Home > Analysis, Opinion, Philosophy, politics > The Euphemism of Freedom – Case Study on Google in the Aftermath of Benghazi

The Euphemism of Freedom – Case Study on Google in the Aftermath of Benghazi

Whenever a for-profit – or even non-profit – organization professes to do good, to be a society’s guardian – as Google has – I feel queasy. It’s not that I think Google (or more generally corporations, NGOs, charities, even churches) is inherently evil.  It’s just that no non-government entity owes society at large a fiduciary duty 1 per se, as governments do.

Take as a case study Google – that self professed guardian of Freedom.

In the aftermath of the recent violence in Benghazi, Google has taken itself to task to block access to inflammatory videos that may have caused the violence.

According to the New York Times:

As violence spread in the Arab world over a video on YouTube ridiculing the Prophet Muhammad, Google, the owner of YouTube, blocked access to it in two of the countries in turmoil, Egypt and Libya, but did not remove the video from its Web site.

Google said it decided to block the video in response to violence that killed four American diplomatic personnel in Libya. The company said its decision was unusual, made because of the exceptional circumstances. Its policy is to remove content only if it is hate speech, violating its terms of service, or if it is responding to valid court orders or government requests. And it said it had determined that under its own guidelines, the video was not hate speech.

WAIT. Has Google become GOD himself?

If I am to distrust government from blocking information, why should I trust for-profit companies to decide what information I access?  What gives Google the free reign to set the norm on proper and improper information?

Here we have a video mocking Islam and by extension Muslims in general, yet Google – with a policy against “hate speech” – can say with a straight face it’s not “hate speech.”

Here we have a company that has stated it will respond to all “valid court orders or government requests” to block information (and has blocked information worldwide (read for example, also, this policy statement)), yet when it comes to China, in its very public exit from china, it would openly flaunt Chinese court orders and government requests as “not valid.”

You know we have a problem when a for-profit company, in the name of “freedom,” has the cache to decide the fates of nations – to flaunt the governments of nations. In the case of China, it’s not just any nation, but a nation with a long and mature political history, with a government that commands an overwhelming support of its people, a government credited with bringing more people out of poverty than any other in human history.

Millions of people across the Muslim world, though, viewed the video as one of the most inflammatory pieces of content to circulate on the Internet. From Afghanistan to Libya, the authorities have been scrambling to contain an outpouring of popular outrage over the video and calling on the United States to take measures against its producers.

Google’s action raises fundamental questions about the control that Internet companies have over online expression. Should the companies themselves decide what standards govern what is seen on the Internet? How consistently should these policies be applied?

“Google is the world’s gatekeeper for information so if Google wants to define the First Amendment to exclude this sort of material then there’s not a lot the rest of the world can do about it,” said Peter Spiro, a constitutional and international law professor at Temple University in Philadelphia. “It makes this episode an even more significant one if Google broadens the block.”

He added, though, that “provisionally,” he thought Google made the right call. “Anything that helps calm the situation, I think is for the better.”

“This video — which is widely available on the Web — is clearly within our guidelines and so will stay on YouTube,” [Google] said. “However, given the very difficult situation in Libya and Egypt we have temporarily restricted access in both countries.”

ANYTHING TO CALM THE SITUATION?

When the situation became tense in Syria, Libya, Tunisia, etc., where were the calls for Google or Facebook or Twitter to play a calming role?

When riots broke out in Tibet in 2008 or Xinjiang in 2009, many in the West actually appeared to want to goad the protesters on. Many slammed Chinese efforts to clamp down on rumors and inflammatory speech in affected areas, calling Chinese efforts oppressive.

It appears to me that arguments about “freedom of speech” is inevitably never about “freedom” per se, but about the politics underneath the rhetoric of “freedom.” When it’s about Syria, Libya, Tunisia, China, where bad consequences doesn’t matter (might even be desired!), incendiary inflammation should be allowed, freed, encouraged, even sponsored. But when American lives or American interests are at stake, we need to be responsible. Everyone needs to get on the same page on what need to be done.

The truth is: speech is really only “free” when it is desirable for you, or when it causes no real damage to you – is of no consequence to you.

You may say, hold on, I truly feel “neutral” about speech.  My support for freedom of speech is conceptual. I don’t care about the substance of speech.

I argue back, ok, even when you feel you are  disinterested, you can afford to be indifferent only to the extent  you don’t feel the pain of the speech. When speech does hit you, things change fast.

This is why even the most staunch advocates of free speech inevitably draw the line somewhere, whether it be “hate speech,” speech that is inflammatory, that incites violence, or that creates a danger to public peace or national security. When the politics of speech really hits home, speech becomes no longer just “speech.” Causing consequences that matter, they become actions and conducts that are just as regulable as any other action and conduct.

Next time someone takes the moral high ground on freedom of speech, listen carefully. Is he really a big-hearted sage – or a bigot who is indifferent, even callous, to others’ circumstances, who jumps at the chance to abstract away politics into empty euphmisms of freedom, without any understanding their impact on people’s lives?

Notes:

  1. The purpose (legal duty even) of a corporation is to make money for its shareholders. The obligation of non-profits is to their sponsors and donors … and incestuously to itself. The duty of churches is – well if you are pious – to God, although often a God who cares only for a segment of society, who may be so hateful of the rest as to condemn them all to eternities of hell.
  1. Sleeper
    September 14th, 2012 at 09:33 | #1

    Well, now google and the west should know how important “he’xie” (a netspeak in Chinese), or “harmonizing” is.

    From now on they should be shameful to blame China’s media censorship, or they JUST want to see a river of blood flooding in China.

    Anyway, their arrogance make them deserve all they’ve suffered. I’m glad to see their undoing.

  2. Charles Liu
    September 14th, 2012 at 12:40 | #2

    I wonder what if the same thing is said of the Jewish faith? Still not hate speech then?

    BTW the Chinese netters have circulated photos of both Qaddafi and Stevens, and it looks like they both died at the hands of a mob in a very similar way. This is what happens when you take away functioning society and sink a nation into statelessness.

  3. Black Pheonix
    September 14th, 2012 at 16:15 | #3

    Stevens had his hand in the bloody “Jasmine Revolution”.

    He was in Libya as the Special Representative to the Rebels from March 2011 on, less than 1 month after when the fighting began in Libya.

    He was supposedly the power player from US who “held” the various factions of Libyan Rebels together. (And probably gave weapons and money).

    Perhaps some of his “friends” in Libya really didn’t like him as much as he thought.

    Or perhaps Stevens just made the wrong “friends”.

  4. Zack
    September 14th, 2012 at 19:41 | #4

    poetic justice much?

  5. September 14th, 2012 at 23:34 | #5

    While I am a big fan of its technology, Google is indeed a bigot, and for that reason, I don’t think it should enjoy popular support around the world. It is cocky and lacks respect for other societies.

    When Google has figured out it is not suppose to be in the religion business, perhaps it will finally have the potential to be truly worldly.

  6. September 14th, 2012 at 23:59 | #6

    @YinYang

    To see how arbitrary Google wields its power, how Godlike it feels itself to be, and how many people actually condone this state of affairs, see this article from the NYT.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/15/world/middleeast/google-wont-rethink-anti-islam-videos-status.html?_r=1&ref=world

    SAN FRANCISCO — Google said on Friday that it would not comply with a White House request to reconsider the anti-Islam video that has set off violent protests in the Arab world in light of its rules banning hate speech on YouTube, which it owns.

    Google said it had already determined that the video did not violate its terms of service regarding hate speech, because it was against the Muslim religion but not Muslim people.

    The company also said Friday that it had blocked access to the video in India and Indonesia because it violated local laws.

    These actions came after Google temporarily blocked the video on Wednesday in Egypt and Libya of its own volition — not because it violated laws or YouTube’s terms of service — an extraordinary measure that it said it took in response to the delicacy of the situation. The video is accessible in the rest of the world, even as protests spread to nearly 20 countries, from North Africa to Indonesia.

    Google said its decisions were consistent with a 2007 policy for controversial content in which the company would take into account not just laws and its own policies, but cultural norms.

    “One type of content, while legal everywhere, may be almost universally unacceptable in one region, yet viewed as perfectly fine in another,” Rachel Whetstone, senior vice president for communications and public policy at Google, wrote in the 2007 policy. “We are passionate about our users, so we try to take into account local cultures and needs.”

    YouTube said it was continuously monitoring the circumstances in other countries.

