Saturday, May 26, 2007

I am so against censorship....

... that I hardly have the words to describe it.

Heck, I don't even belong to moderated Yahoogroups or participate in any venue that I perceive as being censored. As a rule, I don't even leave comments on moderated blogs unless I at least have some knowledge of why the blog author is doing it. I don't like the assumption that I am not to be trusted. It offends me.

I mean, really. I'm a fanatic on this topic. Censorship.

Last week, I noticed my traffic from Thailand had all but ceased. There was a straggler here or there, probably coming in from a proxy server, but I would say it had halted by 99.9%.

I couldn't quite figure it out. After all, I've certainly not said anything here over the past week or two that would alienate Thai readers. I don't take positions on Thai politics, considering that to be the business of Thai nationals. If anything, my entries are always pro-Thailand, culturally-based, sometimes even ignoring blatant problems. I am a guest in that world and always try to be respectful.

Here's the Cliff Notes version:

The Thai government blocked YouTube last month because of some insulting videos that YouTube refused to remove. For a long time I held out, not viewing them. Finally, curiosity got the better of me and I did look at them.

They were insulting. Very insulting. Disgustingly insulting. The videos made me feel sick, knowing that someone out there hiding in the safety of their computer room would create something like that. I react just as strongly to ridicule of viewpoints I disagree with. When Jerry Falwell died, I read some truly ugly remarks and they bothered me, too. Ugliness never serves any purpose beyond just .. being .. ugly.

But I don't support blocking them. Let the creators of the videos take the heat they deserve. "Protecting" people from them is juvenilizing. People are smart enough to choose for themselves whether or not they want to see or read something.

Well, the kerfluffle with YouTube wasn't the end of it.

A blog featured an interview with Thaksin Shinawatra. So, what? What could he say that is so threatening, so potentially dangerous, that he should be silenced?

Thailand blocked all accounts, not just the one blog they perceived as offensive. People in Thailand had no access to any account because of the actions of one person and that person didn't even do anything wrong.

Any society that is afraid of ideas needs to carefully examine itself.

And that includes Thailand. My beloved Thailand. The place I value so much.

There is no place for censorship in my world.




jen said...

amen. it's hard sometimes when i read or hear things so offensive. i wish they hadn't been said, that this wasn't the path chosen.

and yet it's a slippery slope - hate is part of free speech, and it is destructive, and yet it is a natural emotion and reaction, and yes, it can't be quieted.

the things you talk about - sensoring for no reason or for broad sweeping ones (your blog getting caught in the fray) is confusing and you have to wonder.

and wonder.

Lee said...

i am sorry about this. i am vehemently against censorship myself. i have always felt i can be responsible for what i bring into my or my children's lives. i am currently struggling with self-censorship on my blog because some people are trying to use it against me. as an artist, this is very, very painful that i must quiet my voice, but the risks are high and i must bide my time.

you are exactly right. there is no place for censorship in a free and thinking world. instead, we have choice.

meno said...

I am trying to imagine how this would make me feel, and then i realized that my blogspot account has been blocked too. Not that i have any readers from Thailand, but that's irrelvant. It's sickening.

"Any society that is afraid of ideas needs to carefully examine itself." Damn right!

Laurie said...

That is sad, Chani. I can't even imagine how this makes you feel.


slouching mom said...

That just leaves such a bitter taste in my mouth.

You can still feel exactly the same way about Thailand and its people, though. Just not the same way about those in charge.

Snoskred said...

The true test of a persons belief in freedom of speech is to stand in front of someone shouting statements and beliefs at the top of their lungs that you are 100% against and allowing them to do that. It is not an easy thing to do, and certainly not something people do often. Most people believe in the "concept" of freedom of speech but not the practice of it.
Note that I mean the third person you and not you (Chani) specifically in my next paragraph ;) It's the general you, all you's, not just any one you. :)

A blog is not a place where freedom of speech exists for anyone but the owner of the blog. As the owner of the blog, you get to make decisions as far as what is ok and what is not. If someone came to a blog and commented things which the owner of the blog disagreed with wholeheartedly, the owner has every right to delete that comment. The commenter can get their own blog and say whatever they like there. This one is yours. Each person can have their own, and that is where they get their own freedom of speech.

