Text Transcript for Session 8: Controlling Readers, Policing Reception Part 1 (of 2)
Much discussion of censorship and information control focuses on creators, so we wrap up our series by examining how they affect readers, often by curating access, creating concentric categories of people who are permitted access to different materials. Social status, ethnicity, religion, language group, political affiliation, age: in this two-day event creators and scholars specializing in six different regions of the world will discuss how information control systems from the Inquisition to the Great Firewall of China have categorized and policed readers.
- Kyeong-Hee Choi (colonial censorship in occupied Korea under Japanese rule)
- Wendy Doniger (author of a book censored in India)
- Alan Charles Kors (Enlightenment censorship & book regulation, free speech on College Campuses)
- Hannah Marcus (Inquisition licensing process, history of science)
- Stuart McManus (Iberian empires, Spanish and Portuguese Inquisitions)
- Glenn Tiffert (contemporary China, internet censorship)
- Cory Doctorow (digital information policy) by teleconference
- Plus series hosts Ada Palmer and Adrian Johns
(Ada Palmer) Welcome all to the last session of censorship and information control during information revolutions. This will be a two day session focusing on policing of readers, and the efforts that censoring bodies take to police not creators of content, but people who seek to access content. We have so many people that we’re not putting everyone up at once because discussions here have been a little richer with fewer people then with many, so we’re gonna take two days and rearrange our combinations of people a lot. So as we look at the question of policing readers, Hannah I’d love to plunge in with you giving us the 30 second version of your work on inquisitorial licensing and how it works to create different populations of readers, with different levels of trust. And I think this will strike many cords with others on the panel.
(Hannah Marcus) Okay so I call this the license to read. So, in 1559 the Roman index of prohibited books bans many, many authors from being read in Italy, largely because they’re protestant. So, you can’t read protestant authors in Catholic Italy, punto. But what about the ones who aren’t talking about things that are religious? Like okay maybe Catholics shouldn’t be reading Martin Luther, but what about the ones that are doing, writing of pharmacopia, books of medical plants, books of animals, books of recipes? Physicians from all over Italy start writing to their inquisitors to say we don’t know how to medicate without Lainhart Fukes, we need these books, these books are useful and they’re important and they aren’t about religion. Well maybe they are in certain ways, but we can change them in ways that will make them acceptable, and so this starts up a process of trying to make texts available at the same time that they’re censored, and one of the things that you have to do legally in counter reformation Italy in this period is to apply for a license to read those prohibited books. And that’s actually this licensing system like reading licenses lasts until Vatican two. So if you wanted to read Voltaire circa 1920, I think this is true you’d have to apply. You’d write to your Bishop, there’s forms by then, specific forms that you fill out asking to read the text and why, and certain types of text are allowed to certain types of readers. So I’m tracing that, in particular looking at medical texts. But I found lots of these, this isn’t just a couple of cool physicians are reading, got 500 physicians in the early 17th century reading 5000 request for licenses to read prohibited books. This is a huge bureaucratic project going on to ensure that people who are trustworthy are able to have access to material, at the same time that other people are not. And then even those trustworthy readers are not allowed to read some things. And I’ll stop there because that was totally 90 seconds, but I can talk about this for a long time.
(Ada Palmer) Glenn does that sound familiar or parallel?
(Glenn Tiffert) You know it does, my latest research is a project very much grounded in the present which looks at the way China has created digital databases of articles like JSTOR, which many academics use all the time to digitize historical journals for research purposes. And I discovered along the way that China is actually very carefully sculpting them, rewriting and sanitizing historical record, making certain things disappear from the past to create a particular version of history that accords very much with current priorities, current ideological priorities. And so the readers are actually sort of being made complicit, being co opted whether they want to or not in this larger ideological project. And what is interesting about it is that by using digital technologies, and using databases, they’re actually able to export this outside of Chinese borders onto the entire world. So that foreign scholars who use these databases, and they’re essential to the work that we do also become co-opted in that larger project too, as readers, but also producers of knowledge. Because to the extent that we use this sanitized version of history as the source base on which we produce new knowledge, we become complicit in the agenda of the censors. So, it’s very complicated work.
(Ada Palmer) How does this reflect trying to sort of divide the elites, or elite readers, or particular circles of readers and consumers of information from other populations of readers? Who has different access to stuff?
