all the things they should have done. They determined there was nothing threatening about the contents. They discovered the teen had no access to weapons or explosives. Most importantly, they CONTACTED HIS PARENTS, who explained everything.
“The investigation and examination of the journals found that the child is diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome and is highly intelligent, and the journals, which the parents were aware of, are used as a therapeutic/comforting mechanism,” Denis said in a press release. “the child focuses on these subjects because he dreams of being a nuclear engineer.”
At which point, the student was released to his parents and the charge dropped. It would have been better if this could have been conducted without detaining the teen, but considering all the variables, this went about as well as can be expected in the zero tolerance era.