    The controversy over the video has raised questions about the role of Google in governing free expression by determining which content is acceptable to show online and which is not.

    The company does not police videos uploaded to the site because of the sheer volume involved; 72 hours of videos are uploaded each minute. It reviews videos only if users flag them as inappropriate or if it receives a valid court order or government request to remove them for violating the law.

    That was the case in India and Indonesia, which have laws restricting content that provokes enmity.

    Also, Google removes illegal content only in the 45 countries in which it has local Web sites, which include Egypt, Indonesia and India but not Libya, Pakistan or Afghanistan.

    “We’ve restricted access to it in countries where it is illegal such as India and Indonesia as well as in Libya and Egypt given the very sensitive situations in these two countries,” YouTube said Friday in a statement.

    “At Google we have a bias in favor of people’s right to free expression in everything we do,” Ms. Whetstone wrote in Google’s 2007 policy. “But we also recognize that freedom of expression can’t be — and shouldn’t be — without some limits. The difficulty is in deciding where those boundaries are drawn. For a company like Google with services in more than 100 countries — all with different national laws and cultural norms — it’s a challenge we face many times every day.”

    Meanwhile, a Facebook spokeswoman confirmed that the company had restricted access to a link to the film in Pakistan, at the request of its government.

    Kevin Bankston, director of the free expression project at the Center for Democracy and Technology, a nonprofit group that focuses on digital civil liberties, said that Google, as a private company, could decide what was appropriate on its sites and what was not. But he added, “Considering the power that many of these platforms have, it’s important for them to be as clear and transparent as possible about those decisions.”

  7. acyang
    September 15th, 2012 at 00:14 | #7

    Nicely crafted… but I dare say a bit superficial and entirely predictable even by the referenced NYT article:

    “Some wonder what precedent this might set, especially for government authorities keen to stanch expression they think will inflame their populace. ”

    Note that by the comment above I do not imply that the NYT which made that statement is devoid of hypocrisy itself.. But when you have competing interests (e.g. NYT vs Google in this case) all voicing their opinion freely, you get to hear more than one side of an argument, and eventually make a wiser decision. And THAT is the argument for unconstrained free speech, while your counter argument is that free speech might be harmful – the same old tired one made by every authoritarian through the ages..

  8. September 15th, 2012 at 00:41 | #8

    @acyang
    You said:

    But when you have competing interests . . .

    That’s a BIG if, isn’t it? What about when the competing interest is weak or ignorant? For example, when the American public’s money is used to bail out Wallstreet. Or when the Libyans are too weak to voice against NATO’s invasion. What then?

    Don’t you think you are blind to the reality of this world with respect to ‘free’ speech?

  9. September 15th, 2012 at 01:16 | #9

    @acyang

    Of course governments and people have abused the notion of harm / security to get their politics across – to restrict speech. But just because something has been abused does not mean the principle itself is invalid.

    The U.S. has abused the notion of “freedom” and “democracy” to rape and pillage other nations, but that per se does not mean the core of those concept is invalid.

    Look there are always atrophied forms of governments, systems, principles, concepts, ideas…

    If you want to see the world through those forms, that’s your prerogative.

    I only aim to be realist. I am not taking sides here. But I do want to point out arbitrary one may go about drawing the line – as Google has.

    Where does that arbitrariness arise? I propose it has to do with one’s politics – which includes as a baseline one’s perception of harm, which is a relative concept (for example, the act of you hitting me may be perceived as harmful by me but not by you).

    There is no absolute freedom of speech. There is not really a relative freedom of speech. It’s really just politics all the way down…

    Oh – as for my citing NYT as proving that freedom of speech works? Don’t know where you got that. I have problems with many NYT articles, that doesn’t mean all NYT articles are bad.

    And I don’t agree with every nuances of this article either, but that’s not my point, so I prefer not to waste time to elaborate.

    Very confused thinking you have…

  10. colin
    September 15th, 2012 at 01:28 | #10

    The only good media is a truthful media. A “free” media does not mean a truthful media, far from it. The propondance of western media feign ingnorance and shock at the protests and blowback. In the first few days of coverage, i did not see a single instance of the media attributing the events to the fact that the whole arab spring movement may be deeply flawed. Commenters on social media sites were much more down to earth, expressing humility at gross delusions that made it possible and questioning whether the west had any reason to interfere. This stark contrast shows that the media exist in an isolated bubble, and does not ground itself in the realities that real people see. In short, western media is not about uncovering truth, but shaping and controlling. It is useless in its critical function of finding and showing truth.

    PS. I Watched a few sustained hours of cnn, the first time in years, to follow the arab winter. I’m impressed by how unbelievably vapid and shallow the programming has become. You can replace wolf blitzer and the other hosts with robots, and the programming would be the same. Makes me want to barf.

  11. perspectivehere
    September 15th, 2012 at 06:37 | #11

    Counterpunch has a relevant piece:

    WEEKEND EDITION SEPTEMBER 14-16, 2012
    The Reality Behind the “Free Speech” Argument
    America and the Muslims

    by ESAM AL-AMIN

    “…..Yet what about the practice of freedom of speech in the West?

    Western governments and civil society institutions assert that freedom of speech, expression, and association is the bedrock of maintaining their democratic character. Whenever someone deliberately sets out to inflame the sensitivities of Muslims toward their prophet or holy book, freedom of speech is invoked in order to defend the cause of the uproar and dismiss its effects as an irrational response. Granted though that under no circumstance should violence be an acceptable answer to any attack no mater how wicked or appalling.

    But on a more basic level, does the West really believe in free speech or does it apply a double standard when it comes to Muslim sensibilities? Let’s check the record.

    In the private sector, when Google was asked to remove the highly inflammatory YouTube video, it immediately and correctly cited its long established policy of supporting freedom of speech, including all despised speech (though it reluctantly agreed to suspend it in Egypt and Libya.) But as the Jewish Press reported on August 1, Google had no problem removing 1,710 videos and closing their affiliated accounts because “A substantial number of those videos concerned Holocaust denial and defense of Holocaust deniers.” According to the newspaper report, Google “closed the user’s account within 24 hours” of receiving the complaint by a group that monitors anti-Semitism in Australia.

    In July 2011, Facebook was pressured by Israeli authorities to close the accounts of many Palestinian activists. Israel complained that the activists were coordinating their plans to travel to Israel and cause disruptions. In reality, the activists were trying to make a strong political statement online. Needless to say, the Israeli government could have easily rescinded any visas it might have issued to these activists or prevented any person from entering the country had they actually traveled. There was no call for incitement or violence by the activists to justify closing their accounts.

    People in the U.S. may not be aware of these incidents where hate or disfavored speech was taken down. But many people in the Muslim world are aware of such interventions that run contrary to stated principles. Plausibly, they wonder, if foreigners such as the Attorney General of Israel or an Australian monitoring group can get Google or Facebook to shut down videos or close accounts, how can one argue that the President or the Secretary of State cannot make similar requests? They also recall that in 2009 Secretary Clinton intervened and prevailed over the executives of Facebook and Twitter on behalf of the activists of the so-called Green movement in Iran. This is not an argument to advocate closing down accounts or removing videos but simply to illustrate the hypocrisy and double standard practiced by public officials and business conglomerates when dealing with Muslim concerns.

    Furthermore, many European countries enacted laws in the past three decades that criminalize any speech or writings that question the official accounts of the Holocaust. In 1996 French philosopher Roger Garaudy published his book, The Founding Myths of Modern Israel. Critics charged that his book contained Holocaust denial and consequently the French government indicted him, and shortly thereafter, the courts banned any further publication of the book. In 1998 Garaudy was convicted, sentenced to a suspended jail sentence of several years, and fined forty thousand dollars.

    In 2005, English writer David Irving was apprehended in Austria on a 1989 arrest warrant of being a Holocaust denier. He was subsequently convicted of “trivializing, grossly playing down, and denying the Holocaust,” and sentenced to three years imprisonment.

    Moreover, British Muslim Ahmed Faraz was sentenced in Dec. 2011 to three years in prison in London after being convicted of “disseminating a number of books deemed to be terrorist publications.” The publication Faraz was convicted of distributing in his bookstore was the 1964 book, Milestones, written by the late Egyptian author Sayyed Qutb.

    But the U.S. government’s recent record is far more alarming. In fact, since 9/11 draconian sentences have been handed down on the account of what traditionally was considered pure first amendment activities.