(Hannah Marcus) Well something to know about early modern Europe, but I’m sure you all know at this point is that many of these works are circulating in Latin, so they’re aimed at a Europe wide educated audience, though these are people who are all working in a second language, so this is for elites. So, there is I think, very compelling thesis about censorship in Italy in the early modem period the thesis, the prohibition on understanding, which is that censorship also, all of these norms are divided between different realms. People who are not able to access Latin culture at all, who don’t speak Latin, and then within people who can read Latin a certain subset of people who have the connection or the expertise, or get a little lucky, or are rich enough to be able to get licenses and maintain libraries that have prohibited works in them.
(Glenn Tiffert) In my case the technology, the fundamental digital technology allows them to essentially create new versions of the historical records that are geared towards specific audiences. And so some of you may be aware for example that about a year and a half ago Cambridge University Press was found to be censoring articles from a British journal in the Chinese market, and they did this because the Chinese exporter through which they sell products in China said here’s a list of articles we want you to make disappear. And they were able to do that only within Chinese boundaries simply by IP addresses. So, the version of this journal available to readers and researchers in China was materially different then the version of this journal that was available outside of China. And so you have two competing editions of this journal, which raises interesting questions about which is more authoritative. Similarly, there are archives, digital archives of the People’s Daily which is the principal newspaper of the Chinese Communist Party, and there are two vendors that supply access one of whom hosts it’s servers in China, one hosts it’s servers outside of China. You will get different results for the same search query depending upon where the servers are. And so it serves different readers, and provides very different kinds of information too them.
(Cory Doctorow) I was going to talk about some copyright related stuff that kind of overlaps with this. Copyright industries have created a series of standards, none of them hugely successful so far to define what a family is, and to then say within the family content can be shared, and outside of the family it can’t. So a notable example would be the DVB, Digital Video Broadcasters who do TV standards for Asia, Europe, Australia, parts of South America have an idea called the authorized domain, which is this constellation of devices that try to decide whether they all belong to the same family unit, and I was part of the standardization for this, and one of the things that was explicitly projected were use cases that reflected way the majority of people in the world actually organize their family. So we proposed for example that a family might consist of two parents in Manila and a son who’s construction worker in Qatar, and a daughter who’s a domestic worker in America, and they said that’s not a use case we can accommodate. But we can accommodate use cases like a family that owns a minivan and a boat, and a second house. Within this regime you end up with these differential access to content not based on the content itself but based on the extent to which your family confirms to the view to what amounts to a star chambered entertainment executives who meet in private to decide what a family is. There are elements of this you can see in the way that Netflix, iTunes, the other content systems police password sharing. Oh one other thing I wanted to mention, a propo China, you may know that Google is about to re-enter the Chinese market, censored search engine, just before they left the Chinese market the last time I debated publicly with the product manager for that and he argued that it was a poor user experience to let Chinese people see results in Google that would then be blocked, and that the service to users to block search, to omit search results that would then be blocked, is the kind of language you often see restrictions being couched in. Executives who build these constant restrictions to stuff like the authorized domain always carved out these professional equipment exemptions, where the kind of equipment that they had for subjects restrictions. So you have this parallel where you have elites who are not subject to the implementations as the plebs.
(Hannah Marcus) I like the aesthetic element though too which I think shows up, that it’s a bad user experience to see things that you then can’t interact with, the equivalent of early modern books as we see in Ada’s exhibit is people actually are blacking out parts of them but sometimes instead of doing that book sellers will talk about how instead they’re going to paste white paper over a section so that you don’t damage, so the book doesn’t look ugly. Or you’ll see words transformed into nonsense, strings of nonsense characters so that you can’t read what it says, but also it then sort of looks like a type ornament, maybe it’s not ugly in the same way that black does. I think that there is this awareness of censorship being ugly, and some of the people who are applying to ask for licenses to read prohibited books they’ll occasionally say I don’t, if I have to censor them I don’t want to have them at all. I only want them clean. There’s this very frank recognition of the ways in which this mars books for them.
(Adrian Johns) Does that actually happen that the Vatican gets back to them and says no really want you to expurgate this?
(Hannah Marcus) No, no, they have to expurgate them, you never, yeah. It’s a nice try, it’s a rhetorical note, but it’s not going anywhere. But I think it’s helpful that it makes explicit these ideas about what they want to books to be and to look like.
(Ada Palmer) So, the price there, the price you pay is you may have the book but you must cross out the text in the book. One of the prices you pay for being given access to privileged material that other people don’t is you must also become one of the parties who then further mars and transforms and censors the material yourself. But if you want better lead access you also have to become yourself censor, even against your preference.