Unfortunately there are people out there on the internet who are solely there to cause trouble, to troll, to get attention by any means possible, and these people will often go to a popular forum or blog, and state controversial things, attack people, etc. They do this because they find it fun. Meanwhile the regulars on that forum or blog find it difficult to cope. Some popular bloggers have to turn comments off entirely.

People work hard to create their blogs, we work hard to build traffic and loyal readers, and if someone chooses to threaten that by coming along and posting things which make everyones skin crawl just to get a reaction out of you and your audience, it is absolutely your right as the owner of the blog to sort that out.

You may not agree with this now, but if you ever find yourself in a position where flame wars are conducted in your comments, it changes your mind towards these things. I've had a**holes make comments on my blog before. There have been times when I've turned comments off entirely, and times when I have enabled comment moderation because trolls turned up.

If someone has comment moderation turned on, that is their right as the owner of that blog and they may be doing it for entirely legitimate and decent reasons - that would be the better assumption to make, if you do feel the need to make one. It is nothing personal and it does not mean *you* are not trusted - it might be that the blogger in question is under attack, from trolls or from the spam bots. It might just be because they have had too many bad experiences with spambots in the past, and they don't want to leave themselves open to another spam attack.

I've had to use comment moderation to control comment spammers (you can also use the "captcha" ie the letters you have to type in before you can comment, because the spamming is often done by computer scripts who cannot fill in the letters but many spam bots are now able to do it so it isn't as effective) because once the robots find a place they can post their links, they keep coming back and the only way to stop it is by moderation until they give up and go away. It took over two weeks for the robots to stop posting comments and I was deleting 50-100 comments per day all advertising drugs for enhancement of male body parts and links to very inappropriate web sites. I've had blogger friends who have been attacked by the comment bots to the tune of 2,000 comments a day. Can you imagine what havoc that would cause on your blog? How long would your regular readers stick around to pick through the spam? How much time would it take for you to moderate all those comments every day? It would be like a full time job.

People may be smart enough to choose whether or not they want to hear or see something, but as the owner of an internet forum or website where people can comment it is important to realise that you could potentially be held legally responsible for what someone says on your site. Fair? No way. True? Absolutely.

It seems that people grow new balls when they get behind a keyboard. They arrive online and are willing to act in a manner they would never act in to your face. People who in real life have been bullied or treated badly come online to bully and treat others badly. We as bloggers cannot provide them a place to do that. Yahoo groups owners cannot provide them with a place to do that. Forum owners cannot provide them a place to do that. I own a couple of internet forums, and I cannot allow those places to be used in that manner, either. With rights come responsibility.

There's a lot more to this particular topic than meets the eye. On the surface it might seem like moderation is about protecting and juvenilizing, but that is absolutely not the case.

For example, I know one yahoo group which was going along perfectly fine, until the Nigerian 419 scammers came along and started sending their scam emails to it. Should the yahoo group owner allow scammers to post their formats and put all the group members at risk? Absolutely not. Would you allow the scammers to post such things in the comments section of your blog? No way. The group turned on moderation until it seemed like the scammers stopped trying, then they turned it off again - the scammers soon returned, and it went back to moderated. The only things being moderated are the scam posts.

What if one member of the yahoo group suddenly gets upset with another member of the yahoo group, and everything they post is sarcastic and nasty and attacking that other member? That happens all the time, all over the internet, on forums, in chat groups, in various places.

You always try to be respectful. There's a huge percentage of the population out there who always try to be the opposite, and forums and yahoo groups have to deal with those situations. That's why they moderate, that's why they have rules. There's some really nasty people out there on the interwebs. But there are also some great communities of people where just a few general rules and some moderation can be the difference between chaos and harmony.

flutter said...

I agree with you. There are things out there that are offensive, indeed but I think it is in how we choose to deal with those things that we find the strength of our convictions.

It saddens me that Thai people will never be able to choose for themselves how to respond.

Christine said...

Oh no! I, too, am offended by all this nastiness. No blogger accounts? That is down right awful.

QT said...

I am sorry, Chani. That must be a blow for you.

