Notes from underground

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Archive for the tag “freedom of speech”

How US Net Neutrality affects the rest of us

Those of us outside the US may have observed their debates on net neutrality, and wondered whether it would affect us.

Even if it is something confined purely to the US, however, the loss of net neutrality there will affect people all over the world. But when people speak of the loss of net neutrality, there are many ways in which it has already been lost, or rather, it is an ideal that has never been fully realised.

This article helps to explain what it means for people in the US — Someone Finally Illustrated What The Loss Of Net Neutrality Really Looks Like, And You Won’t Like It:

Net neutrality has become a volatile, high-profile news story, and with good reason: Americans are in danger of losing it. But what is net neutrality, and why is it important? Why are some lawmakers fighting so hard to make it a thing of the past?

The answer is complex, rooted in technological progress, a changing economic landscape, and a society and culture that is seeing greater class divisions than at any other time in our history. Some in our government are determined to make the internet a profit-driven product, and while this may sound understandable in a capitalist society, the dangers are very real.

Aptly illustrated by this picture:

If you live in South Africa, say, and you post some family photos on Facebook, the loss of net neutrality in the US might mean that your cousin in the US may not be able to see them, because their ISP has decided to charge more for access to Facebook.

Of course even with net neutrality your cousin in the US might not have been able to see your photos, because Facebook’s algorithm already decides who gets to see what you post, and who doesn’t get to see it.

Think of another example. An academic researcher in South Africa posts a research query in a blog, trying to verify some fact, or get reactions to a conjecture or hypothesis. With net neutrality, anyone with a web connection can see the blog and respond to the post. But without net neutrality, an ISP can decide to make that particular blogging platform only accessible to some of its subscribers who pay extra for it.

Even without legal protection of “net neutrality”, there have been all kinds of attempts to corral users into a closed system. Facebook’s Messaging app is an example. Get people to use that, and people have to join Facebook to communicate with you. Others may have attempted the same thing, but it might have backfired on them. In an earlier post, The decline and decline of tumblr | Notes from underground, I noted that tumblr had gradually reduced the functionality of their site to make it a closed world. Perhaps they did this in the hope that they, like Facebook, might be able to lock users in to their site, though the actual effect was to remove the incentive for many people to visit their site at all. To lock people in successfully, you have to be big like Facebook, not small like tumblr.

We had something similar in South Africa. A few years ago people who used MWeb as their ISP found it difficult to access certain web sites, because MWeb was trying to lock them in and steer them towards its own offerings. I don’t know if they still do that, but there was quite an outcry at the time.

Something similar was seen back in the 1990s, when dial-up BBSs were popular. Telkom, whose phone lines were being used for it, wanted to charge more for data calls to BBSs than for voice calls, but the counter argument was that Telkom was a “common carrier” — their job was to provide the connections, for which they could charge, but the content of the calls was none of their business. The “common carrier” principle is the same principle as net neutrality — an ISP charges you for the internet connection and the band width you use, but the content of your connection is none of their business.

The “common carrier” principle provided a great deal of freedom, because anyone could set up a BBS, and so BBSs were a great enhancement to free speech. It was one of the factors that helped to topple a lot of dictatorial regimes in the annus mirabilis of 1989. It was how news of the Tianamnen Square massacre in China reached the rest of the world; pro-democracy activists used a BBS conference called ASIAN_LINK to communicate with each other and the rest of the world.

So the loss of New Neutrality takes the USA another step further away from the “free world” that it once claimed to be the leader of.

 

 

 

Freedom of Expression: lip-service to a Western idol

The murder of Charlie Hebdo cartoonists in Paris this week has sparked off the biggest orgy of hypocritical handwringing about “freedom of expression” from Western politicians, journalists and other pontificators since the verdict in the Pussy Riot trial was announced two years ago.

I’m not trying to condone or justify the murders in any way. The murders were horrible, and I hope the killers are caught and brought to justice.

But the reaction I am talking about there is not a reaction to human beings being killed. It is rather that it was seen by many of the pontificators as an attack on “freedom of expression”, which was the same spin that the put on the Pussy Riot affair.

I have commented elsewhere that this seems to indicate that there are two fundamentalisms confronting each other here — Islamic fundamentalism, and a Western fundamentalism of “freedom of expression”. The almost identical reactions to the Charlie Hebdo killings and the Pussy Riot affair makes this quite clear.

There seems to be a huge reaction, quite out of proportion to the events themselves. Yes, it is horrible that 12 people were killed, but how many people were killed by Obama’s drones last week? Why doesn’t that stir more than a murmur of protest, and that only among those far from the centres of power in the West?

A ‘free speech’ machine. It looks for people who do not have enough free speech and then gives them some

A ‘free speech’ machine. It looks for people who do not have enough free speech and then gives them some

Here’s something that happened in the same week ‘Burned to the ground’: Boko Haram razes at least 16 Nigerian villages | Al Jazeera America:

Boko Haram razed at least 16 towns and villages in northern Nigeria and may have killed up to 2,000 people since the weekend, officials said Thursday.

