Thursday, January 14, 2010

Censorship in the News

It is interesting that my first blog entry which talked about censorship coincided with the Google news storm in China.

In a blog entry that rocked the world they said: "We have decided we are no longer willing to continue censoring our results on" and "we have evidence to suggest that a primary goal of the attackers was accessing the Gmail accounts of Chinese human rights activists." Apparently they are willing to pull out of China if necessary.

I was heartened to see this, as I have often felt that Google (and others) really had a policy that was more accurately described , "Don't be evil (except if it's inconvenient)".

The best coverage of this issue that I have seen comes from Rebecca Mackinnon who is sympathetic, Imagethief who provides some analysis, Techcrunch who is skeptical about Google's real motivation and James Fallows who looks at the big picture political implications. The WSJ suggests that the China issue was a major moral dilemma for Russian founder Sergey Brin who felt strongly about not supporting censorship (unlike somebody else we know). I also found a Chinese perspective at China Youren interesting. Ars Technica (love that name!) suggests that Chinese hackers infiltrated automated systems set up to provide information to law enforcement in the US government. Ahh, the plot thickens.... we are being watched too, huh?

I REALLY like that I can gather different perspectives to get a "real" sense for what this means. The adult world (where people are allowed to speak) is so cool sometimes, but so messy and muddy isn't it?

Thus, I have decided to take @localization's advice and just air some of my comments from the LinkedIn censorship firestorm "out there" and make them visible in my blog, outside the Papal Conclave so to speak. There is too much in all to put everything here, so these are just my preferred highlights. So back to our little world.

Selected comments (mine in small font) from the 80 comment original Linked In discussion:

I happened by chance to read the original post that Renato made and while I saw that he clearly had a different opinion and viewpoint, I saw nothing offensive in language, style or intent of his deleted posting. I wish I had copied it so that others could see how sober and tempered it actually was.

It is unfortunate that you (Serge) chose to delete it based on your sole judgment. To my view this is an abuse of privilege and "power". There was nothing in his post that was not already stated in his blog and the original discussion was launched and stated in a very positive way.

I guess we should all be wary of making a statement that holds opinions different from yours lest we be judged and deleted

Serges Response: Kirti, thank you for joining in. There's a fine line between strongly opposing views and strongly aggressive offending views. ...........

Serge Response after several opposing views: What keeps me going here are private comments (one shown below ==) that I am getting (of course people understandbly (sic) are not too willing to get Jussara-messages
(another villain with an opposing opinion from the discussion ...KV
) addressed to themselves):

I really do not have time to write a formal comment on this thread to support you. But I think you are doing the right thing. I have been to a few forums where people keep bashing each other, leading to the demise of the group. Just stand firm.


My response: It would be wonderful to actually hear from one of your "supporters" as I am not sure how anybody could support your action without actually seeing the content that was deleted, unless they have already decided that anything Renato has to say is irrelevant.

I actually saw and read the actual posting that was deleted and it was clear to me that a lot of thought and care had gone into writing it.

Also you seem to forget that your opening comments were less than respectful to an initial very benevolent statement encouraging comments and discussion on how associations can raise money through means other than events. I think the tenor and tone of your first comments pretty much speaks for itself.

I don't necessarily have to agree with everything he said but I certainly respect the right of a member to state an opinion, especially one that to me seemed to have been done with great care, even if it is different from mine.

Also, perhaps you overestimate the "support" you have - it certainly does not seem to be strong enough to get somebody to actually step up and say it out aloud in public.

Censorship always works best when it dark, veiled and hidden. You don't have to justify it then.

I for one will always be suspicious of deletions in this group from this point on.

And the basic point he (Renato) made at the outset is still valid: how can we get fewer, higher quality events and more collaboration between the associations to build a better future for every Localization Professional?

--- and me later again after reading the recreated version of the deleted post:

Having read the original post, I think the recreation of the original posting on Renato's blog is a very close if not an exact replica of his posting that was deleted, especially in terms of tone, tenor and substance.

And again, I have to say from any reasonable moderation stance that I can think of, I cannot see a good reason for deleting it simply because he may/may not have said that "XXX has lost its direction or leadership". Since it was deleted we will never even know if this is true.

Surely, we as professionals can discern and handle this level of comment without getting defensive and resorting to suppression and arbitrary censorship .

I fundamentally question the judgment made by the moderator that characterized this as negative enough to be suppressed and deleted. In my opinion this was clearly a use of "excessive force".

The news is filled with anti-Obama (or any current administration) comments constantly and this is (unfortunately) very much a part if not the very essence of democracy - the haters and ugly voices are quickly identified and mostly dismissed by most reasonable people.