The pen is mightier than the sword, after all, so they must find a way to control it.

TTQ said...

You know if you take something away from somebody, there will always be something to replace it..which is why censorship doesn't work well or burning books. If you don't like it, don't read it. You can't bear to listen, walk away.. and the fact is even if Thailand blocked Blogger the info is still on Blogger and Youtube, so now they are in the dark, like an ostrich with it's head in the sand.

And this helps them how?

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Censorship is wrong in any form, no matter how offensively some people choose to exercise their freedom of speech.

I would hate to think that you are leaving our imperfect form of government for one that is even more restrictive. It is also disturbing that whoever was responsible for blocking these accounts was unable to distinguish culturally insulting material from a blog like yours which celebrates all things Thai.

Do you have e-mail addresses for any of the Thai people who formerly read your blog and commented? I would try to contact them if you do because if enough of them protested, perhaps the restriction would be lifted.

That is probably unduly optimistic, though, when you are the baby who got thrown out with the bathwater.

Mary said...

It's so unfair. You must be so disappointed, Chani. If you work so hard to establish relationships through your blog and a country blocks you out, it is wrong. Dead wrong.

Hel said...

That is so unfair. Imagine suddenly not being able to visit your blogging friends.

I agree with you that people need to make up their own minds but I feel that certain content should not be allowed. I saw a blog where they took a picture of a well known female blogger, digitaly "enhanced" it so that she looked like she was screaming for help behind a pair of knickers pulled over her face and then published it together with a creepy explanation of what they would like to do with her. I believe they should be found, prosecuted and never be allowed to blog again. Ever.

In SA they are considering censoring references to violent crimes in the media. Go figure. They claim concern but I suspect worry about loosing hosting the 2010 soccer.

Hel said...

OK. On second thought maybe never allowing them to blog again is coming on a bit strong.

But I do think it is wrong to publish hate speech about another person and threaten them online. The abused person has rights as well don't they?

Anonymous said...

I had to go to moderated comments last year after my old blog got bombed with abusive comments. I apparently hacked off some cabel of conservatives, and they responded by flooding my site with hundreds of violent, vile comments. So, that's why I use it.

I've published everything but the spam comments.

Fonzi said...


Thai censorship sucks. I am glad you blogged about it.

The Thai government is cracking down on all forms of political dissent. It is not only about YouTube and Blogger.

Those of us who live in Thailand are living under a military dictatorship.

We are not free.

Thais who live upcountry are prevented from coming to Bangkok to protest.

Community radio stations are being shut down.

In Chiang Mai last week, anti-coup activists were detained and taken to a military camp for "questioning."

The military has set up various slush funds to finance propaganda against the opposition and to hire mobs to keep down anti-junta forces.

A lot of nasty things are happening Thailand.

If people in the US should learn anything from the Thai situation, it is to remain vigilant and to protect your liberties at all cost.

Freedom is a precious thing and nobody should ever take it for granted.

The censorship of Blogger may be a small thing, but it is one of many small things that is being used to destroy political freedom in Thailand.

Chani, even if you don't like politics, you should talk about the situation here once in a while, because you are probably one of the few bloggers on the outside who talks about Thailand.

Who knows how much time those of us on the inside have before we are arrested, jailed and prosecuted?

I'm not kidding. Look into the new Cyber Crime bill that was just passed the junta picked National Legislative Assembly.

Snoskred said...

This link above is another example of the type of thing that can happen - and the example that hel was talking about a couple of comments ago, that was Kathy Sierra.

The Kathy Sierra situation was an example of what I said about giving people a place to bully and treat others badly. Imagine having your personal photograph taken and used by people in a manner you did not request. I know people who have had their faces photoshopped onto extremely vile pr0n pictures. You have to be so incredibly careful on the internet, not to give anyone the opportunity to do that.

Free speech it seems only applies when you are anonymous otherwise people will use your name, telephone number, photographs and anything else you've put out there on the internet against you.

The bottom line is, trust nobody. :(

thailandchani said...

