Weekend Reading

Click on some links:

Earlier this year, Iowa and Utah became the latest states to approve “Ag Gag laws” that criminalize undercover investigations of animal abuse on factory farms. When activists enter a Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation under false pretenses (usually by getting hired) for the purpose of secretly videotaping the daily gratuitous atrocities committed against pigs, cows, chickens and other livestock, their conduct in states with Ag Gag laws is criminal. The FBI has recommended they be prosecuted as terrorists.

Who knows how much this cost. But be reassured, Californians, it’s not your tax dollars at work, here, and that’s kind of the point. Your opinions matter only the shrinking percentage of the university’s budget that the state actually pays for, down from $16k per student in the 1990’s to less than $7k today, and still falling. The state needs that money for building new prisons, for keeping property taxes low, and for not charging vehicle registration fees. But that’s why the state isn’t trying to impress its citizens, isn’t it? It’s appealing to the tech industry, signaling its desire to hook up for the night with all the subtlety and finesse of a 17 year old at a frat party. It even makes a certain kind of sense: instead of serving the public good by educating students, the university’s fiscal strategy is now a matter of attracting donations and customers, so image and advertisement are the important things. Enter the magic of design.

So we’re living in a period of uneasy truce: people around the world are sharing their voices on the internet like never before in history, but they’re doing so under private censorship regimes equally unique in time. There is more speech than ever under more potentially unchecked control than ever. It is “a double-edged sword,” says Electronic Frontier Foundation attorney Trevor Timm, with large corporations both enabling and controlling the ability for average people to reach a much larger audience than previously possible. “The top decision maker at YouTube has more censorship power than any Supreme Court justice,” he says. “We have to develop policies that better protect free speech from not only government interference but also corporate censorship.”


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