Is Facebook Censoring the Syrian Opposition?
Last December, a woman from the Syrian community in Toronto reached out to me for help after a Syrian opposition Facebook page, for which she was an administrator, was expunged from the internet. She told me that Facebook had deleted the page, called Likes for Syria, in mid December, by which time it had garnered more than 80,000 “likes.” Several Syrian Canadians had organized the page shortly after the revolution in Syria began, back in 2011, and used it as a tool for posting news stories about the crisis, spreading messages of hope, and creating awareness in the Western world—something that many feel is desperately needed.
“We feel like our freedom of speech has been totally taken away,” said Faris Alshawaf, another administrator for Likes for Syria. “We have a right to talk about what is happening.” Facebook had removed the page once before but quickly republished it after administrators made an appeal. Just days later, Facebook deleted the page a second time.
Protesters in Istanbul Rioted to Save Their Internet
This year, Turkey’s protesters have turned their attention from small, endangered urban parks to the slightly more on-trend issue of online freedom.
The reason is that a new law was announced over the weekend that would award the Turkish government tighter control over the internet, allowing it to block websites without seeking a court ruling first. Considering that the government already controls the country’s mainstream media, it’s no surprise that news of these restrictions on the country’s primary source of objective information didn’t go down very well.
On Saturday, internet-freedom activists took their anger to Istanbul’s Taksim Square, the epicenter of last year’s Gezi Park demonstrations. Much like 2013’s protests, Turkish state police were out in force, spraying crowds with water cannons, trying to demolish their barricades, and chasing protesters off down Istikal Avenue with paintball guns. Yet the crowds regrouped and began building up more barricades down alleys and sidestreets, before police attacked them again with water cannons and gas bombs. The clashes continued late into the night, with demonstrators chanting, “Hands off my internet!”
"If I don’t stand here and protest, we will lose all our freedom," said Ceren, a 24-year-old college student. "With Turkish mainstream media under [government] control, we only have the internet. If we lose the internet, nobody in the world would even be hearing about this protest."
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No Amount of Censorship Can Stop Atlanta’s Drag Queens from Looking Fabulous
Last month, we spoke to some of the people behind Atlanta’s Legendary Children photo exhibition, which centers around pictures of the city’s drag scene. Since the show opened, the organizer have run into some issues, mostly based around cum, cock, and censorship. Matthew Terrell is one of those organizer, so we asked him to provide us with an account of what’s been going on.
Violet Chachki photographed by Blake England, one of the photos that has had to be censored.
Putting together Legendary Children was a laborious, but glamorous, operation. The exhibition of photos based around the Atlanta drag scene features work by myself, Jon Dean, Kevin O, Blane Bussey, and Blake England, with ten other queens rounding out our queer coterie.
Atlanta’s Gallery 1526 currently houses our exhibit, and Melanie Bell—the space’s beautiful, pregnant, bisexual mother-gallerist—has been one of our strongest supporters since day one. “It was time for the drag scene to receive a fine art setting, and once you see the photographers’ work, you’ll agree” she told me. “This show was personally exciting for me,” she continued. “Being bisexual and in love with the dynamic creativity that drag brings, it made perfect sense. Art? Gorgeous men who look like gorgeous women? Yes, please and thank you.”
Turkey Really Doesn’t Want Gay Men to Have Sex
In Turkey, it just got harder to enjoy a good old-fashioned no-strings-attached hook-up—at least if you’re a gay or bisexual man. Last month the Turkish government banned Grindr, the app that advertises itself as a way to “find gay, bi and curious guys near you” and had 125,000 users in the country.
If you try to access the app now—in the name of research, I tried—a message will appear stating that the Telecommunications Communication Presidency (TIB, by its Turkish acronym) has banned the site “as a protection measure.” Protection, presumably, against men having sex with each other.
The Art of Taboo – Ren Hang
Being a radical artist in China is a pretty tricky prospect. Considering censors banned paradigm of inoffensive banality Katy Perry from the country’s airwaves for supposedly being too vulgar (and not forgetting that time authorities made Ai Weiwei disappear for posting seminude photos of himself online), you would have thought that Chinese photographer Ren Hang would lay off filling his portfolio with gaping buttholes and models pissing on each other, or sustaining his unparalleled level of dedication to photographing erect penises.