Jen, I believe people reap what they sow. If someone chooses hate speech and negativity, they will draw the same thing to themselves and their environment. Silencing it just drives it to manifest in a different way. So... I say.. let them speak and show who they are. :)


Lee, I'm just not sure where that line is, where we begin to self-censor. I do a lot of it because if I ever said everything I really want to say, it might be alienating. Not because it is hateful but it might be viewed as incendiary. That is why I stay away from the topic of politics generally. My political views are ... controversial.. and sometimes the better part of discernment is knowing when internal thoughts should stay internal.

Self-censorship can be a good thing.


Meno, it appears my blog is no longer blocked in Thailand (now at least I know for certain since Fonzi said something.. and there are other hits coming from TH, too..) but at the same time, the idea that it would be blocked for absolutely no reason whatsoever really did tick me off.

There is absolutely no reason why the government of Thailand should ever have any interest in what I have to say. By blocking a blog as benign as this one, they are really insulting their own citizens.


Laurie, it really ticked me off. Really. Really.


SM, I definitely hold nothing against Thai citizens or Thailand itself. I do feel the same as I always have..


Snoskred, I figure it rather simply. If I am going to have the freedom to say what I want to say, everyone else must have the same freedom. Even if I don't agree with them. On certain occasions, I might choose to debate. Most often, I'll just ignore it and move along.

I have never been in the wild west environment of the Internet... and this blog will never have that level of popularity that it will be noticed by those who do.

For the most part, things are pretty open around here.

Example: Look at how Fonzi and I interact, even though we disagree very strongly about many things. We are always polite and nice to each other.

If someone chose to be really ugly, I'd just ignore them.


Flutter, I'm not sure Thai people will never have the opportunity. Things change in Thailand.. a lot. I don't know enough about the motives at this point to say definitively that the government is 100% wrong. They're in a transition period right now. What I will say is that what I've seen so far isn't impressive.


QT, I know it's done everywhere, although perhaps not as blatantly as this incident with Thailand.


TTQ, that's really the point. It doesn't help them. Thailand isn't in a bubble and people talk. Thai people still know about things. I've seen it on their blogs. I've heard it from people I know. For the most part, they have their "mai pen rai" in place, roll their eyes and move on. They don't get as indignant as I am being right now.

Information will get to them. Wherever there is censorship, there is samizdat.


Christine, yes.. very offensive. Thai people are not children. They don't need to have their information filtered.


Susan, what happened basically is that the system admistrators over there who were asked to block one particular blog did a global block, cutting out *all* the accounts. It was partially inept system administration ~ but it was wrong to block the one blog to begin with!

Very bad writing here.. but I hope I got it across.

I am in touch with a few people in Thailand now.. and it seems my blog is accessible again.


Mary, it is wrong for all those Thai people who are wanting to read other points of view other than the ones they're spoonfed in their own media.


Hel, of course I agree that criminal activity should be addressed. All of those things have legal recourse available and it needs to be addressed that way.

If the Thai government had chosen to sue YouTube or if they'd chosen to address the issue about the blog differently, I would have respect for that. I can not respect blanket, arbitrary censorship of something because of a potential result. Deal with the results.

As you asked, they have rights, too, don't they? Yes. Through the legal system.


Thomas, I can only imagine a situation like that.. and I would have been tempted to do something similar. As I said, I know there are reasons why some people do it.. and there's a huge difference between using it to deal with a situation like that or using it simply because it is a way to make sure the blogger him- or herself looks good.

Unfortunately, I know a few of the latter.


Fonzi, yes, I am aware of some of the bad things going on over there right now. In general, I don't address politics because I do firmly believe that the internal politics of the country need to be left to the nationals.

The coup occurred after I left the country so I can't have conversations with everyday people about it. I can't gather information in any way that isn't filtered through someone's propaganda system, whether it's Thai, American or otherwise.

In other words, I don't have enough access to address those issues here in any meaningful way.

I know very little about the Cyber Crime Bill. Only a snippet here and there.

Is it that different than the CyberCrime Bill here.. or the Patriot Act?


Snoskred, I can't live like that... "trust nobody." Can't do it. That is so foreign to my way of thinking that it would be like asking me to become a religious right capitalist. It's just not going to happen.

