FTM Model Banned from Facebook over Unicorn Gangbang Controversy

The New Locus of Facebook Censorship

Sex-positive activist, filmmaker, FTM model and porn star James Darling woke up yesterday to a 30-day Facebook ban for not showing, but simply linking, to a wonderfully self-explanatory video called Unicorn Gangbang, posted to the FTMfucker website.

The banning comes as the newest controversy caused by the social network’s anti-nudity and anti-sex censorship policies, which activists, feminists, and free speech advocates have widely condemned — particularly when it comes to breasts, which are fine to show if you’re male, but not fine to show if you’re female — and unclear where the rules stand if you’re FTM. According to Fred Wollens, a company spokesman,

Unfortunately, exposed breasts are against our Statement of Rights and Responsibilities. At the moment, we have absolutely no way of rationally delimitating “non-sexual images posted by women” from other potentially pornographic nude images. It’s incredibly difficult to come up with any sort of workable standards around non-sexualized vs sexualized nudity particularly for reviewers faced with hundreds of thousands of reports every week.

On November 17, 2012, Facebook admins threatened another group with suspension, The Uprising of Women in the Arab World, a movement where Arab women posted self-portait photographs wearing limited to no clothing, in protest of their religion’s strict sartorial standards.

Feminist individuals and groups regularly report harassment from Facebook officials, while their own complaints directed at the site’s more misogynist content are rarely taken seriously. Huffington Post columnist Soraya Chemaly discusses how Facebook content is rife with slut-shaming, fat-shaming, and glorification of rape culture, which rarely trigger the forms of censorship and threatening language to which female activists themselves have become accustomed:

According to Facebook’s interpretation and adherence to its own policies, they will not take down Boobs, Breasts and Boys who love them, unless the boys are babies since they do take down photos of breastfeeding mothers. They will not take down [Controversial Humor] rape pages, but they will remove a photograph of a woman crossing the street in New York City because she is topless (legal in New York, but not the sovereign state of Facebook). Obscene being defined by Facebook as a breast not in service to a man. Maybe it’s not a breast problem at all, but a nipple issue. Maybe Facebook lawyers are scared or put off by nipples. This isn’t offensive. At best it is sloppy and stupid and incoherent and, at worst, overtly sexist and misogynistic.

Considering these actions are taken by the same company culture that popularized brogramming, shall we truly be surprised?

LOLCats and the Arab Spring

In the words of Tomcat Jefferton.

In the words of Tomcat Jefferton.

The tango ever twists betwixt technology and its intended uses. The telephone, intended for serious man-talk of the business-y persuasion, found its fanbase amongst teens and housewives. The beeper, intended for serious man-beeps of the business-y persuasion, digitized the urban drug trade far moreso than the man-beep telecommunication grid; as quips some chick from a forum:

I’m an 80′s girl.. grew up with a rotary phone not a cell phone. I remember when beepers came out but we couldn’t get beeper because those were for drug dealers.. and Michael jackson… Hello his best years were in the 80′s! 

Now the internet, in all its Discordian tomfoolery, may have turned the axiom upside down — where serious man-beep devices no longer weave their way into consumerdom, but quite the inverse.

Sites sporting the flimsiest veneer of purported public interest may be the very catalysts galvanizing wave after wave of popular uprising — so much the trend these days, these uprisings, perhaps owing to a collective catacylsmic apoplexy raging against the Legion of Morose Hipster Ennui — from the Arab Spring to Occupy Wall Street to the Egyptian Uprising to the Popular Revolts of Brazil to Moral Monday, and more.

What do all these mass movements have in common? The power of lolcats.

Well, sort of. According to the cute cat theory of digital activism, penned by Ethan Zuckerman of the Center for Civic Media at the MIT Media Lab, popular social networks, far moreso than tools specifically geared towards activists, become the very tools that activists employ in their organizing:

The cute cat theory of digital activism is a theory concerning Internet activism, Web censorship, and “cute cats” (a term used for any low-value, but popular online activity) developed by Ethan Zuckerman in 2008. It posits that most people are not interested in activism; instead, they want to use the web for mundane activities, including surfing for pornography and lolcats (“cute cats”). The tools that they develop for that (such as Facebook, Flickr, Blogger, Twitter, and similar platforms) are very useful to social movement activists, who may lack resources to develop dedicated tools themselves. This, in turn, makes the activists more immune to reprisals by governments than if they were using a dedicated activism platform, because shutting down a popular public platform provokes a larger public outcry than shutting down an obscure one.

Censorship, whether analog or digital, is a popular bludgeoning tool wielded by states threatened by the prospect of an informed, organized, and unruly populace. However, even the more draconian of governments recognize the people’s right to humorous pictures of cats, if not Marxist screeds against the repression of the proletariat. And woe behold the government who stands between the people and their lolcats.

Zuckerman states that “Web 1.0 was invented to allow physicists to share research papers. Web 2.0 was created to allow people to share pictures of cute cats.”Zuckerman says that if a tool passes “cute cat” purposes, and is widely used for low-value purposes, it can be and likely is used for online activism, too.

If the government chooses to shut down such generic tools, it will hurt people’s ability to “look at cute cats online”, spreading dissent and encouraging the activists’ cause.

