“F” stands for “Free Dominion”.
That is what Dr. Michael Geist wrote in his ‘internet freedom countdown’.
“F” could just as easily could have stood for “Fournier” – as in Connie and Mark Fournier, who have done more for the freedom of speech and freedom on the Internet than any other Canadians. And this time, I am not using hyperbole!
20 years to the day and in the very building I had signed my marriage license, I came to observe and blog about a court case involving Free Dominion: Connie and Mark Fournier. It was a civil case involving anonymity on the internet and both the Canadian Civil Liberties Association and Dr. Geist’s Electronic Frontier Foundation were intervenors in the case. Having heard of the latter two and considering any court case they both thought important enough to intervene in to definitely have a significant impact on my own internet and speech freedoms, I came to spectate. (OK – I have to admit – I am a Geist ‘acolyte’.)
While following this particular case and many, many more, I came to deeply admire Connie and Mark. Over the years, they have made significant impact on the evolution of our speech and internet rights, always from a deeply principled perspective.
Now, before you get the idea that I agree with Connie and Mark’s political views, let me stop you right there. They are social conservatives who come from a Christian perspective. I am a libertarian, just this side of turning into an-cap. And a militant ignostic as well as a registered Kopimist.
Despite the greatly different views we hold on a myriad of topics, I came to like and deeply respect the Fourniers. Even when we discussed topics we disagreed on, they were respectful and principled and debating things with them has always been a pleasure.
Full disclosure: the one principle both the Fourniers and I completely and totally agree on – and it is perhaps the most important principle of them all – is the importance of freedom of speech.
I came to understanding the true and essential need for freedom of speech as the cornerstone of our civilization and the internet as the vehicle through which it is anonymously and effectively delivered because I was not only born on the wrong side of the Iron Curtain, I was also born the daughter of a political dissident. Perhaps because of this, I learned early on that without the freedom to criticize and ridicule political and religious ideologies and figures, you lose the means of defending all your other rights and freedoms. And while I don’t know the route that brought Connie and Mark to the same conclusions, it is a demonstrated fact that they have not only lived by that principle, they have sacrificed all to preserve freedom of speech in Canada (and, by extension, all Magna Carta countries) and have put their financial and physical security – their very well being on the line to protect anonymous speech (in their case, on the internet), which is so very crucial in preventing the abrogation of free speech in public spaces.
OK – I have now sketched in the background so that you, my dear reader, are aware of what I know, think and whatever prejudices I may have regarding my review of Connie Fournier’s new book: ‘Betrayed! Stephen Harper’s War on Principled Conservatism’.
One more thing before I start: here is a most excellent review of the book by Jay Currie (and, no, I did not read his review before I had made my own mind up). The comments are excellent!
‘Betrayed! Stephen Harper’s War on Principled Conservatism’ by Connie Fournier is a truly scary book.
Connie Fournier is both intelligent and eloquent and has the skill to line the little pearls up, one by one, till they form a brilliant necklace – or an effective noose…
Yes, I saw a part of the journey that Connie so accurately describes in her book – but I truly only saw a small part. Yet, step by step, event by event, convoluted happening by convoluted happening, she lights the path and puts forward some very convincing evidence that points not just to the corruption of our ‘progressive’ leaning bureaucracy but also demonstrated how the Harper ‘iron fist’ is affecting things behind the scenes (whether through direct action or through carefully selective inaction). Limited by the legal rulings still muzzling her, she succeeds in getting the important points across in a logical, accurate and believable manner.
This book has bought into focus the consistency with which the Harper government has sought to control, regulate and stifle internet communication. The book stops before the Trans Pacific Trade Treaty – again, a Harper government ‘baby’, the leaks about which prove the veracity of everything else written in the book.
Yes, I would recommend it as a read – even though I disagree with Connie’s conclusion that the Green Party would be the natural place to cast a protest vote for. No – I think the Pirate Party of Canada is a much better candidate, as their abid opposition to Bill C-51 is coupled with opposition to copyright consumer right abuses that the TPTT imposes as a supra-national law. If there is no Pirate Party candidate in your riding, please, do consider running for them. If my health were better, I most certainly would do my best to try to run for them!
But, again, I digress…
This is an important book to read for everyone who understands the crucial role freedom of speech plays and who would like help navigating the legal jungle of bills and attempts to deny it to us, the citizens – especially as it relates to the electronic medium.
