Archive | self-censorship

Sweden to outlaw… what, exactly?

For years, online hate speech and cyber-bullying have been on the political agenda in Sweden. Now there will be some new laws, covering a wide range of actions and statements.

Let’s have a look at »Insulting behaviour« (PDF, summary in English, page 42-43).

Under the wording we propose, criminal liability will presuppose that someone through accusations, disparaging comments or humiliating behaviour acts against another person in a way that is intended to violate the other person’s selfesteem or dignity.

What does this even mean in real terms? OK, there is an attempt to clarify…

The assessment is to be based on the circumstances in the individual case. However, criminal liability must be determined on the basis of a generally held norm for what represents unacceptable behaviour and what individuals should not be expected to tolerate. This is expressed by the provision stating that the act must have been intended to violate someone’s self-esteem or dignity.

First of all, there seems to be a lot of subjectivity for a law. »Disparaging comments« – isn’t that in the eye of the beholder? »Self-esteem« and »dignity« is something personal, referring to experiences and feelings about a certain situation. It’s very subjective. And »a generally held norm«? Who is to define what that is?

I guess the Supreme Court will have some very difficult decisions to make.

This is sloppy lawmaking in the »safe space« era, where the line between real insults and arguments is blurred. And it gets worse. Page 34, »Our starting points«:

Protection of privacy is also protection of the free formation of opinions and, ultimately, of democracy. There may be a risk that threats against journalists, debaters or opinion-makers result in the person threatened refraining from expressing him- or herself or participating in the public debate.

First of all, take note of the Orwellian twist: To defend free speech, we must limit it.

Second, as one would suspect, it’s not really about teenage bullying in school – but to protect the inner peace and self-image of e.g. journalists and politicians. Suddenly the term »disparaging comments« stands out, in a new light.

So, colorful criticism of politicians might or might not be illegal – on a case by case basis.

Big Brother will be busy.



Mass surveillance, journalists and their sources

The threat of mass surveillance on reporting, particularly work of an investigative nature, may “all but eliminate” confidential sources and the value they bring to journalism.

This is one of the conclusion presented in a new academic research paper, “No more sources? The impact of Snowden’s revelations on journalists and their confidential sources”, published on 24 May and authored by Paul Lashmar, journalist and senior lecturer at University of Sussex. (…)

“Journalists need to be more outspoken about the impact of surveillance in preventing them from delivering their most important role, bringing to account government and the powerful when they are errant,” Lashmar wrote. Research highlights the impact of the threat of surveillance on journalists and their sources »


Study: The surveillance state breeds fear and conformity and stifles free expression

A newly published study from Oxford’s Jon Penney provides empirical evidence for a key argument long made by privacy advocates: that the mere existence of a surveillance state breeds fear and conformity and stifles free expression. Reporting on the study, the Washington Post this morning described this phenomenon: “If we think that authorities are watching our online actions, we might stop visiting certain websites or not say certain things just to avoid seeming suspicious.”

The Intercept: New Study Shows Mass Surveillance Breeds Meekness, Fear, and Self-Censorship »


Mass surveillance drives writers to self-censorship

Writers are important. Facts or fiction — they are supposed to give us new insights, push boundaries and question those in power.

So it’s quite alarming that one in six US writers has “avoided writing or speaking on a topic they thought would subject them to surveillance”. Another one in six has seriously considered doing so.

(This is from a report, post-Snowden from Pen America. Via Robin Doherty.)

Literature defines our society. And now mass surveillance is defining literature.

We will never know what books, pieces and reviews that never got written because of Big Brotherism. Or what speeches that never were given. But we do know that this will make humanity and society intellectually poorer.

And it’s not just here and now. Culture is a process where you often build on earlier works and insights. Self-censorship will multiply its effects over time.

Mass surveillance has an undeniable chilling effect on a free and open society.