Laughing in the face of Terror

With the terrorist attacks in Manchester and London over the past week or so, it’s fair to say that the UK’s resilience has been tested. With the General Election taking place tomorrow, and Theresa May promising to ‘rip up the Human Rights act’ to introduce sweeping restrictions on the Internet, and strengthen anti-terrorist legislation, it remains to be seem how things will pan out.

You can never completely overshadow the horrific consequences of fatal attacks where innocent people lose their lives, but through the dark fog of the events themselves, stories have emerged that show true humanity, rather than the bleak nihilism of the terrorists. Stories of people rushing to the defence and aid of others; fearlessly tackling armed attackers, and embracing strangers.

A couple of examples of this that have really stood out for me in particular demonstrate the best, and most ‘British’ response imaginable. In the first, a man seen ambling casually away from a pub where the attackers had struck was hailed as a spirit of defiance for taking his pint with him:

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Beer is so expensive in London mind you, that leaving a full pint behind would be the real madness.

And then, there was this guy… who when confronted with three knife wielding attackers screaming ‘This is for Allah!’, replied by rushing to fight them bare handed, shouting: ‘Fuck you, I’m Millwall!’, allowing others the chance to escape the scene. For those not familiar with Millwall football club, this sort of behaviour is perfectly normal.

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Speaking later after surviving multiple stab wounds all over his body, he said:

I thought, ‘I need to take the p*** out of these b******s’.

For me, this sums things up pretty beautifully. The point of these attacks is to make people afraid; to make nowhere feel safe… to withdraw in terror to an authoritarian regime that results in us turning on our neighbours and friends… but it’s tough to be afraid when you are laughing your ass off.

Those of us in Glasgow remember our own brush with ISIS well…

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These attacks are always heartbreaking, and we’ll mourn the people we lose, but we also need to turn things on their head, find the humour in any situation, and laugh. Laugh right in the face of those who think they can make us scared to go outside, or scared of our Muslim friends, because their attempts to destroy who we are are laughable – and if there’s one thing the British are good at, it’s taking the piss out of those who take themselves too seriously.

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On ‘Creativity’

When I was (a lot) younger I would spend a lot of time doing things that weren’t homework. I used to edit and publish a DIY school newspaper; make my own ‘radio show’ mixtapes; write short stories; and a myriad of other things. That’s something I’ve carried on as I’ve gotten older, through avenues like my small-time cassette tape record label, and music project unexpected bowtie.

Perhaps as a result of that kind of thing, I got lumped in with the arty creative crowd, and I hated it. Whenever there was some sort of brainstorming session or group discussion at school or work, such as trying to decide on a name or a strap line for some project, I was always told: ‘Come on, you’re a creative person. You’ll be able to think of something great.’, and of course… I never could. How was I meant to translate the weird stuff I did in my spare time into a stunning one liner for an ad campaign? It was an impossible task.

There’s this common idea that there are two different kinds of people: those who are ‘creative’, and able to just pluck amazing ideas for anything out of thin air… and others simply aren’t… as if creativity in of itself is a particular skill. That was the perspective that was hammered into me for so long, and since I didn’t have that sort of seeming creative genius that allowed me to come up with flashes of brilliance on the spot, I really came to resent the idea and label of ‘creativity’ in general.

As time has gone on though, I’ve come to think of things differently. I know so many amazingly creative people that do so many different things, but who are hopeless when placed out of their own wheelhouse and ways of working… and when you think about it, it’s ridiculous to expect anything else.

As far as I am concerned, creativity isn’t (necessarily) about the ability to conjure up something specific for any given situation on demand. Instead, it is the urge to make stuff, whether that’s something like music or poetry; something tangible like jewelery or paintings; or something like cutting hair… writing code… or performing live in a band. Creativity isn’t a skill that can be turned to any task at hand, but something rooted in people that derives energy and satisfaction from the act of creating something… whether it’s any good or not. Somebody can be a creative person whilst pumping out absolute dross, because it’s the process – not the product – that matters.

I think we do our students and colleagues a disservice when we call them ‘creative’ and expect them to produce brilliance in response. Rather than having the intended complimentary effect, it just ends up as a rope around their neck, and produces expectations that are too much to live up to. I’d happily never hear the phrase ‘you’re a creative person’ ever again.

Abbotsford, B.C. honoured for a shitty attempt to censor my blog

A story from one of our bloggers, of how a local City Council targetted his criticisms of the way they treat homeless people through an abuse of copyright law – and how we pushed back.

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In a post entitled “Hall of Shame: Something Stinks in Abbotsford“, Automattic, the San Francisco company which owns WordPress.com, the online content management system which hosts my blog, is highlighting a DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) take-down notice filed in January against one of my posts, as yet another example of the misuse of a DMCA notice to muzzle legitimate free speech.

I learned about the DMCA notice targeting content on my blog on January 12 in an email message from a WordPress.cоm Community Guardian named Jasper:

“We have received a DMCA notice…for material published on your WordPress.cоm site. Normally this would mean that we’d have to disable access to the material. However, because we believe that this instance falls under fair use protections, we will not be removing it at this time.”

The DMCA notice was submitted by one Haley Hodgson, who listed her…

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Hall of Shame: Something Stinks in Abbotsford

Transparency Report

For our latest Hall of Shame entry, we turn our gaze towards the City of Abbotsford in Canada. For reference, here’s their logo. Commit it to memory, as you’ll want to remember what it looks like for later:

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City officials took issue with a 2013 post written by a homeless blogger that criticized them for reportedly “deliberately spread[ing] chicken manure on a homeless person’s camp” in an effort to deter people from congregating in the area. To demonstrate just how… dirty a move the blogger thought this was, he illustrated his post with a doctored image of the city’s logo, which had been modified to include a large … well, see for yourself:

City of Abbotsford Parody Logo

The accompanying text reads:

“Oh crap! Abbotsford already needs to update their new city logo.”

