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Banned, Blocked, and Censored Bloggers

No symbol over the world blogging.According to the American Library Association, September 30 through October 6, 2012, is a salute to Banned Books week.

Banned Books Week is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read. Typically held during the last week of September, it highlights the value of free and open access to information. Banned Books Week brings together the entire book community –- librarians, booksellers, publishers, journalists, teachers, and readers of all types –- in shared support of the freedom to seek and to express ideas, even those some consider unorthodox or unpopular.

By focusing on efforts across the country to remove or restrict access to books, Banned Books Week draws national attention to the harms of censorship. Check out the frequently challenged books section to explore the issues and controversies around book challenges and book banning.

This year is the 30th anniversary and they have a fascinating timeline of banned books which includes “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” by Mark Twain as racially offensive in 1996, “It’s Perfectly Normal” by Robie Harris about its frank coverage of normal sexual health and attitudes, “King and King” by Linda De Hann about a prince whose true love turns out to be another prince, “Of Mice and Men” by John Steinbeck for being indecent, “The Satanic Verses” by Salman Rushdie for blasphemy in 1989, and the list goes on and on.

Siphen.0 – IGN got on the band wagon and released a list of banned and challenged comic books through history, including Spiderman, Batman: The Dark Knight Strikes Again, and the Hugo Award winning Watchmen.

I thought I’d look for a list of banned blogs, blogs banned not just for being scammy or spammy but because they violated censorship or offered unorthodox ideas.

Many WordPress.com blogs have been banned over the years, so many, I wrote “How to Access Banned WordPress.com Blogs” to help those banned by ridiculous government attempts to stop a single blogger by banning access to ALL of WordPress.com and the millions of blogs hosted there.

So who out there has been banned for blogging and why?

However, first, we need to define the term “banned.”

Difference Between Banned, Blocked, and Censorship

In discussions online and off about this subject, one person’s ban is another person’s block, and sometimes both or neither are censorship.

In 2011, The Straw Buyer (warning: flashing graphic on article) announced that they were banned from the City of Miami computer networks and ID department along with several other “watchdog” and political watching blogs covering Miami, Florida, and the state. In 2010, eaves.ca created a list of banned blogs in response to a colleague’s blog blocked by a government IT policy. His list included government agencies that block his own blog and others including The Snarky Optimist by a public servant, and Dries Buytaert, the creator and project lead for Drupal.

For many years I’ve found many of my own sites inaccessible through corporate and library systems. I’ve also been unable to pick up my email through Hotmail or Gmail, informed by one librarian that the block was in place because those sites were responsible for the majority of spam and porn email, unwanted in their library in the southern United States. While I agreed with her on the stats, why two of the largest email services would be blocked…who knew.

These aren’t bans. They are blocks. They are associated with software installed on company and government computer networks. Many companies block access to non-work related sites on a regular basis. These sites are still accessible from personal and other networks.

Does this make them “banned” in the official sense? Many say no. Some shout YES!

In the mixed-up world of who is and is not banned from blogging, the Lord Chief Justice of the United Kingdom granted “permission” for reporters to quote from Twitter posts without permission of the Twitter account holder, thus permission from the copyright holder. The permission included tweeting from the courts by reporters. In August, the decision was partially reversed when it was announced that UK judges are now banned from blogging or Tweeting about cases, but reporters still can. This makes sense while a case is ongoing, and they explained it thus:

“Blogging by members of the judiciary is not prohibited. However, officer holders who blog (or who post comments on other people’s blogs) must not identify themselves as members of the judiciary. They must also avoid expressing opinions which, were it to become known that they hold judicial office, could damage public confidence in their own impartiality or in the judiciary in general.

“The above guidance also applies to blogs which purport to be anonymous. This is because it is impossible for somebody who blogs anonymously to guarantee that his or her identity cannot be discovered.

“Judicial office holders who maintain blogs must adhere to this guidance and should remove any existing content which conflicts with it forthwith. Failure to do so could ultimately result in disciplinary action.”

The judges aren’t banned from blogging, just blogging about ongoing cases.

It isn’t just the responsible adults getting hit with bans and censorship. Not long ago, I covered a 9 Year Old Blogger, Martha Payne, banned for blogging about her school dinners, a ban which gained her a lot of attention for her mission to support feeding the school age children of Malawi.

During the recent Olympics in London, a British journalist’s Twitter account was suspended after he criticized NBC’s coverage of the games. He wasn’t banned for his criticism but for publishing the email address of an NBC executive on Twitter, an email address publicly displayed elsewhere on the web. He was eventually reinstated after a huge public outcry in protest, which is how many banned bloggers and social media twitters often get their rights restored.

About the same time, a teenager was arrested and given a “harassment warning” for offensive tweets sent to the British diver, Tom Daley, after he lost a medal in the first water events. He apologized later, but expect to see more such police action in response to online harassment in the future as the government slowly catches up with the virtual world.

Again, these are not so much bans as legal actions against those having their say in what could be construed as poor taste and misbehavior, and fairly harmless compared to death threats and true harassment cases.

