Burroughs Adding Machine

Social justice, arts and politics, life in New York City

Redefining Etiquette on the Web

Who gets to determine what’s appropriate–or inappropriate–on the Web?

Brianna Snyder writes in The New Haven Advocate a quick, thoughtful study of the state of anonymous commenting. How to protect free speech while limiting bullying (which has prompted new anti-bullying laws in my home state of Massachusetts)? When is a comment contributing to dialogue, rather than simply inflaming it? What’s the difference between internet terrorism and really strong emotion?

Many of the major news outlets like The New York Times and powerful internet conglomerates like Gawker Media have begun to establish gatekeeping systems: through tiers of commentors, or moderator-approved posts. On my own blog, I’ve debated whether to delete hateful comments or to allow them to further the conversation. No clear-cut decisions.

Complicating the issue is the dichotomy of the “Us versus Them” mentality. If, as a commenter, your opinion falls in the minority, you are often faced (or facing off) with a mob. As Snyder writes:

Chances are very good that you are already familiar with this unfortunate aspect of Internet culture, the Lord of the Flies-ness of it, the maddening, sometimes frightening, and impossible-to-read nature of online comment and message boards.

Is it bad business to regulate or discontinue anonymous posting? Or does it cut to the heart of a liberal democracy?


Filed under: censorship, media, web 2.0, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Voice of a Chinese Dissident

Chinese activist and artist Ai Weiwei reminds us how we often take our civil liberties for granted. Interviewed on Christiane Amanpour’s new show, he speaks eloquently about government oppression in his native China. A reminder that whether you’re sharing a quick 140-character Tweet, an innocuous blog post (like this one), or Googling your name on the Internet, folks in highly-censored nations like China don’t share this same freedom.

In fact, Google recently announced that it was moving its Chinese headquarters to Hong Kong in the face of continuing government censorship. Even corporations are choosing free expression over profit.

How exactly does the nation’s Communist government interfere in private lives?

“On one hand, the Prime Minister will recite my father’s poetry,” Weiwei says. “On the other hand, the police will follow me.”

Though he designed the iconic Bird’s Nest stadium for the 2008 Olympics, he still suffered brutality and physical injury for his outspoken beliefs. According to CNN:

Ai has paid a heavy price for his dissent. He says he was beaten in a hotel room by Chinese police and later needed emergency brain surgery for injuries he suffered in the assault.

In this clip from Amanpour’s interview, Weiwei appears fearless in his public statements. There’s not a hint of trepidation or anger in his voice. Makes me wonder: If faced with the same oppression, would I be able to calmly defy the government’s wishes and speak truth to power?

Filed under: censorship, technology, , , , , , , , , , ,

Burning Books in Wisconsin?

This story fired me up at first, then saddened me: West Bend, Wisconsin, is a community threatening to burn young adult books dealing with sexuality and other themes deemed “inappropriate” at the public library. Burning books? Come on. It’s 2009.

Not only is this a gay rights issue and a censorship issue, but one that imposes the religious values of a few on the books for an entire community. The book that started it all? The Perks of Being a Wallflower, which chronicles the awkward, heart-breaking adolescence of a freshman in high school.

According to a CNN report, this is an ongoing challenge for public libraries:

Book challenges aren’t new. More than 500 were reported in the United States in 2008, mostly in schools and public libraries, Deborah Caldwell-Stone of the American Library Association said.

But this one was attracting extra attention. Caldwell-Stone, who monitored the dispute, said moving any young-adult book to the adult section would have been a form of censorship, even if teens were free to check them out.

“The whole intent was shelving books not on the basis of age or reading ability, but because they disapprove of the content with the intent of restricting access. That’s a burden on First Amendment rights,” Caldwell-Stone said.

Let’s hope that some of the opposition to banning books in this community, including Maria Hanrahan, a blogger who opposes banned books in her West Bend community, garners the support they need:

“I’m against any other party telling me what’s appropriate for my child and what isn’t,” said Hanrahan, 40, who also created a West Bend Parents for Free Speech group. “We don’t mean to say these are appropriate for everyone, but we don’t feel they should be set apart from other materials or restricted from the young-adult section.”

It takes a whole lot of effort–and a whole lot of hate–to be so moved as to stir up controversy about a few library books. Is information that threatening to parents?


Filed under: censorship, , , , , ,

Calling out the NYT’s censors


When did “gay” become a dirty word?

Towleroad posted an interesting observation this morning about the good censors from our paper of record, The New York Times. It seems that if you sent me a text or passed along an article via the iPhone, the word “gay” would be replaced with the word “beep”. Ridiculous.

Reminds me of the subtle yet immeasurable effects of classifying homosexuality as a psychological disorder by medical professionals until 1973, and a mental disorder by the Pentagon as recently as 2006. If doctors and government officials can tell us we’re not right, what hope is there for young folks struggling with their identity on their own?

You can send your own feedback to the NYT feedback here.

UPDATE: The NYT removed the word “gay” from its censored list. Less than 24 hours elapsed: their official word is that it was unintentional and an error.


Filed under: gay rights, writing, , ,

Mapplethorpe, beware! There’s a new subversive in town


And he’s a young photography student at Brigham Young University. His photographs depict–gasp!–people who identify themselves as homosexual. And accompanying each portrait is a kind of alter image: the face of a family member or friend who is supportive of the gay student.

Seems like a simple, lyrical concept that embraces gays and lesbians, and also shows their allies–loved ones, friends, and family–accept them, no matter their sexuality.

BYU is not alone in its university-sanctioned censorship (it’s just in the public eye because of its anti-gay support of Prop 8. As institutions dedicated to open dialogue and understanding, colleges and universities must be the last places of close-mindedness–opting instead to be leaders of tolerance.

Greg Lukianoff writes about the increasing intolerance of art, opinion, and literature in The Huffington Post:

Sounds crazy, but sadly it’s true. Students at the University of Oklahoma have been warned not to use their university e-mail accounts for “the forwarding of political humor/commentary” during this election season.

Meanwhile, anyone who has an actual opinion on the election should think twice about expressing it on a bumper sticker at the University of Illinois, or in their dorm window at University of Texas at Austin. In fact, students who hung an Obama sign in their window at UT Austin were threatened with expulsion.

Here’s the artwork of the BYU artist, sans censorship:


Pretty darn subversive work, huh? My hunch is Mapplethorpe would just shrug his shoulders at the controversy and move on.


Filed under: art, gay rights, social justice, , , , ,



» "Pinays," AGNI, Spring 2016
» "Dandy," Post Road, Spring 2015
» "Wrestlers," Fifth Wednesday, Spring 2014
» "Babies," Joyland, August 2011
» "Nicolette and Maribel," BostonNow, May 2007
» "The Rice Bowl," Memorious, March 2005
» "The Rules of the Game," Screaming Monkeys: Critiques of Asian American Images (Coffee House Press, June 2003)
» "Deaf Mute," Growing Up Filipino (Philippine American Literary House, April 2003)
» "Good Men ," Genre, April 2003
» "The Foley Artist," Drunken Boat, April 2002
» "Squatters," Take Out: Queer Writing from Asian Pacific America (Asian Am. Writers' Workshop, 2001)
» "Deaf Mute," The North American Review, Jan 2001
» "The First Lady of Our Filipino Nation," The Boston Phoenix, 1999
» "Paper Route," Flyway Literary Review, 1996
» "Brainy Smurf and the Council Bluffs Pride Parade," Generation Q (Alyson, 1996)
March 2018
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About Me

Ricco Villanueva Siasoco is a Manhattan-based writer and non-profit manager. More

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