Whether neo-Con or not, this book will open your eyes to the systematic process that is already in place to persecute political foes of the party in power and is written in such an accessible way that even non-techies will understand the implications of the proposed muzzling legislation coming from Harper’s ‘Conservative’ government.
Everyone of my relatives and friends will be getting a copy from me!
If you spend a lot of time on the interwebitudes, you will probably have across the name ‘reddit’ – even if you are not a frequent user of the site.
Personally, I love the place!
And, I freely admit that my blogging time has decreased when my reddit time increases.
If you spend even a little bit of time reading the news, you will probably have heard that reddit has had a little bit of a blow up. In the figurative sense. Being the sharing kind of person that I am, I thought I’d get some of the background and links here, in one place, for your convenience, my dear readers.
First thing to remember is that reddit is user-generated content and most of the moderators are volunteers, with a life outside of reddit (if such a thing is possible) and that only a fraction of the people responsible for making reddit the awesome community it has been are actually employees of the company.
Anyone (who registers) can create a post, a comment to a post, or even create a whole channel (called a subreddit). If you have thought of it, chances are, there is a subreddit for it!
Here are just a few examples from my favourites:
And politics, world news, and so much, much more!
One of the most popular subreddits ever is AMA = Ask Me Anything. When President Obama went on it, even the robust servers of reddit were overloaded.
This particular subreddit, AMA, had an employee named Victoria Taylor. A very popular employee, whose job it was to verify that the people answering the AMA were the actual people named, not their assistants or PR flunkies.
And this was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back!
Everyone (the moderators and the redditors, that is) went into full rebel mode, either blacking out subreddits or freezing submissions for a specified symbolic time period or apologizing and stating reasons for why they remained open (this is mostly true for the support groups or the fluffier pages – even such ‘apolitical’ subreddits as WTF (what the fuck – on of my favourites) went dark (marked as ‘private’).
And the petition calling for the interim CEO, aka Chairman Pao, to resign got over 160,000 signatures in just a few hours.
Of course there is a lot that lead up to this.
Drip, drip, drip…
Chairman Pao fired a popular dude – just because he got leukemia. (OK, I lost the link to that twitter feed, but it’s true. I’m sure if you do a little digging, you can find it. Sorry – there is now such a glut of info…that Twitter thingy was one of the first things I saw, but now it is drowned out….apologies.) First, reddit accommodated him, letting him work from his current home, then threatened to fire if he did not relocate to California. Then, when he agreed to get them a letter from his MD saying it’s OK to relocate, one day later, Chairman Pao called him up and fired him anyways, citing his poor health as a reason. Even though he had managed to do his job despite the illness just fine…
Drip, drip, drip…
Chairman Pao had made changes, attempting to turn reddit from free speech user generated content into a ‘safe space’.
In case you are not familiar with speech codes, ‘safe spaces’ is the ultra Political Correct speak for non-controvesrial and PC self censored to the point of irrelevance. Yeah…
Drip, drip, drip…
And this policy started coming into place by trying to completely delete whole subreddits that were deemed ‘not safe spaces’.
Like a subreddit that made fun of fat people.
Now, don’t get me wrong: I have the figure of a goddess! A palelolithic fertility goddess, to be exact!
Yet I was deeply offended and seriously angered when I learned that reddit deleted the subreddit that made fun of fat people! I’m a big girl (really, I am) and I don’t need someone – anyone – to protect me from people making fun of an aspect of what makes me me! GRRRRRR!!!
So, it is in this atmosphere of people being very unhappy that censorship, politically correct censorship, was ruining reddit that the firing of Victoria Taylor came.
Perhaps even more importantly, in came on the heels of an AMA session with the notorious race hustler, Jesse Jackson, which (rather predictably) turned out to be not very pleasant for the ‘good reverend’.
One of the thing about the reddit community (redditors) is that they are difficult to easily place into any of the current political group. OK, I am oversimplifying here, obviously, but if I were to describe the generic generalization caricature thingie of most redditors, I would say they are free speechers, socially progressive, strongly individualistic techies. Live and let live – and say it like it is, without pretentious sillyness.
As in, we tend to live our social live on the internet, where a person’s gender and race are not visible and certainly not a factor in evaluation. Only one’s opinions and online behaviour (history) are used by others to form opinions about one.
Because all other context is missing.
And, most of us find ‘speech codes’ to be beyond silly.
Yes, we can be hurtful – but we poke fun at our selves as much as at others. And because our online presence is crafted to be whatever we choose it to be, we are not afraid to say what we actually think, regardless of our gender, colour, orientation, fat content or anything else!