In February 2012, Time reported that Tumblr would ban pro-eating disorders and other “self-harm” blogs “that glorify or promote anorexia, bulimia, and other eating disorders; self-mutilation; or suicide.” Tumblr’s policy was explained by them as:

For example, joking that you need to starve yourself after Thanksgiving or that you wanted to kill yourself after a humiliating date is fine, but recommending techniques for self-starvation or self-mutilation is not.

While this seems reasonable, is it censorship or penalties against endorsement of such bad life decisions and activities? With the recent announcement by the American Psychiatric Association to recognize extreme personal grooming as an official category related to obsessive compulsive disorders (OCD), expect to see a rise in blogs about these subjects. Who is going to be the content cop to detect the difference between endorsement and education?

In a report on the Freedom Informant Network about New York State’s recent bill to ban anonymous online speech, an amendment to the civil rights law, they said the bill would clearly violate the First Amendment:

Brilliant. A war against Internet trolls.

The bill states that an administrator could “upon request remove any comments posted on his or her web site by an anonymous poster unless such anonymous poster agrees to attach his or her name to the post and confirms that his or her IP address, legal name, and home address are accurate.”

That is going further than a ban. For a few bloggers surviving behind their anonymity, this could be life threatening.

What is clearly censorship is the response of governments against social media networks. Many governments around the world, from the Middle East to Far East and back around, insist on the removal of “objectionable content” such as the India government demanding removal of videos and other “objectionable content” after sectarian violence and protests broke out in Assam. They are also banning news agencies from covering the violence, continuing their policy in restricting the news about any unrest or protest in the country – within the country as well as to the outside world.

Al Jazeera frequently covers the arrest, conviction, attacks, and bans on bloggers throughout the Middle East and beyond. Here are some of their reports on bloggers, citizen journalists, and online journalists over the past few years.

March 12 is the annual World Day Against Cyber-Censorship created by Reporters Without Borders and supported by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF).

The EFF has weekly columns on Internet censorship and attacks on freedom of speech. These are often filled with bloggers attached, arrested, thrown in jail, or killed, and laws being put into place or changed to restrict freedom of speech online.

In one weekly report, called “This Week in Internet Censorship,” Afghanistan restricted Internet Providers to filtering websites with topics on alcohol, dating and social networking, gambling, and pornography. Similar blocks have come and gone and returned in Turkey, Pakistan, and many other countries with strong Islamic influences. Security and filtering company, McAfee, refusing to create and implement a similar national blocking and filtering system in Pakistan. These bans aren’t limited to sites mentioning these topics. They are usually global blockage of YouTube, Yahoo, Facebook, Twitter, Google, MSN, Amazon, Bing, Hotmail, and many more sites representing countries and opinions supporting freedom of speech.

In a December 2011 report:

Clicking “like” on Facebook in Thailand can potentially land you in prison. The Thai Minister of Information and Communication Technology declared last Tuesday that they will begin charging Facebook users for “liking” or sharing content that could be deemed offensive to the Thai throne, the sentence for which could run anywhere between three to 15 years in prison. Thailand has strict lèse-majesté laws that imprison individuals for criticizing or speaking ill of the throne to any extent. Since Thailand’s Computer Crime Act was enacted in 2007, Internet intermediaries have also come under fire for being responsible for hosting said offensive material. The Act gives authorities the ability to block so-called “harmful” websites and charge owners of these intermediary spaces for simply hosting the content. Not only are the provisions of this law dangerously vague, it allows authorities to enact harsh penalties to anyone who engages in online political debate.

Blogger and activist, Saleh AlDhufair, was arrested for statements criticizing the UAE arresting and deporting Syrians demonstrating peacefully in Dubai. They also included a report on the ongoing hunger strike of blogger, Mehdi Khazali, after being sentenced to prison for 14 years for criticizing President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Iran.

The reports of persecuted bloggers is long, going back to the first websites and emails online, excellent examples of bans on bloggers and anyone having their say online, giving us a perspective on the state of the online world we often take for granted.

Think that most of these censorship and bans happen outside of the United States, the land of free speech and sunshine transparency? In a regular report on Legal Censorship by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, PayPal initiated a new policy in February 2012 that would censor what users can read.

PayPal has instituted a new policy aimed at censoring what digital denizens can and can’t read, and they’re doing it in a way that leaves us with little recourse to challenge their policies in court. Indie publisher Smashwords has notified contributing authors, publishers, and literary agents that they would no longer be providing a platform for certain forms of sexually explicit fiction. This comes in response to an initiative by online payment processor PayPal to deny service to online merchants selling what they deem to be obscene written content. PayPal is demonstrating, again and to our great disappointment, the dire consequences to online speech when service providers start acting like content police.

Mark Coker, founder of Smashwords, described the new policy in a recent blog post. The policy would ban the selling of ebooks that contain “bestiality, rape-for-titillation, incest and underage erotica.” Trying to apply these definitions to all forms of literary expression raise questions that can only have subjective answers. Would Nabokov’s Lolita be removed from online stores, as it explores issues of pedophilia and consent in soaring, oft-romantic language? Will the Bible be banned for its description of incestuous relationships?