But he hasn’t, which is a good thing, because his photos are great—somehow managing to desexualize naked bodies and turn them into sometimes funny, sometimes beautiful, sometimes gnarled, hairy, human-shaped sculptures that make you want to get naked with all your friends, paint your dick red, and hang out on a roof in Beijing. Which is basically the end game all photographers are going for, right? I wanted to talk to Ren about his work, so I did. Here’s that conversation.
VICE: First off, why is everyone naked in basically every single one of your photos?
Ren Hang: Well, people come into this world naked and I consider naked bodies to be people’s original, authentic look. So I feel the real existence of people through their naked bodies.
Is that why the bodies aren’t presented in a kind of conventionally “sexy” way, even if the photos are sexual?
No, I don’t take photos with any particular purpose or plan—I just grasp whatever comes into my mind, arrange that in front of me and take a photo of it. I don’t pay too much attention to whether a scene is sexy or not when I’m taking photos.
Yeah, a lot of the bodies end up looking more like kind of grotesque sculptures.
That’s not really intentional, although I do consider bodies as sculptural—or, as you say, grotesque sculptures—so I suppose the sculptures exist because the bodies exist.
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These NSFW Russian Party Pics Might Send a Guy to Prison
Anton Ilyushchenko is a 27-year-old blogger from Omsk, Russia. Last April, he reposted some photographs taken in a nightclub in his hometown. I guess they’d be fairly shocking to someone who’s never used the internet before, and the people in them are going more HAM than the average American partygoer tends to—you don’t often see people penetrating each other up against the wall in bars over here—but mostly they’re just funny photos of drunk people being drunk and doing things they’ll probably regret in the morning. To be honest, we’ve seen wilder stuff on some of our Big Nights Out.
However, it seems the Russian authorities don’t share that opinion, because Anton is now facing six years in prison. Though he maintains that he didn’t take them himself, the images went viral. The cops followed the hyperlinks back to Anton’s blog, and are accusing him of “distributing pornography.” Despite the fact that a cursory Google search shows that a hell of a lot of porn is coming out of Russia, the distribution of porn technically carries with it a sentence of two to six years in prison. Anton deleted his post, but the pictures are still easily accessible on a variety of other websites. (Which is why he doesn’t mind us reposting them here.)
Last week, the police informed Anton they’d be going ahead with a criminal case after an “expert” at the Ministry of Internal Affairs ruled that three of the pictures constituted porn. The original photographer isn’t under investigation and neither is the nightclub’s owner—the latter of whom, it’s worth mentioning, is rumored to have once worked for the Omsk police force.
I got in touch with Anton to ask how this whole shitstorm came about.
VICE: Hi, Anton. First off, can you tell me a little about Omsk? What kind of city is it?
Anton Ilyushchenko: Omsk is an ordinary provincial city with a population of a bit more than a million people.
How did you find these photos?
I found the photographs via a link that was posted on an internet forum for the Omsk area. The link led to a group on VKontakte, Russia’s most popular social media site.
When you posted the photos on your blog, did you think they’d have this sort of impact?
No, I had no idea they’d have this sort of impact. I thought I’d just discuss the situation with the people who read my blog. And suddenly there were all these reposts across the whole country. If I’d known that the police would investigate me, then I probably wouldn’t have put up the post.
David Cameron’s War on Internet Porn Lacks a Smoking Gun
A surprisingly large amount of porn involves death, destruction, or violence—but then so does a lot of film.Vore fetishists fantasize about people eating each other, and Anthony Hopkins acts out a similar fantasy in 2001’s Hannibal. Macrophiles might imagine giant women rampaging through cities, leaving carnage and crushed bodies in their wake. Attack of the 50 Foot Woman is tame in comparison, but city-smashing violence is featured in every other film these days.
In porn, rape fantasies are far more common than any of those scenarios, but depictions of rape have also appeared with some degree of regularity on the big screen. Take Irréversible, for example, which the late Roger Ebert described as, “a movie so violent and cruel that most people will find it unwatchable.” At times, the only difference between cinema and violent porn is that one has to pass under the eyes of a censoring board and the other gets instantly pressed to DVD or uploaded to the seedier corners of the internet.