There is nothing wrong with stopping destructive behavior. I'm not suggesting anarchy.. but blocking an entire group of people from access because of the actions of a few is not acceptable in my way of thinking.




heartinsanfrancisco said...

Chani, I tried to follow "Fonzi's" link, but no profile was available.

This is chilling stuff. I wonder how the message got out, considering how he or she says things are in Thailand. I hope Fonzi is not at risk for daring to write it.

It sorrows me to learn that things are so bad for the Thai people. If you have sources to learn more than is readily available, please do share it with us. Maybe there is some way that all of us can try to help.

It's true that rights we have always taken for granted, the ones this country was founded on, can be eroded in a heartbeat. One president can make a huge difference, despite the so-called system of checks and balances.

We may not be as far behind the situation in Thailand as we think.

thailandchani said...

Susan, I most often see Fonzi on Thailand Voice.. and one thing I know of him for certain is that he's a very intelligent guy. If he was at risk, he wouldn't have posted any of that.

He and I disagree about plenty of things but he is a good source for an alternative point of view from mine.

It's not that different. Things are blocked here, too. The Patriot Act is used to actuate it here. The main difference is that it is cloaked in a different kind of media. Thailand's media is often kind of silly.. shallow. It's cloaked here with crime stories and tittilation. That way, while wretched things are going on in the government, we are saturated with missing people stories and murder trials of rich white guys from Bel Air.



Lucia said...

Wow. Did I learn a lot from Fonzi's comment. I just saw a Thai friend a couple of weeks ago and heard nothing about this. I had no idea...

crazymumma said...

I hope you get your readers back Chani. Censorship is a scary thing.

By the way...your space is so beautiful to visit. Words and visuals I mean.....

KateMV said...

I'm probably here too late to join the discussion, but I found this to be an interesting blog with many interesting comments.

A little over a year ago, during the protests in Bangkok in April, we were chatting with a Thai woman in Bangkok (an educated, middle-class Thai woman who was familiar with foreigners). My husband asked her why the opposition parties were not contesting the election at that point. She responded something like, "Because poor Thai people [in the rural areas] are too stupid to know how to vote, and they would all vote for Thaksin anyway." We were a little surprised at such a response... but then again, it went along with a lot of what we saw during our two years there.

Society in Thailand is set up in such a way that decision-making is most often left to the decision-makers, with the result that there isn't much meaningful dissent tolerated. Some sectors of society are seen, both by others as well as by themselves, frequently, to be "too stupid" or, more politely, not well-enough educated, to be able to participate in governing themselves.

I hadn't heard about this issue you blogged about, with the censorship of blogspot addresses, but it doesn't surprise me. When the coup happened in September, we were able to access much more information online from a variety of sources than any of our neighbors were from their household media (radio, TV, etc). But as the months went by, we could tell that censorship was becoming more and more powerful. I think I mentioned in a previous comment on your blog that CNN was blocked for several days after it broadcast an interview with Thaksin.

Our impression, during our seven months in Thailand after the coup, was that many "educated" (or upper-class) people supported it in the beginning. As time went by, though, and more silly (and ominous) rules began coming down from above, even some of these people started wondering whether it was such a good thing after all.

I know you don't like to talk about politics, but in this case I think that politics are so intertwined with the culture and philosophy of life in Thailand that it is a very important discussion to be having. I cared very much about my friends in our Thai town, and didn't like seeing them in a situation that seemed to be getting worse, not better. But I have to say that I don't know how much change can really happen, for the better, until Thai people decide that that's what they really want. It doesn't fit "mai ben rai," so it might be a while yet.

By the way, I haven't had much time for blogging myself, lately, but still enjoy checking in with yours.

thailandchani said...

Lucia, it is rough.. and most of the Thai people I know are not talking about it, either. Fonzi may have been overstating it.. but not by much.


CM, thanks for the compliment. Of course, it's really Linda's to have, not mine. :) Still, yes, I still love seeing it. It's hard to imagine that something so pretty surrounds my usually gawdawful writing. LOL


Kate, you are never too late. Your voice is always welcome here. :)

Mai pen rai is it exactly. Thai people historically live their lives and let the government do as it will. There's some wisdom in that, considering that they really *can't* change it at this point.

I'll be curious to see what October brings.