    In 2004, two TV satellite operators, Javed Iqbal (a New York resident of over 25 years), and Saleh Elahwal, were charged by federal prosecutors with “providing material support to a foreign terrorist organization” by broadcasting to U.S. customers Hizbollah’s satellite channel, Al-Manar. The FBI also searched Iqbal’s business and home “on suspicion of maintaining satellite dishes.” In 2008, Iqbal was convicted and sentenced to 69 months.

    In many criminal prosecutions since 9/11 Muslims have been convicted and sentenced to as much as life in prison for expressing their political opinions, giving fatwas (religious opinions), feeding children, providing educational materials, translating documents, uploading videos on websites, or singing in a band.

    In one case involving American-born Tarek Mehanna, Yale Professor Andrew F. March wrote in the New York Times, “As a political scientist specializing in Islamic law and war, I frequently read, store, share and translate texts and videos by jihadi groups. As a political philosopher, I debate the ethics of killing. As a citizen, I express views, thoughts and emotions about killing to other citizens. As a human being, I sometimes feel joy (I am ashamed to admit) at the suffering of some humans and anger at the suffering of others.” He further wrote, “At Mr. Mehanna’s trial, I saw how those same actions can constitute federal crimes, because Mr. Mehanna’s conviction was based largely on things he said, wrote and translated.”

    What these examples and many others illustrate is that the protection of the constitutional freedoms of speech, expression, and association are used selectively in the U.S. on the basis of political judgments. American officials, public intellectuals, and opinion makers revel in invoking the first amendment as an inviolable principle when Islam or its sacred symbols are attacked, and then find rationalizations and loopholes when American Muslims engage in objectionable free speech activities. However, this double standard is not lost on the majority of people in the Muslim world and across the globe.

    The criteria to judge whether a society values and respects free speech is when the most vulnerable members of society, those who might be the targets of the majority, can feel safe and free to say what they think when they want on any subject without fear, intimidation or negative repercussions. In other words, to know whether America today honors free speech one must ask one hundred random American Muslim activists that question to get the real answer.

    In a nutshell, America shall only have credibility as a champion and guardian of freedom of speech and expression when the thoughts, speeches, writings, fatwas, translations, poetry, and web browsing of Mehanna and his colleagues are not criminalized. Only when they are set free can America reclaim back the mantle.”

    **************************

    I was not aware of most of these incidents. Why does the mainstream media not make a fuss about these restrictions on freedom of expression?

    Perhaps the First Amendment principles in the US in practice are interpreted as “flexible standards”. Rather than absolute, the level of First Amendment protection depends on how politically weak or unpopular the target is, or where national security interests are threatened. Where national security interests are involved, the courts seem to be more willing to give the government the benefit of the doubt, and more willing to treat the targets more restrictively. While this may be offensive as a matter of principle, and illustrate double standards, this is in fact the pragmatic reality. So if you have something to say from a Muslim perspective, you need to be very careful not to say anything that “crosses the line”, and the government basically does not announce what that line is. People just need to know.

    This is offensive to traditional American principles of freedom of expression, but is it worth it to you to fight it? Look at Lynn Stewart – does her case not offend American standards of decency? Yet, hardly anyone talks about it. Any of the mainstream media journalists bring up the case of Lynn Stewart? A 70-year old activist lawyer who has spent her entire career speaking up for the powerless, now in jail on a 10-year term on trumped up charges. Do you see American journalists speaking up for her? Amy Goodman at Democracynow is all I’ve seen, but who else?

  12. acyang
    September 15th, 2012 at 09:29 | #12

    Allen :
    @acyang
    Very confused thinking you have…

    Please help clear my confusion.. Your article appeared to be critical of Google’s (and by extension the Western media’s) reaction to recent events. What was not clear from the article and from your reply was the reason for the criticism. Where you critical, because:

    1) The censorship of the allegedly offensive video
    2) The hypocrisy surrounding the issue of free speech in the media and the drawing of an arbitrary line according to the politics of the moment

    Or is it that you were not critical at all, and you are just arguing that because there is a gray line that is drawn in the application of the right to free speech, we might as well give up and declare that striving to exercise that right is futile ?

  13. September 15th, 2012 at 10:31 | #13

    @perspectivehere
    I often wonder what happens when the American press and American foreign policy are more sincere, in that they truly uphold these ideals – freedom, democracy, human rights. Few weeks ago I saw a segment on CCTV’s Dialog where Chinese scholars discussed Hillary Clinton’s legacy.

    They made the distinction between a statesman and a politician. The difference is that the statesman seeks to recognize other parties interests and then pursues for a more amicable solution to everything. A statesman is committed to true leadership. However, a politician seeks every means to maximize her gains, using force when can be gotten away with.

    The Chinese scholars on the program said Hillary Clinton is a politician.

    I wonder, if America behaves more statesman-like, what would be the net gain. If America uses her might and those ideals sincerely to bring about harmony around the globe, I’d imagine embrace for everything American would be intense, like how Japan earnestly modeled itself after Tang Dynasty.

  14. September 15th, 2012 at 11:35 | #14

    @acyang
    You are the one thoroughly confused here. When an entity such as google or NYT select what you and cannot read you never assumed them to be authoritarian. But when Chinese govn’t does it, they are.

    I will be very blunt with you. In your mind the west so-called free press and govn’t might not be authoritarian but to the rest of the world whose interest they infringed on, they are. They do not allow the others voice to be heard. The Muslim anger is just one manifestation of this discontent. Their voice can’t be heard so they go to the street. And this suppression of voice and rights breeds extremism. It is this stupidity that the west citizens wondered why their troops are shot at in Afghanistan and now in Libya.

    Oh, and stop acting dumb here. Wake up, there is no govn’t that is not authoritarian, that’s why they hired lots of men with guns. If you think you are free, I feel sorry for you. Every govn’t and ruling elite control the flow of information. The magnitude of selective reporting or censorship does not make them free or authoritarian. There is this saying “fifty paces laughing at one hundred paces”. If you are Chinese you will know what this mean.

    You never got the gist of this article. Basically, even a business entity feel its presenting of stories or videos would affect its interest it would present different views to different parties.

    All of us here at HH know the Chinese govn’t select facts presentation as well as censorship, the govn’t admits it and we admits it. some we agree is well thought out, some not so much. We discussed the level of censorship because we know there is a limit to presentation. The western press continue to push the notion that they represent a totally free press even thought they are not.

    For example, the major western press freely published pictures of Gaddafi death. However, how many of them dare published the pictures of Stevens death?

  15. Black Pheonix
    September 15th, 2012 at 12:44 | #15

    acyang :
    Or is it that you were not critical at all, and you are just arguing that because there is a gray line that is drawn in the application of the right to free speech, we might as well give up and declare that striving to exercise that right is futile ?

    Interesting how you only want to “strive to exercise that right” without mentioning the Responsibilities for the consequences.

    I don’t think you see any line at all. That’s the problem.

  16. September 15th, 2012 at 12:50 | #16

    A teenager has been found guilty of posting an offensive Facebook message

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-leeds-19604735

  17. Zack
    September 15th, 2012 at 13:01 | #17

    @Ray
    say it aint so, is this the very same UK that proudly and loudly espouses democratic free speech and the like to countries like China? even whilst profiting from lurative trade with aforementioned country?
    the level of hypocrisy coming from the british isles makes me wonder if a few bombs and Chinese marines ala opium war would make these british savages see reason.

  18. Black Pheonix
    September 15th, 2012 at 13:01 | #18

    acyang :

    Nicely crafted… but I dare say a bit superficial and entirely predictable even by the referenced NYT article:

    “Some wonder what precedent this might set, especially for government authorities keen to stanch expression they think will inflame their populace. ”

    Note that by the comment above I do not imply that the NYT which made that statement is devoid of hypocrisy itself.. But when you have competing interests (e.g. NYT vs Google in this case) all voicing their opinion freely, you get to hear more than one side of an argument, and eventually make a wiser decision. And THAT is the argument for unconstrained free speech, while your counter argument is that free speech might be harmful – the same old tired one made by every authoritarian through the ages..

    If by “competing interests”, you mean reckless disregard for the lives of others in pursue of profit, I believe there are already laws (even in US) against that sort of “free speech”.

    So, no, not the same old tired authoritarian argument.

    The point is simply that Google and NYT (and other “free speech” proponents) have a history of abusing speech for profit.