That seems to make the blogger’s feelings quite clear. Unhappy, however, with this depiction of their logo, a marketing firm purporting to act…

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Transparency Report Update: July–December 2016. Consistency is Key.

What we’ve been working on for the past 6 months…

Transparency Report

Today we launch our seventh bi-annual transparency report, covering the period between July 1 and December 31, 2016.

As usual, we detail the number of takedown demands and requests for information received from governments, as well as the intellectual property (IP) takedown notices we have received.

Having published these reports for a number of years now, something that is particularly striking is just how consistent the intellectual property figures are from one period to the next. To demonstrate this point, here are the percentages for the number of DMCA takedown requests we have rejected for each period, on the basis of being incomplete or abusive. The graphs include the total overall number of requests to provide some more context:

Looking just at the percentage of abusive notices received per reporting period, we see an even tighter range:

We believe that these numbers demonstrate a persistent and ongoing issue with the current…

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Shopify, Breitbart, and Freedom of Speech.

Tonight I came across an article on TechCrunch in response to an open letter from Tobias Lütke, CEO of e-commerce platform Shopify, in which he defends the company’s decision to continue hosting Breitbart’s online shop. Breitbart being the infamous far right publication of which Steve Bannon was heavily involved with.

After sustained criticism, Lütke explains in the post entitled ‘In Support of Free Speech’ that based upon a belief that ‘commerce is a powerful, underestimated form of expression’, it would be wrong to effectively censor merchants by shutting down their shops as the result of differing political views.

Reporting on the letter, TechCrunch shared their post to Facebook with the text: ‘Shopify’s CEO thinks his platform has a responsibility to continue hosting Breitbart’s store – here’s why he’s wrong.’

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I was curious to see the arguments that would be proffered as to why the decision was wrong, but was ultimately left wanting. Here are the reasons given, as far as I could make out:

  1. Lütke is grossly overestimating the role of a private e-commerce platform in providing and protecting freedom of expression.
  2. Shopify cannot ‘censor’ anybody, as they are not an emanation of the State.
  3. Justifying the continued hosting of merchants who have extreme views for freedom of speech reasons is wrong, as freedom of speech does not apply to private organisations.
  4. As a private company, Shopify are not legally required to provide a platform to anybody.
  5. Shopify’s Terms of Service allow them to terminate the account of any user at any time.

In response, here’s why TechCrunch are wrong:

None of the reasons given actually explain why Shopify shouldn’t continue to host Breitbart.

Read over them again, then check out the full article here. Despite heavily criticising Shopify, and stating that Lütke is ‘wrong’, TechCrunch don’t engage at all with the heart of the issue. No, Shopify are not legally required to host the Breitbart shop, and yes, quite obviously their Terms of Service are quite obviously worded in such a way to give them that discretion in the event of any legal challenge, but that’s hardly a surprise.

Here’s the big question that went unanswered: why should Shopify not host Breitbart?Lütke hits the nail on the head with the following challenge, which the TechCrunch article completely fails to even acknowledge:

When we kick off a merchant, we’re asserting our own moral code as the superior one. But who gets to define that moral code? Where would it begin and end? Who gets to decide what can be sold and what can’t?

Rather than attempt to address this fundamental issue, TechCrunch essentially just argue that Shopify should kick Breitbart off of their platform because, er, well, legally there’s nothing to stop them. A pretty poor argument at best.

Protecting freedom of speech isn’t just down to the State.

Firstly, I’m not sure where this idea that censorship is only something that the State can give effect to comes from. It means to forbid or to ban something; to suppress speech. The source doesn’t have anything to do with it.

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Secondly, there is a lot of confusion surrounding freedom of speech and the relation to the State, even from those who purport to understand the dynamic. To clear some things up, the following are true:

  • Freedom of speech law (generally) only protects citizens from the acts of State actors.
  • Private online service providers (generally) have no obligation to protect the freedom of speech rights of their users, or to give them a platform for expression.

However, to assert that a platform cannot justify their actions based on freedom of speech considerations, or to willingly strive to uphold those principles on the basis of the above is a non sequitur. Additionally, just because you can’t threaten legal action on a freeedom of speech argument against Facebook if they take down your status update, that doesn’t mean it is wrong to argue that Facebook should be doing more to consider and protect those values.

Just as we would not expect a hotel owner to be able to refuse to allow a same sex couple to share a bed, or a pub to knock back someone based purely on the colour of their skin, it is nonsense to pretend that we have no expectations of private organisations to abide by certain shared societal values.

Without touching on the claims around the importance of e-commerce as a vehicle for expression, it seems that in a world where we are increasingly reliant on private entities to provide our virtual town square equivalents, and where we expect certain values to be upheld, arguably platforms such as Shopify have an increasing moral obligation to protect (as far as is possible) the principles that are the cornerstone of our Democracies.

 

 

Buy a Vinyl to Donate to the ACLU

Closet Organ

One of the few ways left to fight Donald Trump effectively is through the legal system, and one of the few organisations prepared and able to do that is the American Civil Liberties Union. Mind the judgement that helped slow down the ban on visitors from certain countries? That was because of them. Today, Bandcamp are donating their share of any sales to the ACLU, and we’ve decided to join them.

For today only, if you purchase anything from our online shop (http://closetorgan.bandcamp.com), we will donate all of the cash (minus postage costs) to the ACLU.

Keep fighting the good fight.

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