On Censorship

Joe Awni joe.awni at gmail.com
Mon May 6 14:58:54 UTC 2019

I want to call your attention to a serious ongoing organizational asymmetry
between a group like the FSFE with their ties to big software (ie: Github
whom RMS has spoken against), dedicated office, staff, and budget vs an
unorganized set of independent Free Software developers who might be
struggling to provide themselves comparable resources. Consider an
individual like David who may refrain from Twitter, Facebook, and Github
because they do not respect his freedoms, standing up to the Goliath
Software Cabal who have no problems censoring people on platforms they
control or have influence over. He would not stand a chance against them
without our support; we probably would not even know his name. It’s very
valiant and i applaud and pledge my support again.

If this discussion has made anything clear it’s that extreme conflict of
interest within the FSFE prevents them from acting in our best interest.
Until the internal conflicts are resolved they can not be trusted to be
independent of their tech industry donors’ interests.

===== On Censorship =====

There are three parties in any instance of censorship: The censor who
prevents censored material from reaching people; the censored, whose
communication is obstructed; and the uninformed who are ignorant of the
censored content or even that censorship has taken place. Some forms of
censorship could be naïevily  misidentified as (accidental) omissions. But
some more subtle and chilling techniques are unmistakable in their intent.

For most (probably you, reader), censorship is ignorance because you would
not have access to an alternative you don’t know exists. Generally, the
broadest effect of censorship is on the uninformed who are prevented from
learning of censored topics. But, ignorance is not the deepest most
disastrous impact of censorship, the relationship between the censor and
the censored is the most damaging and disastrous consequence for the Free
Software movement because as Paul Bodie has pointed out people walk away
from Free Software after dealing with this kind of skulduggery. To give a
timely example of someone who did so, have a look at Michael Stapelberg who
stepped down from Debian earlier this spring:
https://michael.stapelberg.ch/posts/2019-03-10-debian-winding-down/ He
complains of a remarquable overlap in topics of discussion from one time to
the next over the span of a decade. This is a form of censorship known
online as side-scrolling. Where irrelevant topics are inserted and
refactored ad-nauseam until exhausting participants’ willingness to
contribute to a discussion they view a onerous and unintelligent. Another
form of censorship; effectively burying the discussion in irrelevance.

Most people are optimistic, when their messages does not reach the mailing
list they scratch their heads, check their SMTP settings and simply chalk
it up to a mistake; they dont think anything nefarious is going on.

While the law of average states that for each person who speaks up about
censorship there are ten more who simply drift away from the community not
knowing if it was something wrong with their email client or the server.
For the one and ten who does not simply drift away and wonder what happened
to his messages, there are those being made to think that the removal or
alteration of their content was somehow for-the-greater-good, that the
author was off-base or overly emotional. This is not acceptable!

Personally, I have experienced instances of de facto censorship in the form
of not being allowed to participate in an election, having messages delayed
until untimely, unauthorized edits, and removal of messages. *I think it is
absolutely important we avoid censorship in any communication in any form. *

In a world where parent companies sell their customers’ data to
third-parties as part of surveillance-as-a-service agreements, beneficiary
organizations are relied on to provide censorship-as-a-service to complete
an ecosystem of ignorance and diversion for the end user. We do not need
any censorship or moderation on this list. I demand the FSFE stop trying to
frame the situation as if it was one discontented person with a personal
gripe and *I demand they publish ALL of the censored messages.*

For this reason and because i hold you in regard for our shared interest in
computing, I urge all other Free Software fellows to regularly re-evaluate
their communications platform choices from the perspective that they be as
free from any form any form of censorship as possible. (Hint: It’s not
always the sexy apps that respect their users AND apps that were OK at one
point, might no longer be.) Give consideration to your commutation choices
and you will be rewarded with the most informed discussion possible.

The alternative, living in a world of ignorance and diversion might not be
a problem for a short while. But, continued reliance on moderation to
lessen the burden on our collective ability for critical thinking will
corral our thoughts. Inevitably this will lead to off-loading of our
logical capabilities to the censor. With time, this will morph into
extremism. Thus, enforcing the status-quo will only benefit one specific
community, the Donald Trump Republican Community, and help keep the world
the same for a long time.

These people, and I’m assuming you consider them as people, who have
censored others with the goal to maintain their status as a flagship
organization in Free Software are the ones who actually deserve to be
silenced themselves.

P.S. I sent this email to both mailing lists at the same time. It should
interesting to see if/when it appears on each list.
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