    If “Free speech” cannot restraint them, then what good is “free speech”.

    “you get to hear more than one side of an argument”???!!

    Really?? I’m sure an Angry Mob would be very willing to hear your side of the argument when they break down your door??!! And I’m sure you would be equally happy to hear their side of the “argument”??!!

    That would be a “free speech” debate I would love to see!!

  19. acyang
    September 15th, 2012 at 17:35 | #19

    Wow… I did not expect that kind of a backlash.

    To Ray #14:
    I am sorry but your whole argument is based in an apples vs oranges comparison:
    1. The apples: Private institutions which select (according to their own biases and interests) which news and/or opinions they will disseminate, while at the same time other news and opinions are freely available from other sources.

    2. The orange: A government which bans the dissemination of all news and/or opinions which threaten its lock on power.

    My advice: If you really want to explore the flaws of the western/American notion of free speech, and how it could be really distorted I would advice you to look carefully into the “Citizens United” case. Pointing out that every time someone using freedom of speech as an argument has their own self interest in mind and thus they are hypocritical is simply a non sequitur.

    To Black Phoenix #15:
    The word “strive” contained an implicit reference to responsibility (to my defense the canonical definition of “strive” is to “make an earnest effort” and not to “blindly fight”). I am sorry it was not clear.

    To Black Phoenix #18:
    Nobody disputes that private enterprises have a history of abusing free speech for profit. That is true for governments also btw. In fact nobody argues that somebody bestows on all of us a bunch of rights and magically we will never have to worry about anything anymore. Please see my reference to “Citizens United” above. What I really have an issue with is the flawed logic that is embedded in the argument: “the western press does not practice free speech when their interests are at stake, therefore they always are wrong when they criticize the CCP”.

    Also.. you write:

    Black Pheonix :
    Really?? I’m sure an Angry Mob would be very willing to hear your side of the argument when they break down your door??!! And I’m sure you would be equally happy to hear their side of the “argument”??!!
    That would be a “free speech” debate I would love to see!!

    I do not want to derail that discussion, but since you are being ironic I will be too:

    I can assure you that no advocate of Confucian harmony would enjoy seeing a”debate” between me and an angry mob at my doorstep… That is because (unlike my friends in China) I have the legal right to keep and bear arms. And I assure you that I took advantage of that right and I exercise it responsibly :->.

  20. Black Pheonix
    September 15th, 2012 at 18:45 | #20

    @acyang

    “Wow… I did not expect that kind of a backlash.”

    Oh, You don’t expect other “sides of the arguments”??

    “I can assure you that no advocate of Confucian harmony would enjoy seeing a”debate” between me and an angry mob at my doorstep… That is because (unlike my friends in China) I have the legal right to keep and bear arms. And I assure you that I took advantage of that right and I exercise it responsibly :->.”

    I see, so when you can’t win an argument, you bring your guns as an answer?? And that’s your way of “responsibility”??

    I’ll take that as your admission of your irresponsibility.

    “What I really have an issue with is the flawed logic that is embedded in the argument: “the western press does not practice free speech when their interests are at stake, therefore they always are wrong when they criticize the CCP”.”

    That’s your assumption, which only demonstrate the shallowness of your understanding. So I’ll set it straight for you: Western Press has a history of ulterior motives, which is ALWAYS wrong and IRRESPONSIBLE!!

    “In fact nobody argues that somebody bestows on all of us a bunch of rights and magically we will never have to worry about anything anymore. Please see my reference to “Citizens United” above.”

    ODD! Seems like that’s exactly what Western politicians are saying all the time, ie. in “Democracy” is magical solution to the world. “Universal value” and other such brainless slogans. Are you putting in the disclaimers here now?? A bit late.

  21. Black Pheonix
    September 15th, 2012 at 18:52 | #21

    @acyang

    “The word “strive” contained an implicit reference to responsibility (to my defense the canonical definition of “strive” is to “make an earnest effort” and not to “blindly fight”). I am sorry it was not clear.”

    “Make an earnest effort” for “to exercise that right” of “unconstrained free speech”?? I see no “responsibility” implied in that.

    I can assure you, lots of people can be quite “earnest” in their efforts with complete blindness and irresponsibility. (That’s actually quite typical of self-deceptions in the West).

    Perhaps that’s your problem: You think mere “earnestness” is somehow “responsible”???

    Oh, I think you are quite “earnest” in your irresponsible behavior and speech.

  22. Black Pheonix
    September 15th, 2012 at 19:06 | #22

    Well, let’s just cut to the chase here:

    Google (and other Western media outlets), by its censorship, really professes what the REAL Western value is, which is “We censor when we don’t like your arguments”.

    Bottomline: So the Western value of “free speech” is not so “free” afterall, and not that different from the “censorship” that Google supposedly does not believe in.

    It’s not just hypocrisy, it’s a confession of its own authoritarian beliefs.

    What’s more? Google (and others) “Earnestly” believes that it’s somehow DIFFERENT, merely be public slogans!!

    Well, that, is just the same tired “Western Exceptionalism”.

  23. September 15th, 2012 at 19:21 | #23

    “Free” speech Vs. censorship aside, just wanted to make a quick observation here:

    It seems like all the articles everyone posted here so far, the narrative is that some random American made an anti-Muslim movie (looks like a parody of a B-movie from what I’ve watched so far), and now anti-American protests are spreading all over the region.

    That whole cause & effect story just doesn’t seem right. Its not like people of other creeds or nationalities haven’t made any anti-Muslim remarks/videos on the internet – be it Chinese, Indian, Christian, or atheist (heck, you should see the way atheists make fun of Islam & other religions on YouTube – as an atheist, I’m quite pleased & entertained, actually). If anyone wants to check out a serious anti-Muslim film, they should watch “Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West” – a documentary made in 2006. That movie didn’t generate nearly as much protest, and that was made during the height of the Iraq War.

    It seems to me that the bigger story here is that America (or at least the US government) is just hated to such an extent in that region that any little thing – including a wannabe B-movie made by some random no-body – can set off anti-American demonstrations.

    Anyways, that’s just my two cents on the whole situation, now back to the debate.

  24. Black Pheonix
    September 15th, 2012 at 19:31 | #24

    @Mister Unknown

    “It seems to me that the bigger story here is that America (or at least the US government) is just hated to such an extent in that region that any little thing – including a wannabe B-movie made by some random no-body – can set off anti-American demonstrations.”

    I concur with this assessment, that perhaps the anger is just being set off by a small trigger.

    Of course, what is a silly little video compare to the daily drone attacks on ordinary people in the region??

    But it’s all degrees of injuries due to basic irresponsibility, i.e. Irresponsible bombing, irresponsible policies, irresponsible speech.

    See, US and the West talks far too much “freedom” and rarely talks “responsibility” (except when holding others responsible for the consequences).

    Well, I think many people are wising up to who’s really paying the prices of irresponsible freedoms.

  25. JJ
    September 15th, 2012 at 19:58 | #25

    @perspectivehere

    Dang, the Lynn Stewart case is ridiculous.

    Why is it when some countries set limits on “terror speech” the government is seen as the bad guy but when certain other countries do it then it’s fair and balanced?

  26. September 15th, 2012 at 20:27 | #26

    @acyang
    No, my argument is based on ALL govn’t practiced censorship, be it the US or China. And some censorship is actually beneficial.

    Like I have said you are clueless as to how the information transmission worked. You are being simplistic when you suggest that holding on to power is the only reason each govn’t practiced censorship. For example, if this movie that set of the protests is made by a Chinese in China, he would be charged and the movie taken down. Germany, France and a host of govn’t in Europe doesn’t allowed display of Nazi symbol.

    Stop the silly notion of having the right to bear arm make you superior. In the US if a mob attack you, you can be rest assure that they are well armed too. And woe to you if those guys paid the $200/yr automatic tax and you do not. During the 1950s to 1970s, pretty much every Chinese villagers were issued firearms due to the threat of invasion.

    Well, in China it is legal for a citizen to walk with and drink a bottle of beer. Try do that in the US and you will be arrested. Notion of absolute freedom is a misnomer.

  27. September 15th, 2012 at 20:45 | #27

    @Black Pheonix
    Exactly, that is why I said many outside citizens feel that the US is an authoritarian govn’t. Try having your friends and family killed by drone strike and your whole world view is changed forever.