This isn’t the first time PayPal has tried its hand at censorship. In 2010, they cut off services to the whistleblower WikiLeaks, helping to create the financial blockade that has hamstrung the whistleblower organization.

Should a financial institution, which is what PayPal has become, have the right to restrict what a shopper buys with their service or what merchants offer?

Where are the Lists of Banned Blogs and Bloggers?

What started out as a simple protect to point to lists of banned blogs and bloggers turned into a huge research project.

I’ve put hours into researching this article, and I’ve yet to find an official “list” of banned blogs. Only news accounts, third party reports, and confusion over what banned really means.

Have you found such a list? Should there be a Wikipedia page or some list somewhere of all the blogs and bloggers who have been banned? I’d love to see a timeline of banned bloggers and blogs, too.

I think it is time to honor those who have suffered for the sake of blogging and having their say on the web.

Don’t you?


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Copyright Lorelle VanFossen.

10 Comments

  1. Posted October 4, 2012 at 5:03 pm | Permalink

    On the subject of banned blogs: The worst offender in my opinion is Automattic and Matt Mullenweg. He permanently suspends blogs about WordPress which are hosted on WordPress.com because they are keyword competitors.

    He promotes reblogging and sharing your posts to different networks, just don’t do it on WordPress.com.

    • Posted October 4, 2012 at 7:26 pm | Permalink

      Wow. First I’ve heard that. I blog about WordPress all the time. I make my living as an expert in WordPress.

      Knowing Matt personally, I don’t believe it. There are millions of sites on the free hosted service. Such micro management makes little sense.

      Now if someone violates their trademark, sure. But people can use wp in their names and blog about all things WordPress as I have done since the very beginning.

      The terms of service are clear. Follow these and say what you will.

      I do know that Matt and the Automattic team have gone above and beyond the call of duty to protect free speech, as I referenced in the article.

      Exploring this subject intensley for the past few weeks, anything WordPress or Automattic does could never be called the worse. Worse is imprisonment. Worse is having body parts cut off. Worse is death.

      I appreciate your opinion but a little perspective please.

  2. Posted October 7, 2012 at 10:08 pm | Permalink

    The Philippines just past an “anti-cybercrime” law that allows people to be jailed for posting “defamatory” comments on Twitter or Facebook.

    • Posted October 8, 2012 at 3:42 pm | Permalink

      Really. Define “defamatory.” While it is illegal in many countries to defame and libel, it is the clarity of the defamation that worries me. When it can be used by anyone or any government to block the freedom of speech, that’s bad. Protecting citizens from malicious and illegal behavior is a different thing, but it is a fine line indeed.

  3. Posted October 8, 2012 at 12:52 am | Permalink

    In our country there is a new law from first of october, claiming creation of blogger’s and websites blacklists. So if you write something uncensored, or provoking or xxx-rated, or suicide-narcotic-terrorism related – you can be banned by government and taken to jail or something like that. Of course, your website will be deleted and banned.

    • Posted October 8, 2012 at 3:41 pm | Permalink

      Which country is that?

    • Posted October 8, 2012 at 10:17 pm | Permalink

      I live in Russia

    • Posted October 9, 2012 at 9:57 am | Permalink

      Russia has long been on the side of supporting great leaps in the faith of freedom of speech – not. While the right for a government to protect the people from themselves has been a fine line for many countries, it is a shame when that line wiggles enough to penalize those same people with laws that should keep them safe.

      Sad times all around. The United States, the great symbol of freedom, has been under strict controls and censorship for many years and most of us are living under the illusion of freedom rather than the fact. Laws passed under former President Bush did much to erode freedom of speech and opinion. So you are not alone, and we’re sending good thoughts of support your way!

  4. Amanda
    Posted October 10, 2012 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

    In response to whether or not Paypal or sites like it should be able to play moral guardian, I think the answer is no. I wouldn’t put up with that from a brick and mortar establishment, and I definitely can’t see doing so with Paypal.

    • Posted October 10, 2012 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

      Exactly, yet people do. I think they put up with this from PayPal because they think there isn’t another choice or they aren’t informed, and I think that PayPal thinks they can get away with this for the same reasons. Amazing. All of it, but then I grew up with a notion of what freedom of expression really meant, which means I can see it clearly when we lose it.


2 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. [...] ‘In 2011, The Straw Buyer (warning: flashing graphic on article) announced that they were banned from the City of Miami computer networks and ID department along with several other “watchdog” and political watching blogs covering Miami, Florida, and the state. In 2010, eaves.ca created a list of banned blogs in response to a colleague’s blog blocked by a government IT policy. His list included government agencies that block his own blog and others including The Snarky Optimist by a public servant, and Dries Buytaert, the creator and project lead for Drupal…’ banned-blocked-and-censored-bloggers [...]

  2. [...] VanFossen shared Banned, Blocked, and Censored Bloggers. Banned, Blocked, and Censored [...]

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