After capturing a key military base in northeast Nigeria on Saturday, members of the feared armed group used crude bombs to level entire towns, according to local authorities.

But was it published in the Western media? No, it was published by Al Jazeera, a broadcaster with links to Islam. that great enemy of “freedom of expression”. The attack in Nigeria was probably intended to deprive those who were killed of their freedom of expression and their freedom of religion too. But in the scale of values of the Western media, the voice of the 1%, 12 white lives are enormously more valuable than 2000 black lives, and so deserve more column inches, and more talking heads. And they are just as dead as the French journalists.

The problem is that the “freedom of expression” angle is simply the spin put on the events by the Western politicians and media. Charlie Hebdo: This Attack Was Nothing To Do With Free Speech - It Was About War:

In less than an hour of the dreadful shooting of 12 people at the French magazine Charlie Hebdo, the politicians had already started to lie to their own public.

John Kerry, US Secretary of State, declared that, “freedom of expression is not able to be killed by this kind of act of terror.”
The media lapped it up — the attack was now spun as an attack on ‘Freedom of Speech’. That cherished value that the West holds so dear.

The British Government was so in love with it, that they were passing laws that demanded nursery school teachers spy on Muslim toddlers because they had too much of it. Toddlers were ‘free’ to speak their mind as long as it agreed with UK Government policy

For many people in the West, “freedom of expression” is a value that is held with religious, even fundamentalist fervour. But the politicans and media moguls who put this spin in it don’t really believe it themselves; they pay lip-service to it, but ignore it when it suits them. The people who are telling us that an attack on journalists is an attack on freedom of speech don’t seem to have had any love for freedom of speech 16 years ago.

How is this different from the Charlie Hebdo attack? Is it any less an attack on freedom of speech? Serb TV station was legitimate target, says Blair | World news | theguardian.com:

Nato leaders yesterday scrambled to justify the bombing of Serbia’s state television station in an attack which killed a number of civilian workers and marked a further widening in the scope of targets now considered legitimate.

The attack on the building in the centre of Belgrade – which contradicted an apparent assurance by Nato this month that only transmitters would be hit – was condemned by international journalists’ organisations, representing both employers and unions.

I see no difference.

If those who ordered and carried out one attack were criminals, so were those who ordered and carried out the other. If one was a “legitimate target”, then so was the other. Bill Clinton and Tony Blair are no different from those anomymous marked gunmen. Why weren’t they arrested and charged with war crimes?

Je suis Charlie? Bah, humbug.

As the author of this article says Charlie Hebdo: This Attack Was Nothing To Do With Free Speech - It Was About War:

“to bring an end to this — we’ve got to do something differently, because what we are doing now — isn’t working”

Reckless rhetoric or freedom of speech?

clipped from www.thetimes.co.za

Archbishop Desmond Tutu has lashed out at political leaders who use “intemperate, inflammatory” language.

He warned that political figures were perpetuating hostility with their reckless rhetoric.

Nearly 29000 of the foreigners were still displaced across the Western Cape, Gauteng and KwaZulu- Natal in June.

Tutu made the comments yesterday at Johannesburg’s St John’s College, during a mass to mark the xenophobic violence that swept South Africa recently.

He linked irresponsible rhetoric with the violence that displaced 47000 foreign nationals in May.

“What has happened when it seems no longer to matter how you’ve behaved, whether you have integrity, that these [characteristics] are deemed irrelevant for public office?” Tutu asked.

blog it

South Africa has a democratic constitution that protects freedom of speech. In saying things like this is Bishop Tutu trying to place an unconstitutional limitation on freedom of speech?

Some bloggers seem to think so, like Richard Catto on his Cape Town News blog.

I am reminded of a case that was reported several years ago, of a professor at an American university, who lost his job because of his communist sympathies. The case came to court, as he accused the university authorities of trying to suppress his right to freedom of speech. The university countered by arguing that if the communists came to power they would abridge everyone’s right to freedom of speech.

The court found for the professor, and said that he had only talked of abridging the freedom of speech of others, whereas the university, by firing him, had actually abridged his freedom of speech, and had therefore done in fact what he was only talking about.

The Times report cited above doesn’t actually say that Archbishop Desmond Tutu criticised Zwelinzima Vavi — the reference was implied rather than actual. But even if he did, was he abridging Zwelinzima Vavi’s freedom of speech?

Zwelinzima Vavi’s reported statements that he would “kill for Jacob Zuma” can be interpreted in various ways. They could, for example, be interpreted to mean that he would kill for Jacob Zuma in the same way that people in Zimbabwe are killing for Robert Mugabe — killing those who are suspected of voting against him. And that would indeed destroy our constitution — freedom of speech must be balanced against other rights. It is not an absolute right, sprueme over all others.
And if that is so, it would seem contradictory, because Cosatu, of which Vavi is Secretary General, is on record as regarding Robert Mugabe as the enemy of the working class. And doesn’t freedom of speech include freedom to criticise certain kinds of speech, as Archbishop Desmond Tutu has done?

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