    And so far the US govn’t and their so free (but with own agenda) press refused to discuss or present the view of those angry Muslim. Can’t they even interview a few of those protesters and listen to what they want for a change. Not what the US expert or US govn’t think it is best for them.

  28. September 15th, 2012 at 21:57 | #28

    @acyang

    It sounds like what you’re essentially arguing is that even though Google blocks/restricts access to what it deems undesirable material, there is no censorship & no hypocrisy as long as other “freely available” sources make the censored material accessible, or are able to criticize Google’s acts of censorship.

    If we were to actually apply that standard, then you cannot label ANY Chinese government information management as “censorship”. After all, anyone in China can easily download a VPN and bypass the firewalls, I myself have done it while living in Beijing, most of my friends do it in China. I know this because they regularly post Facebook updates from China. Since this is just an extra hoop that people have to jump through, and information access is still accessible, I would be perfectly justified in claiming that censorship does not exist in China.

    In fact, if you really want to continue playing that game of technicalities, I will go further in saying that a Chinese firewall is not really censorship at all, whereas Google fudging or blocking out search results is the real form of censorship. One could easily download a VPN in no time at all, and get unfettered internet access. On the other hand, if Google chose to hide a relevant webpage on the 96th page of its search results, it would be a lot harder to sift through and access, even though technically in both cases the information is “freely available”.

  29. September 16th, 2012 at 04:34 | #29

    @acyang

    Please help clear my confusion.. Your article appeared to be critical of Google’s (and by extension the Western media’s) reaction to recent events. What was not clear from the article and from your reply was the reason for the criticism. Where you critical, because:
    1) The censorship of the allegedly offensive video
    2) The hypocrisy surrounding the issue of free speech in the media and the drawing of an arbitrary line according to the politics of the moment

    1) in context of everything referenced in post, which leads to 2).

    And then I expanding 2) to point out that limit of free speech always drawn at safety / violence -> 2) is inherent in freedom of speech, where the line depends on your politics.

  30. September 16th, 2012 at 04:47 | #30

    @acyang

    The orange: A government which bans the dissemination of all news and/or opinions which threaten its lock on power.

    Of course we can distinguish between “private” and “government” censorship.

    You might even distinguish between “government” censorship for the public good vs. “government” censorship for hold on power.

    Problem is that, in the end, it’s form over substance.

    Suppose some private interests (some class of people) in society currently has a strangle hold on power, and they want to censor something. They dominate the discourse of subject matter the way they want it. That’s just as bad as government censorship.

    Think there is a difference?

    Well in such circumstances, the powerful usually hijack the gov’t anyways. The gov’t turns a blind eye. Now you have government collusion. Since the gov’t that respond to the powerful is really what you are worried about, this scenario always inevitably happen whenever there is a dominant private censorship. (If there is only weak private censorship, who cares? It’s like this blog, whatever we say (whatever we ‘censor’) doesn’t matter anyways … no?).

    Even if there were no “collusion” (for argument’s sake), is there a difference between gov’t collusion and mere private dominance that dis-empowers the public so much that the status quo just continues…? It’s always the same thing: the powerful against the powerless.

    Now going to gov’t censorship for purpose – to keep its power vs. all other good you can imagine (for equality (e.g. against hate speech to incite group-based violence), for security (e.g. no incitement of terrorists)) – problem is what the purpose is depends inevitably on yours politics. Pointing that something is done merely to perpetuate gov’t power is a political point. Nothing is done merely to perpetuate government power, there is always some other politics behind it. It’s just a matter you choose to acknowledge it or not.

    So that goes back to the main point I made many times before (this post is but one application), freedom of speech is really about politicking under the banner of “freedom of speech.”

    I know there are many arguments we can still make back and forth, which is fine. Volumes and volumes have been written about freedom of speech. But I just want to make sure to make this simple point.

  31. pug_ster
    September 16th, 2012 at 16:44 | #31

    http://mobile.slashdot.org/story/12/09/13/1916211/alibaba-says-google-threatened-acer-with-banishment-from-android

    When it comes to google ‘doing no evil,’ this is nothing but a joke. They already have threatened Acer that they will not support them if they decided to bring out a smartphone product with the Alyun OS (competitor of Android OS.)

  32. acyang
    September 16th, 2012 at 17:14 | #32

    Allen and Mr Unknown:
    Thanks to both for your replies and especially for their level of civility – I sincerely appreciate that.

    @Mr Unknown @28:
    I understand your argument. But I would still point out that it is somewhat misplaced in light of the fact that government censorship is different than “censorship” practiced by the media. Please refer to my post about the apples (media) vs orange (government) argument. BTW: Allen’s post #30 makes some very good counter points to that – I will reply below.

    In addition, I would like to point out that even if I was merely resorting to technicalities, you seem to be admitting that there is a difference in sophistication between “censorship” and bias as practiced by Western media and censorship as practiced by the CCP. Although as you say the result might be the same, it is one thing to obscure a signal with noise (bury a result in the 96th page) and another to cut the signal altogether (i.e. “connection time-out”). So, I would invite you to think what is the reason in the difference between these two means which in the end might accomplish a similar result. Is it simply that the CCP functionaries have not (yet) advanced to the level of sophisticated hypocrisy practiced by e.g. the NYT, Google or the USIA ? Or is it that these functionaries have way too much to fear that the best solution they could come up with is the blatant (and ineffective) firewall ?

    @Allen #29, #30:
    Your clarifications and subsequent arguments make me think that we agree on a lot here.

    We completely agree on the fact that the powerful try to hijack the government and distort the notion of “free speech”. To that point I will repeat that if one wants to illustrate how the notion of “freedom of speech” can be hijacked to serve the powerful, they need to look no further than the recent “Citizens United” US supreme court decision. I think that deserves much more coverage than “Google censorship” does.

    We also completely agree on the fact that just because something has been abused does not mean the principle itself is invalid.

    But we disagree on one point. You seem to be arguing that since “freedom of speech” can be usurped, and since the line on what constitutes “free speech” can be arbitrarily and hypocritically moved, that makes it ok for the CCP to restrict speech as much as it wants and as clumsily as it wants.

    I want to clarify something: I am as much of a realist as you are. I too believe that it is always a struggle of competing interests – your arguments of “powerful vs powerless” or “politics” find me in complete agreement. In fact my position is probably more cynical than yours: I believe that everyone (including myself) acts primarily out of their own self interest. So I do not trust those in power (in the West or East) to compromise in my favor or in favor of the “common good” when their interests are at stake. Therefore “free speech” is a very useful tool to me – it can keep “them” in check. So, I will not give up that tool just because someone tells me that giving it up is for my own good or the common good (implying that they know better than me what is good for me). That is what “they” are doing when they tell us that they know better than us what we should know and what we should not know. And to avoid further nationalistic shrills “they” above can be the CCP, USIA, Democrats, Republicans, Google, NYT..
    So what do I really want ? I want everyone (including “them” and me and you and Ray and Black Phoenix) to express their opinion and then I will decide what is good for me. And no matter how you look at it, for the time being I get what I want more easily in the West than in China. Mr Unknown argues that it is an illusion. I argue that it is a fact. That does not really matter. What matters is that most everyone who experiences the situation firsthand gets pretty much the same impression. And that is what makes the sometimes hypocritical Western rhetoric on “free speech” so effective. I hope that clarifies where I am coming from..

    @Ray:
    Are you arguing that some government censorship is beneficial while you abhor private censorship/hypocrisy ? If yes, Allen’s post #30 takes care of that argument (if that is your point). I am ignoring the rest of your post since it either resorts to name calling and/or embarks on tangential subjects. For example, I would be happy to debate the merits of the 2nd amendment on its own, but our current subject is the 1st – I just used the 2nd amendment as a tongue-in-cheek reply to your hyperbolic argument about “mobs on my doorstep”. Hope that is clear now that I explicitly spelled it out for a second time.

    @Black Phoenix:
    Seems that you went on a tailspin. So I will wait for you to demonstrate a flight path appropriate for a real Phoenix before I respond ..:-).

  33. September 16th, 2012 at 18:37 | #33

    @acyang

    Your apple Vs orange argument was precisely what I was countering. Regardless of the means of censorship, the results are qualitatively the same. No matter how anyone spins it, burying a result on the 96th page IS QUALITATIVELY THE SAME THING as the Chinese attempt to cut it altogether. In both cases the intent is to deny information; in both cases the user has to jump through extra hoops to get to that information; in both cases the information being denied is accessible after jumping through those hoops.

