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, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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, , , , , ,

Writing

BIOGRAPHY

RECENT PUBLICATIONS
» "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 2017
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