I am glad that there are other forums within LinkedIn and the web where openness and free-speech are seen as less threatening.

Frank Wang said.. (now the conversation moves to Renato's blog)
Kirti, We are adults. We all know the politically correct statement kids pick up in middle schools. Rubbing it time and again into the readers' face does not make your argument any stronger. Each organization/group has its own rules and policies, to keep them running the way the organizer sees fit. When you join a group/organization, you accept the terms. Or you can choose not to join or to leave. It's that simple. Don't complicate the issue with politically charged terms which we all know by heart. There is enough negativity/bashing both in the LinkedIn thread and here, from those defending Renato. "USSR", "dictatorship", "dark, veiled and hidden" (from yourself). If those are not bad enough, how about this one: "Following the thread of the dispute there, I wondered at times whether his command of English was really up to the task of moderation and actually understanding a point being made in all but the simplest language." May I paraphrase it into "You moron, you don't know what you are reading or doing"? Has Renato or any of his defenders said anything about this? I would definitely quit a group that allows this attack on a colleague.

I guess I continue to speak because I did NOT accept or expect that a comment like the one that was deleted could or would be removed without some kind of due process.

And precisely because we are adults, we do not need to make examples of personally-oriented disrespectful remarks. They speak for themselves, don't they?

You should watch CSPAN or British parliamentary proceedings sometimes if you think this discussion was not civil.

Also, you misrepresent my comment which was: "Censorship always works best when it dark, veiled and hidden. You don't have to justify it then."

In functioning censorship nobody protests because nobody knows.

In this case the censorship was visible and questionable and that was made it disturbing and worth a little bit of furor.

Maybe we do need to pick up our middle school textbooks and refresh our minds on why it is important to speak up when you see something that you believe is just plain wrong.

I hope that the furor will cause some change and raise the level of transparency and accountability in all the groups in LinkedIn. As a community member I reserve the right to be heard, especially when I speak with civility and respect.

The group does not belong to Serge, it is only what it is and has value, because the community has decided to trust it's integrity and moderation.

Perhaps I am overly sensitive as I grew up in South Africa under apartheid = institutionalized racism. One thing I learnt very clearly from middle school there: nothing will change if you do not speak up.

I am glad that we are able to have this discussion and I do appreciate the point you make about how some people do make personal and ethnically based insulting remarks. I agree it is not appropriate.

But as CSPAN shows, democracy is messy but still worthwhile.

And back to the GALA group forum in Linked In now:

Serge to me: Kirti, exactly what change do you want to bring? I am not sure that this is clearly verbalized.

My response: The change I would like to see is that anybody who writes the kind of posting that Renato wrote BE ALLOWED TO DO SO. There was nothing in his post that warranted a unilateral deletion. If you felt that there was something was offensive you needed to at least talk to him BEFORE you deleted it. I read it initially and will continue to defend his right to say what he did even though I actually don't agree with him.

As a moderator I delete blatant ads posted as discussions all the time. Once I deleted somebody who posted an ad for Used Cars and also blocked this person from the group. But I always leave any serious MT focused issue alone even if I think it is wrong. The community decides what is interesting and what is not.

These forums are not the personal playgrounds of the moderators, and the community members can and should hold them accountable in exchange for their trust, involvement and engagement.

Leadership in the forums is most clearly demonstrated by giving voice to opinions that are different in a fair and equitable way.

I think an apology would be in order.

Having said that, I actually feel that GALA produced a better conference than Localization World in terms of content. Miserable in terms of location and attendance. It makes sense to me that they take a greater leadership role in defining the agenda of major conferences (Buyers, Vendors AND Freelancers) and perhaps make money from it too, but I would love to see more accommodation for freelance translators, lower rates for them to attend etc...

And I agree it that it would be great if there were fewer more collaborative events held. I am still surprised that the associations don't work together more often to get collaboration happening, even at the individual member level. Isn't feudalism over?

I hope we see more collaboration happening in 2010.

Messy isn't it? And I said that this blog was going to be about MT didn't I?

1 comment:

  1. I saw this articel and thought it added a useful new perspective to this discussion.

    Today the Internet democratizes authority, and people are judged not by their age or experience but by the quality of what they have to say.

    This is great for 20-somethings, especially those who give advice about or discuss their own careers online. As Marci Alboher pointed out in the New York Times, "it's all about figuring out what you can bring to the table that others cannot." In the case of young bloggers, their tips and opinions are quirky, fresh, and interesting, even if you don't always agree with them.

    Online, much more so than in print, authority is about voice. Can you tell that a real person is behind the ideas? Do you feel like you know him or her? A strong voice is more engaging, and once you're engaged with someone you're more willing to listen to her whether or not you agree. In this way, voice begets authority.