    My central argument here is that since both are qualitatively equal, if one is labeled as “censorship”, then the other must receive the same label. If one is NOT censorship, then the other also is NOT censorship. To go back to the original analogy – the apple and the orange both taste the same.

    Furthermore, there is no meaningful difference between a powerful government that censors information, and a powerful private entity that does the same. Bottom line – censorship is censorship no matter who did it or what methods were used, and the key point here is that no one has the moral high horse, it just so happens that one entity is better at PR than the other. I think we can all agree that PR does not equate to morality/righteousness.

    And to clarify, YES, I am unambiguously admitting that there is a different level of sophistication between Chinese & western censorship. The latter is far more sophisticated than the former. By pointing that out, you’re also admitting that those technicality games are absurd, and that all sides practice censorship. But back to the sophistication discussion – I probably haven’t made this point clear in previous posts in HH, but as a realist, I happen to think that the CPC should gradually change its censorship system, to a more limited and targeted system that, to some degree, emulates the propaganda system of the West (something resembling Russia Today or Fox News). I believe this should be done in a way that enhances the party’s hold on power, with the objective of continuing the party’s power. If a more sophisticated Chinese censorship system is what you’re advocating, then we have no disagreement. But if its your view that ALL means of censorship should be abolished altogether, then that’s where we differ, because no society realistically does that. Also, if its your view that one method of censorship is morally superior to another, then that would be another point of disagreement.

  34. September 16th, 2012 at 20:38 | #34

    @acyang
    You are just too stupid to realize why there is an anti US movement in the middle east.

    And yeah, your 2nd amendment protects Assange, Manning and wikileak too.

  35. acyang
    September 16th, 2012 at 23:28 | #35

    Ray :
    @acyang
    You are just too stupid to realize why there is an anti US movement in the middle east.
    And yeah, your 2nd amendment protects Assange, Manning and wikileak too.

    Tsk.. tsk.. tsk.. . Before I engage any further I would like to request to at least get the references to amendments right (i.e. 1st == “freedom of speech”, 2nd == “right to bear arms” ). Refraining from name calling and staying on the subject would also help. Thanks.

  36. acyang
    September 16th, 2012 at 23:36 | #36

    @Mister Unknown
    Thanks again for the reply and the civility, and I am glad to see we agree on a few things:

    I think our disagreement on the “apples vs orange” argument is not really a disagreement. Our divergence here stems from the perceived power of censorship as practiced by a government vs the “censorship practiced by a private citizen or a corporation. Government censorship is almost always more effective and chilling since a government has more power. A private party is usually weaker and thus it’s form of censorship can be viewed simply as bias – however when it grows too powerfull its bias can be as detrimental as that of government outright censorship. So, let’s say that we are in agreement here – although for now Google is far from being as powerful as the US government or the CCP.

    We are also in agreement that no method of “censorship” or “information control” is morally superior to another. I for one don’t like to argue about morals since it gets emotional very quickly.

    We are also in agreement that the power structure in the West practices a much more sophisticated form of “information management” than the CCP.

    Where we really disagree, is that you are a proponent of censorship and aspire for the CCP to be as sophisticated in its “information management”/”censorship” methods as the West. For the record (just in case this was not apparent) I am not. I would like to have as much information as possible available to me both in the West and in China. One argument as to why I am for “freedom of speech” and against censorship was outlined on my previous post so I will not repeat it here. So, let’s agree to disagree on that. But before we close this amicably, I would like to ask you one more question.

    You write:

    “I happen to think that the CPC should gradually change its censorship system, to a more limited and targeted system that, to some degree, emulates the propaganda system of the West (something resembling Russia Today or Fox News).”

    I wonder whether as part of this you would also advocate for the CCP to take down that firewall ?

  37. September 16th, 2012 at 23:53 | #37

    I made a typo on the above post, it should be 1st amendment.

    I don’t know why you guys are wasting time with a troll on technicallity.

    Conclusion: All govn’t, all press, all business entity use censorship.

    The simple reason there is such blow back in the middle east against the US is that of double standard and hypocracy practiced by the latter. Plain and simple.

    The average US citizens can’t see it because their press has been telling them how wonderful the US has been to create freedom and democracy for the middle east.

    If the US start by treating the Palestinian state as they would treat Israel, half of the problem would be solved.

  38. September 17th, 2012 at 00:22 | #38

    @acyang

    But we disagree on one point. You seem to be arguing that since “freedom of speech” can be usurped, and since the line on what constitutes “free speech” can be arbitrarily and hypocritically moved, that makes it ok for the CCP to restrict speech as much as it wants and as clumsily as it wants.

    No, I have said many times that I may disagree with CCP’s line of speech (their policy), but I disagree that CCP has no right to draw line (i.e. to censor).

    I challenge you to point out anywhere I wrote that I agree verbatim with CCP’s every policy on restricting speech.

    Just to be clear, as I wrote in this post (one of our featured posts)

    I may not agree with what the Chinese government censors every time, but I do take issue with those who attack “Chinese censorship” as categorically unenlightened.

    That has always been my point.

    So what do I really want ? I want everyone (including “them” and me and you and Ray and Black Phoenix) to express their opinion and then I will decide what is good for me. And no matter how you look at it, for the time being I get what I want more easily in the West than in China.

    You get more of what you want because your political interests are aligned more with the West. On my recent Michael Anti thread, I cited a recent Harvard study that concluded:

    Contrary to previous understandings, posts with negative, even vitriolic, criticism of the state, its leaders, and its policies are not more likely to be censored. Instead, we show that the censorship program is aimed at curtailing collective action by silencing comments that represent, reinforce, or spur social mobilization, regardless of content. … [T]he leadership … allow[s] the full range of expression of negative and positive comments about the state, its policies, and its leaders…. [L]ooking bad does not threaten their hold on power so long as they manage to eliminate discussions with collective action potential—where a locus of power and control, other than the government, influences the behaviors of masses of Chinese people. With respect to speech, the Chinese people are individually free but collectively in chains.

    The idea is that China is not free has been proven false by people in the know. You really can say a lot in China. The Western press may want to focus on a few outlier cases, often twisting and misrepresenting the facts, but that is just another bias we keep seeing.

    Sure if you want to argue for Free Tibet, you won’t get much of a voice. But if you want to argue for Naziism, you won’t get much of a voice in Germany either, and we consider that a free country. In the U.S., try writing really sympathetic things to Al Quaeda, you may disappear in extra-judicial proceedings that no one knows about.

    One thing I do give you, because the U.S. is much more powerful than China today, it is also more stable, and being stable, it faces less threats. To the extent that the U.S. faces less threat, you can get away with saying more. That’s a factor of the circumstances the U.S. finds itself in. But if you want to say things that does jeopardize U.S., watch out. To put it bluntly, even in the U.S., you are free only so long as you don’t rock and endanger the boat, as you are probably in most places in the world.

    To that point I will repeat that if one wants to illustrate how the notion of “freedom of speech” can be hijacked to serve the powerful, they need to look no further than the recent “Citizens United” US supreme court decision. I think that deserves much more coverage than “Google censorship” does.

    I may do a post on that.

    But I actually don’t have a problem with Citizens United. Some people would like to call it the enabling of one dollar one vote. That’s trivializing the case.

    The result is correct if you believe in 2 things.

    1.) there can never be too much speech in the “marketplace of ideas”, where it should be individuals, not gov’t, that decides whether the ideas sink or swim

    2.) people should have the right to assemble, to organize, to spend whatever resource (time, money, people, etc.) to get out their ideas

    If you believe in 1 and 2, you have Citizens United. If you really believes in the power of the individual, you wouldn’t care about money. Money puts more ideas in the “marketplace of ideas,” but individuals still get to choose. No amount of money changes that.

    Here is another thought exercise for you, let’s assume the counter of Citizens United, and campaign financing is limited. Why should people not be allowed to organize and pool their money and have that organization decide how best to use that money?

    If you think we should limit money, I ask why?

    Some people are more eloquent, articulate, etc. than others. They naturally gain more influence. Should we limit their eloquence to make sure everyone’s voice, including those less eloquent, get a fair shake in the “marketplace of ideas”?

    Some people may have more time to spend on organizing, campaigning, blogging, debating, etc….. Should we limit their time to make sure everyone gets equal say?

    Some people – say movie stars – have more exposures… more influence. Should we limit their voice to make sure other less famous people gets equal say?