Soon, though, those seedier corners may be off limits to people in the UK. David Cameron announced yesterday that he is working with ISPs in England to implement a blanket ban on violent porn. (He will also be making it compulsory for adults to actively “opt in” to internet porn access.) The prime minister’s declaration comes after sustained pressure from both the Daily Mail and a coalition of groups and individuals led by End Violence Against Women. EVAW drafted an open letter to David Cameron calling for a ban on what they call “rape porn.” To accompany it, they wrote a briefing paper that sets out their reasoning, with links back to some academic research that they think supports their campaign. It’s a serious issue and their overall mission is one that needs as much support as possible—if there is a link of causality between rape porn and real-life rape, then any sane person would find it hard to dispute that its presence in the media should be minimized or completely eradicated. However, as much as there’s a need to protect children and adults alike from sexual violence, that link has yet to be detected by anyone.
Facebook and Censorship’s Slippery Slope
The First Amendment is great, huh? It gives people the right to (mostly) say whatever they like, because the lawyers and landholders who wrote the Constitution recognized that democracy requires people to debate and share opinions without worrying about reprisals or censorship from the government. The cost of this is that you have to allow people to hold racist protests and draw pictures of animals with human sex parts and so on, but allowing people to hold and share beliefs that most people find abhorrent or stupid is how we know we are free. Ayn Rand once said, by way of defending pornography, “Every infringement of human rights has begun with a suppression of a given right’s least attractive practitioners.” We should be free to write and say whatever we want, even if we’re pornographers, racists, or fans of Ayn Rand’s books.
We don’t have those same rights on Facebook, however.
Facebook isn’t just a cool place for you to hang out and chat with your buddies and share hot new content you found surfing the World Wide Web. It’s a platform owned by a massive corporation that makes money off of advertising and can do pretty much whatever it likes with the stuff you post on it. Which isn’t to say Facebook is evil, exactly, but it’s not your friend, and it’s not under any legal obligation to protect speech or use its site to say whatever you like. Zuckerberg and company get to decide what is and is not permissible on their property, and since they own the internet’s second-most-popular site, that gives them a lot of power.
In practice, Facebook uses this power to make itself as advertiser-friendly as possible. This means they suspend users for posting NSFW content and remove photos of “offensive” body parts like dicks and female nipples. They’ve also taken down aggressively racist content and videos of extreme violence. The arguments for banning these kinds of content are simple—Facebook is used by children and millions of users who are offended by that nasty stuff, and the website is supposed to be a place that “helps you connect and share with the people in your life,” not a free-for-all where hate groups can organize and broadcast their poison.
Please Start Banning Books Again
It’s been a while since anything besides people and their weapons seemed dangerous in America. There’s a lot of attention—and a great deal of money—spent on determining where the next physical threat is, and how that threat is going to kill us, but when it comes to protecting our minds from dirty things our stance is about as liberal as it gets. Profanity, outside of mildly offending someone’s taste, seems nearly impossible. Compared to places where you can be killed for speaking out or using sacrilegious images, this freedom is a good thing, right?
I’m not so sure.
I kind of miss the idea of cultural lines that one can’t step over. One of my most memorable high school experiences was getting a permission slip signed by my parents so I could listen to an audiotape of Allen Ginsberg reading “America.” Our teacher warned us it included vulgar language and homosexuality and drugs. Something about having to break a permissive barrier to gain access to that material grabbed my teenage attention more than any of the other stuff we were made to read that year—much of which I’ve long forgotten even the most basic elements of.
But “America” stands out in my mind. And not even because I think it’s a particularly great poem, but because in some way I felt being allowed to hear it was a privilege. Before then, my reading had been waning. I was a voracious book-face child until somewhere during middle or high school, when I became terribly bored with what I was assigned. But even my 16-year-old brain could tell there was something much more volatile under the surface of “America.” From there I set off on my own, first to Burroughs and Henry Miller, and eventually to Joyce, McCarthy, etc. It took a sort of brain bomb to get me going, but once I’d started I couldn’t stop.
Looking over a list of the banned and challenged books in US history, it’s impossible to argue that some of our most important works weren’t at one point considered wrong:
Moby Dick - Banned from English classes in Texas in 1851 because it “conflicted with community values.” Plus, think of how many kids in school must be making dick jokes every time it’s taught.
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn - Called “trash and suitable only for the slums.” Not to mention depicted race in a way that many people today wish they could forget.
This woman thinks Anne Frank’s diary is pornographic. Is she the cry-baby on the week?