Which is why the timing of Victoria Taylor’s termination at reddit is so important: it came on the heels of an AMA session with Jesse Jackson.
Jesse Jackson seems to have complained that his nephew was ‘shut out’ from the opportunities in Silicon Valley because he is black….except that his nephew is a professor at MIT…..because ‘racism’.
It gets betted from there: from people asking about his illegitimate son (whom he fathered while married) to, well, calling him a racist twat – to recommending he fire his publicist for ever letting him do a reddit AMA!
I highly recommend reading the whole thread – it is hilarious! I was in pain from laughing!!!
Which, again, highlights the problem: Jesse Jackson was hoisted on his own petard and raked over the coals for his prejudice, racism and divisiveness. For profiting by stoking the racial flames rather than being a healer and making our society better.
Very predictable reaction from the reddit core audience.
But, the result was that Victoria, the employee responsible not for the mocking, but for lining up and verifying the guest, was fired by the PS-correct-driving CEO. Who is trying to impose the hated, nay, reviled, ‘safe spaces’ agenda onto a free speecher, deeply individualistic community.
Drip, drip, drip!!!
The proverbial bucket overfloweth!!!
Welcome to AMAgeddon!!!
For the background on this case, please see here.
For the full ruling, see here.
Prior to the closing arguments, I begged John Baglow to, please, stop this lawsuit, even at such a late date. I promised I’d help him fundraise to cover his costs if he, even at this point, called the whole thing off.
Because I firmly believed that any ruling on this case would necessarily be a loss for freedom of speech and a disaster for all of us who socialize on the interwebitudes!
And I was right!
Yes, Connie and Mark Fournier, as well as Peter O’Donnel, have won because even though Madam Justice Polowin found the comments to be defamatory, she also found them to be fair comment and dismissed the case.
So, yes, the Fourniers and POD have won.
But it is a bittersweet victory for them and a decided loss for freedom of speech in the internet.
Let me explain why…
First, let’s name the elephant in the room: the process is the punishment.
Baglow has dragged the defendants through the court system for years and cost them tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of dollars in court costs and lost time/productivity. Yet, in her wisdom, Madam Justice Polowin did not order Baglow to pay the Fournier’s court costs.
Not having any training in legal matters, I find this mindblowing.
If the words were deemed to be ‘fair comment’, as Madam Justice Polowin had ruled, why should the Fourniers and POD have had to pay tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees, travel and accommodations in order to defend themselves against what she has ruled is a baseless accusation?
And why should they have to pay half the costs of a court expert in internet communication: an ‘expert’ who is so very up on internet communication and customs that he testified that he’s never ever heard of Godwin’s Law?!?!?
An internet communication expert who’s never heard of Godwin’s Law?
Come on, this is a joke!!!
Even my mother-in-law, who needs help logging on to Facebook, has enough internet savvy to know Godwin’s Law, aka reducto ad Hitlerum…
But, that is besides the point: the bitter lump of coal (actually, coal is not that bitter, but you know what I mean…) here is that while the defendants may have been found innocent, but they still get punished by not having their costs covered and having to pay for an ‘expert’ which would not have been necessary had the judge had even high-school level knowledge of the online world around her.
Second, I most vociferously disagree with some of her rulings on a the various issues raised in the case, because they will, in a very real sense, cause a serious chill in online communications. It will probably take me multiple readings to fully analyse the significant damage this ruling poses to freedom of speech, but, one of her rulings practically jumps out at me.
This is the ruling that providers of an online discussion space are considered to be the publishers of what other people post to these fora, whether this is moderated or not.
This spells a disaster for every blogger that permits comments and makes the running of un-pre-moderated discussion fora a very serious liability danger: most will probably be limited to permitting only politically correct speech and no discussion of controversial topics whatsoever.
In reality, Madame Justice Polowin ruling means that, for example, WordPress or Blogger, by providing a platform for publication with the aim for people to come there and exchange ideas, that this makes WordPress or Twitter etc. the publishers of that communication and just as liable for the words published on their platform by third parties as if they themselves had written it.
Just think about the impact this ruling will have…
Sorry, I’ve got to leave this here for now….you see, dear reader, I suddenly have this terrible pounding headache….
Connie and Mark Fournier have won!!!
Most awesome news!!!
I’m off to read the ruling here – will comment more (and finally post the missing write-ups) soon!
Here is some food for thought:
What do you think?