    There are all sorts of “distortional effects” in the free marketplace of ideas. But to discuss “distortion” you have to an idea what is “ideal.” In an imperfect society, that also means censoring unhealthy, inflammatory, ideas … ideas that reduces democracies into either an oligarchy or mob rule – to try to make democracy work again.

    I wrote this one time:

    The truth is that freedom per se does not beget a free people. That’s because freedom itself does not empower. For empowerment to take place, people must be proactive – and many other stars have to align: the media has to be fair and objective to generate good public debates; the people have to be educated enough, well fed enough, and to care enough about the political process to participate in meaningful speech; the public needs to also have a healthy sense of social awareness and public duty to exercise speech toward the good of society – not just for themselves.

    The theme of empowerment in general to me is much more important than “freedom” – which is superficial … and easily distorted, as I have already pointed out.

    I believe in the power of the individual, too, like you. However unlike you, I prefer to believe in a government that I can publicly point to be on my side, instead of the vagaries of the marketplace to protect me against the powerful, the special interests, the shadowy oligarchs.

  39. Black Pheonix
    September 17th, 2012 at 15:49 | #39

    @acyang

    “Seems that you went on a tailspin. So I will wait for you to demonstrate a flight path appropriate for a real Phoenix before I respond ..:-).”

    Seems like you only have 1 liner bumper stickers left. So I will wait for something a little more than the cliches.

  40. acyang
    September 18th, 2012 at 15:04 | #40

    @Allen
    Thanks for your reply.. The more we discuss this subject the more it seems to me that we agree on many things. Yes, I too disagree with CCP’s policy but I agree that it is their de-facto right to draw the line where they want – China is a sovereign country after all. And I guess we are in agreement that we both have the right (not de facto) to voice our disagreement with the CCP’s policy and advocate for changing it. But there lies the conundrum: we want to voice our disagreement but they have the right to mute our voice – and they would mute our voice much more immediately if it was expressed collectively. And so I *unfortunately* find my political interests more aligned with the West on that issue. Should that mean that I should shut up or I should change my opinion just because the “west” historically took advantage of China ? Some seem to answer yes to that question and dismiss my argument alltogether. I find that quite shortsighted but it is their right after all…

    On your citation of the Harvard study. This is quite confusing. The last sentence states: “With respect to speech, the Chinese people are individually free but collectively in chains.” You start your next sentence with “The idea is that China is not free has been proven false by people in the know.”
    It would make more sense if you wrote: “The idea that the Chinese people are not individually free..”.
    Or are you implying that individually the Chinese people are as free as e.g. Americans and the rest does not matter because Americans too have been neutered in their ability of meaningful collective action ? You can guess my opinion on that too, I think. I just wonder what yours is.

    Thanks for your brief diversion on Citizen’s United. The questions you pose are very interesting and illustrate how a seemingly benign argument about individual freedom of speech can be expanded and perhaps become dangerous to the individuals themselves. It would be no surpise to you if I admitted that I generally side with Scalia’s arguments – their traces are visible in your questions. However, there were some questions posed by Stevens that gave me pause and caused me to seriously reconsider my views – maybe just that fact is proof enough on the importance of a marketplace of ideas (in that case an institutionalized one). Anyway I will wait for your full post on that subject since discussing it in depth here would be dismissed as “technicalities” by some.

    Finally, I will conclude that we seem to differ in very little. Maybe we just differ in semantics: e.g. for me a “free” individual and an “empowered” individual mean the same thing (yes there are nuances in both words that are important but we can skip those for now). So, we both believe in the empowered/free individual, and I too would like a government that could publicly prove to me that it is on my side – I am not an anarchist or extreme libertarian. The trouble is that I cannot trust that the government will be on my side and it will not distort the facts in order to deceive me – I am even more cautious about the government since it usualy is the most powerful agent in a society. That requires a continuous effort from my part, in which free speech and transparency are useful tools to figure out whether the government (or any other agent in the marketplace of ideas) is really on my side. Along with that another useful tool is “freedom of association”. If I were to guess I do not think that we differ much on that either..

  41. acyang
    September 18th, 2012 at 15:15 | #41

    Ray :

    I don’t know why you guys are wasting time with a troll on technicallity.
    Conclusion: ….

    I would ultimately defer to Mr Uknown and Allen to give you the answer. On my side I am grateful to both since in my opinion so far they have demonstrated a qualitative difference from you. IMHO, they have been polite, informed, and their arguments are well thought out. Moreover they truly challenge me. I respect them for that and hope that is mutual. On the other hand you are too quick to call me names, attach a “troll” label here, a “technicality” label there, draw a speedy “Conclusion” and then retreat to a comfortable place maybe satisfied that you “won” (whatever that means).
    Have you considered that maybe others are reasonably confident of the soundness of their opinions, and hope that their ideas will become even more well formed or even change through dialogue ? At least that is why I “waste my time” – i.e. some posts in this forum changed some of my opinions, some others reinforced my opinions, some informed me about other points of view etc.

    To close I would like to comment on the “troll” label. You have called me “stupid”, “dumb”, “thoroughly confused”, “clueless”, “simplistic”, having “silly notions” etc etc. Now you call me a “troll”. I have been reading HH for quite some time and I have seen how that label works: alleged “trolls” are summarily banned and the chorus applauds. I cannot help but wonder whether using that label is the first step in the process for my case – you are a listed as editor of this blog and that listing implies some authority (and I would think responsibility). I do not mind if banning me is what you are going to do – doing that will only prove my arguments correct. However, I do not think that my posts justify that label by any objective measure. But I would urge you to think whether your demeanor and the language of your posts justify the “troll” label instead.

    Thanks.

  42. Zack
    September 18th, 2012 at 15:59 | #42

    hey acyang, here’s a thought:
    if you hate it here, why don’t you just piss off?

  43. Black Pheonix
    September 18th, 2012 at 17:16 | #43

    @acyang

    “To close I would like to comment on the “troll” label. You have called me “stupid”, “dumb”, “thoroughly confused”, “clueless”, “simplistic”, having “silly notions” etc etc. Now you call me a “troll”. I have been reading HH for quite some time and I have seen how that label works: alleged “trolls” are summarily banned and the chorus applauds.”

    Hey, better than your liners.

    And yes, you are sounding exactly like the Troll, who whined constantly about being banned.

    You had your side of the argument. If you don’t have any more, why whine about the forum?

    If you keep “wasting time” in this fashion, you will be banned, because you are WASTING the FORUM’s bandwidth.

    You can take that “summarily” or any other way you like.

    I await your next words, which I suggest you choose “responsibly”.

  44. September 18th, 2012 at 17:47 | #44

    @acyang

    On my side I am grateful to both since in my opinion so far they have demonstrated a qualitative difference from you. IMHO, they have been polite, informed, and their arguments are well thought out. Moreover they truly challenge me. I respect them for that and hope that is mutual.

    Personally I know Mister Unknown in other places, and he is a gem. Allen is also a great dude. Ray may have a short fuse, but he knows a shit load more than you do. He called you clueless, because let’s be serious here, you are clueless sometimes and a lot of the replies just went over your head. I venture to say the average IQ here is at least 150. We’re not here to babysit your need to be “challenged”, but rather exchange short bursts of mental energy.

  45. September 18th, 2012 at 19:04 | #45

    @acyang

    But there lies the conundrum: we want to voice our disagreement but they have the right to mute our voice – and they would mute our voice much more immediately if it was expressed collectively. ,?

    The CCP does not mute what you say – collectively or not – no more than in the West. Most of what you want to say, including those that are very critical of the gov’t, are allowed.

    Same with Germany, France, India, U.S., etc. – except when what you say cross the line, causes a real problem in security of state, peace of society.

    For Germany, France, the line can exist with respect to Naziism and holocaust, etc.. For China, the line can exist with respect to secession by ethnicity, etc.

    For the U.S., the line is more tolerant, but that reflects more with its certain circumstances of geopolitical strength, nothing more.

    I find it annoying that you keep saying CCP censors while Western gov’ts don’t.

    On your citation of the Harvard study. This is quite confusing. … Or are you implying that individually the Chinese people are as free as e.g. Americans and the rest does not matter because Americans too have been neutered in their ability of meaningful collective action ? You can guess my opinion on that too, I think. I just wonder what yours is.