Viva la meowvolution!

Thanks to Rachel Swift, author of I, Cyborg: Parsing the Pleasure of Being Hooked on Machines, for the topic suggestion.

First They Came… Internet Edition

Curtailing your liberties in the name of freedom.

Curtailing your liberties in the name of freedom.

First they came for torrent trackers, and I did not speak out, because I wasn’t downloading from them. (Often, anyway.)

Then they came for MegaUpload, and I did not speak out, because I wasn’t storing files in the cloud.

Then they came for Aaron Swartz, Bradley Manning, Julian Assange, Aaron Auernheimer, and Barrett Brown, and I did not speak out, because I wasn’t a hacktivist.

Then they came for Google, Apple, Yahoo!, Facebook, and Microsoft, and I did not speak out, because I wasn’t working for Google, Apple, Yahoo!, Facebook, or Microsoft.

Then they came for LavaBit and Secret Circle, and I did not speak out, because I use unencrypted email.

Then they came for GrokLaw, and I did not speak out, because I wasn’t a legal activist.

Then they came for me, and no one spoke out, because I was the only person left on the internet.

Three Strikes Against the Open Web

From Texas to New Jersey to the United Kingdom, this week has seen a host of troubling developments threatening both the right of the web to stay open, and the right of its users to remain private.

From Lavabit, With Takedowns

lavabitThe web lost a valiant email host today in Lavabit, whose Owner and Operator, Ladar Levison, shut down the site in the face of unspecified United States governmental pressure. Lavabit was known a privacy-focused mid-sized email client serving 350,000 customers, most famous of whom is Edward Snowden, the whistleblower who remains in Russia on temporary asylum. Levison chronicles his decision, writing,

After significant soul searching, I have decided to suspend operations. I wish that I could legally share with you the events that led to my decision. I cannot. I feel you deserve to know what’s going on–the first amendment is supposed to guarantee me the freedom to speak out in situations like this…

This experience has taught me one very important lesson: without congressional action or a strong judicial precedent, I would _strongly_ recommend against anyone trusting their private data to a company with physical ties to the United States.

Technology and legal blog TechDirt provides extensive coverage of the Lavabit incident, with founder Mike Masnick commenting,

Reading between the lines, it seems rather obvious that Lavabit has been ordered to either disclose private information or grant access to its secure email accounts, and the company is taking a stand and shutting down the service while continuing the legal fight. It’s also clear that the court has a gag order on Levison, limiting what can be said.

Servers on Trial in New Jersey

The internet has facilitated prostitution about as long as it’s facilitated flamewars about Star Trek — which is to say, since pretty much forever (aka. 1994). Meddling governments have since attempted to curtail such interactions (particularly the former), seeking to criminalize not only the trafficking of sex workers, but the very hosts and sites where such conduct might be initiated.

Tomorrow, the EFF will take the stand in New Jersey on behalf of the Internet Archive, joining the law firm representing local classifieds site Backpage. At issue is a New Jersey statute that “attempts to impose criminal penalties on not only sex traffickers who post online prostitution advertisements but also on service providers who carry or disseminate such advertisements.”

Such restrictions conflict with section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA) of 1996. CDA 230 bars enforcement of state criminal laws that attempt to place criminal blame on providers for illegal user-generated content. Courts in Washington and Tennessee have already struck down similar statutes on CDA 230 protections, but a larger battle appears to be brewing.

On July 24, forty-nine state and territory attorneys general asked Congress to repeal CDA 230, a move that would leave internet regulation in the hands of state and local law enforcement officials, forcing service providers into self-policing entities legally liable for the actions of their users.

Tea and Scones, Dryly Unaccompanied by Double Penetration

David Cameron

The British Prime Minister reacts to the 2 Girls, 1 Cup video.

From the hallowed halls of David Cameron’s United Kingdom government emerges a massively restrictive new set of regulations dubbed the “War on Porn.” The laws would implement a “default-on” provision that restricts British internet users from accessing porn unless opting into a government-run list indicating that, yes, in fact, they would rather enjoy a bit of nasty after all.

In addition to restricting porn from people’s homes, the War would impose blanket restrictions on public WiFi and mobile networks, preventing salacious content from lighting up the glowing rectangular devices of any any user deemed a minor.

If taken to full effect, the War on Porn could have drastic and massive unintended consequences, from teenagers unable to find resources on safe sex and homosexuality, to women unable to find information about breast cancer.

More to the point, it won’t work. Tom Meltzer, writing for The Guardian, sums it up rather well:

Any default-on system needs to be simple enough for a stupid adult to navigate, and, if it is, any web-savvy kid should find their way around it in no time. To work, the filters would need to prevent users from asking search engines “How do I turn off these porn filters?” And then the question “How do I turn off the filters for questions about turning off filters?” And so on, for ever.

Not to mention, one ought to consider the potential embarrassment triggered by the opt-out box in light of the particular British temperament: “The fact is, people like pornography,” said Alan Thomson, a London website designer, speaking in a comment via TheDailyBeast. “Forcing people to explain to their mother, wife, or roommate why they want the porn filter off is hardly going to be a vote winner.”