    If you read the post I cited (Michael Anti post), you will find that I made clear what I meant. In both societies, there are lines. Even by Western standards, individuals in China are “free.” However, the Harvard researchers are blinded by their ideological blinders so keep on making the point the Chinese people are not “collectively free.” Whatever, if we must go there, there are lots of people who have also observed that in the West, individuals are “free,” not but “collectively free.” I gave several references…

    As for Citizens United, I neither side with Scalia nor Stevens. I merely said I am neither against one or the other. If you care about individual freedom but not “collective freedom” (say some sort of democratic deliberation and process), you side with Scalia. This is truly liberalism. If you care about the “collective freedom,” you side with Stevens, you need to censor / control speech of indviduals to make sure society doesn’t fall prey to individual selfishness / power struggles.

    The Confucian approach would lean toward Stevens, although its goal is not necessarily some sort of democratic deliberation, but achievement of social harmony (a notion trivialized in the West).

    Neither is right or wrong, but both deserves attention and respect … implementation and experimentation.

    The trouble is that I cannot trust that the government will be on my side and it will not distort the facts in order to deceive me – I am even more cautious about the government since it usualy is the most powerful agent in a society. That requires a continuous effort from my part, in which free speech and transparency are useful tools to figure out whether the government (or any other agent in the marketplace of ideas) is really on my side.

    That’s fine … We just disagree on our world views and choose one model to believe in / to fear.

    Sometimes one think transparency is the panacea. It’s not. In a society filled by bigots, they will look for the facts and distort them to present an agenda. Scientific facts become politicized. Facts are selectively chosen by the political shrewd to tell inaccurate and sometimes dangerous story.

    Larry Lessig has written a good summary of some of the concerns here.

    The opposite of open gov’t (mob gov’t?) is a gov’t by meritocracy. I think you know where I am going with this…

    The point is not one is better or the other, but that we can choose either, make either work, but both need work. Neither is inherently “evil” or “good.”

  46. acyang
    September 18th, 2012 at 21:24 | #46

    @Allen
    I will be brief.. some of my posts have been mysteriously disheartening and I have been accused for being a “troll”

    I find it annoying that you keep saying CCP censors while Western gov’ts don’t.

    What I find extremely annoying is the clumsy way that CCP censors. I have had that discussion with Mr Uknown already and we agreed that the difference is in the level of sophistication and pervasiveness… So your annoyance is maybe due to a misunderstanding.

    That’s fine … We just disagree on our world views and choose one model to believe in / to fear.

    The opposite of open gov’t (mob gov’t?) is a gov’t by meritocracy. I think you know where I am going with this…

    Yes, I know very well where you are going… I just think that I am safer by being more suspicious and I sincerely hope you will not get disappointed for being more trusting..

    Good talking with you. Maybe we’ll talk again.

  47. September 19th, 2012 at 08:51 | #47

    @acyang

    I agreed that the way CPC conducts censorship is less effective than that of the West, and this is actually one of the few areas in which I think China should emulate the West to some degree. If emulating the West for anything is simply too emotionally hard to swallow for some people, then I’ll rephrase it as emulate Russia.

    It sounds like our fundamental disagreement is that you think censorship shouldn’t exist, & from everything you said earlier it sounds like you think censorship is largely absent in the West (& this goes back to my counter of the apples vs oranges analogy), so please correct me if I misinterpreted you.

    So just to make it explicit that you and I have VERY LITTLE agreement, let me repeat my last response:

    “But if its your view that ALL means of censorship should be abolished altogether, then that’s where we differ, because no society realistically does that. Also, if its your view that one method of censorship is morally superior to another, then that would be another point of disagreement.”

  48. Black Pheonix
    September 19th, 2012 at 17:49 | #48

    @acyang

    “What I find extremely annoying is the clumsy way that CCP censors.”

    If it annoys you, it’s at least working to a degree.

    Perhaps you misunderstood the point of the “SPAM filter”.

    I’ll give you a hint. It’s supposed to make life difficult for Trolls. 🙂

  49. Sigmar
    September 19th, 2012 at 22:11 | #49

    America practices censorship on a large scale as well. Many forums and discussion boards have policies against hate speech and reserve the right to censor inflammatory comments as well as bar people advocating hatred (or just plain old trolling). Even Youtube has a policy against hate speech targeting individuals (but bizarrely, not groups of people). America also practises self -censorship: Politicians, “respectable” businessmen and TV stations also have to speak carefully and avoid derogatory comments regarding race and ethnicity, or risk facing a backlash. There are certain words that are taboo in America, like “nigger”, “jap” or “chink”, and they are avoided by the elites in America (in public, at least). Many minorities, like the blacks, are trying to negate the derogatory nature of such words by assimilating them into their culture. That’s why we see in popular films and music, blacks addressing one another as “niggers”. But this privilege is not extended to other ethnicities. The blacks feel that it’s not racist to call other blacks “niggers”, which is true, because there is no underlying race politics; a black is not placing himself in a privileged position via race when he calls another black “nigger”. However, there are many in America, especially whites, who feel constrained about these restrictions in making derogatory comments.

  50. September 19th, 2012 at 23:01 | #50

    @Sigmar

    I think US censorship goes FAR beyond just hate speech. How many US officials – especially at the federal level – can be openly atheist and still get elected? How many presidential candidates can be elected without fervently proclaiming their support for Israel at AIPAC conferences every election season? How many people with non-mainstream ideas can get attention in the media without being portrayed as radicals or conspiracy theorists (i.e. Ron Paul)?

    I think the concept of censorship/freedom of expression must be expanded far beyond official sanctions.

  51. Sigmar
    September 20th, 2012 at 11:33 | #51

    @Mister Unknown
    I concur with your views, but it is more effective in dealing with fanatics who believe that America is exceptional when it comes to censorship (i.e. “Americans are the freest people in the world”) when we use empirical evidence, like America’s own official censorship practices and laws, to point out their fallacies. Then they can’t weasel out of their own assertions.

  52. September 20th, 2012 at 14:07 | #52

    @Sigmar

    The evidence you produce are weak for the point you are trying to make.

    By censorship, most people care about official government censorship.

    Private censorship can be bad, but doesn’t raise the same specter of fear.

  53. Sigmar
    September 21st, 2012 at 00:06 | #53

    @Allen
    Well I would say that even though hate speech isn’t officially illegal in the US due the 1st Ammendment, she still controls and restricts information via laws against defamation and incitement to riot. This is done for the purpose of social stability and security.

    About government censorship, what is your take on the role of the CIA in manipulating information (and thus practising a form of censorship for “security” purposes)?

  54. perspectivehere
    September 22nd, 2012 at 20:01 | #54

    It was reported that a few days ago an American in California was arrested after he posted comments on an ESPN blog about Nike’s $270 Lebron James basketball shoes. The blog post had attracted over 3,000 comments, with many of the commenters pointing out that kids wearing those shoes could and would be killed for them (because this is a common social phenomenon in the USA since at least 1990 – type in kids killed for shoes and many references appear).

    One commenter wrote that he was watching kids now and wouldn’t mind killing them. An ESPN moderator reported the comment to the police as a possible threat and after conducting surveillance and obtaining a warrant the man was arrested with $2million bail:

    “LOS ANGELES — A California man accused of posting comments on ESPN’s website that said he was watching kids and wouldn’t mind killing them was being held Tuesday on $2 million bail after he was arrested for investigation of making terrorist threats, authorities said.

    Several guns were found at the man’s home Monday, said Los Angeles County sheriff’s Lt. Steve Low. The name of the man, who is in his early 20s, was not immediately released as investigators are trying to determine if there are any additional suspects.

    Threatening posts were made in a reader response section to an online ESPN story on Thursday about new Nike sneakers named after LeBron James that cost $270 a pair, ESPN spokesman Mike Soltys said Tuesday. Some of the nearly 3,000 reader comments on the story talked about children possibly getting killed over the sneakers because of how expensive they are.

    “What he was posting had nothing to do with sports,” Soltys said. “We closely monitor the message boards and anytime we get a threat, we’re alerting law enforcement officials.”

    An employee at ESPN headquarters in Bristol, Conn., notified local police the same day and they linked the posting to the man’s home in Santa Clarita in northern Los Angeles County. Sheriff’s investigators said they were contacted Sunday and began surveillance on the man’s home until a search warrant was obtained.

    The online post on ESPN said that a shooting would be like the one in Auora, Colo., where 12 people were killed and 58 were injured in July, authorities said.”

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