(Hannah Marcus) Exactly.
(Glenn Tiffert) What I find in the materials that I’ve been looking at and the kind of digital censorship that’s occurring of the historical record on these article databases is actually quite different. They’re trying to make the censorship as invisible as possible, so that you have no idea that it’s even there and you don’t know that you’re missing anything. And the idea that there would be indications, that there’s something missing I think is a nathama to the project that they’re trying to achieve. And so for example these digital databases will very often omit any indication that there are breaks in the page numbering simply by omitting any page numbering in the tables of contents. And there are no place holders to suggest anything’s missing so you think you’re getting the complete thing, and there’s no way you would know otherwise unless you had access to the original paper which exists somewhere offsite in storage, and I think that part of the idea is that these things will be made to disappear, people will forget about them, that they ever existed.
(Hannah Marcus) I think that not forgetting is really, really important to the Catholic censorship context. At the same time that you’re required to cross Lainhart Fukes’ name out of every copy of his book that you own, you also have to keep a piece of paper that says that your licensed to read Lainhart Fukes’ book, and you have to reapply for it every three years. So you’re not forgetting, you’re never forgetting, and I think that the modern censorship paradigm for me is much more secretive, what you’re talking about. It’s tangled in secrecy, and I think that the early modern is not, it’s very much about changing the way that you approach texts with this idea of heterodoxy in mind constantly. That you’re always at risk, and you always need to think like a censor, and that seeing a blacked out name isn’t about not being able to read the name, necessarily, but it’s about embodying a sense of Catholic readership that causes you to read with concern and an eye for what might not be acceptable within it, so it’s insidious also I think. I think it really changes readership practices but in a very different way.
(Cory Doctorow) So this is a way in which modern copyright censorship maybe diverges from historic censorship. So, I talked last week about the Australian censorship regime that had been proposed, it’s since been passed into law and it updates an earlier censorship regime that was a sight blocking order. So, some websites will be blocked by the nations ISPs if they were found to infringe copyright through a very one sided process where the representatives of the website didn’t get to argue on behalf of the website, they were always outside the country. So you would effectively have a rights holder who would petition an Australian court in a one sided preceding for a blocking order. Sometimes the ISPs would show up to defend the site, but more often it would just be purely one sided and the update to the law now adds a search engine blocking order and so what that means, is that back to China, when you search for a website you will not see the website if it’s blocked in Australia, you also won’t see it in the search results. So the argument goes that this will stop people from circumventing the laws but it also means that these one sided proceedings will not be checked by the subsequent knowledge of Australians that this website is blocked. You just won’t even know the website exists, so you’ll never discover that it’s blocked, so you’ll never object to the block. And the last time Australia’s national firewall filter logs were leaked by Wikileaks about eight years ago it was found that although the firewall was only supposed to contain child pornography, and a few other extreme categories of content, that 95% of the stuff that was in Australia’s national firewall did not rise to the standard that the Australian statute set for censorship. It had just been filled with everything that bureaucrats didn’t think Australia could see, a lot of gambling sites, sites about drugs, sites about suicide and so on.
(Adrian Johns) This is a bit of an arcane question but it’s what I was going to ask before. So if they, if the Chinese system removes completely say particular papers from a run of a magazine or a journal, even if they don’t have page numbers wouldn’t there be an issue with citation? Where when you try to cite something it’s going to become apparent that you’d mismatch with other people citing the same things who are not in China? I know this is probably only going to affect like two people will ever see it.
(Ada Palmer) Or does it mean you just can’t cite by page number at all?
(Glenn Tiffert) I think Adrian points to a very good question. Yes, I mean there are traces that remain that these things existed but that affects a very, very small number of people. This was actually my entry into this question, which is that I’m a voracious consumer of footnotes, and I would encounter footnotes along the way and then try to find the original piece and lo and behold it was not available online but I could find it on microfilm. And so simply the burden of having to do that is enough to deter a lot of people. So it’s not necessarily essential to make it disappear completely, but you make it difficult enough to find the original piece that most people are not going to do it, and it happens on a scale large enough that it’s simply impossible to do it for everything that does disappear, that they succeed more or less.
(Stuart McManus) We’re all aware sort of the situation with search engines in general in China. Would a reader or a scholar come to these databases with different expectations? As opposed to us coming too, say somebody based in the United States coming to JSTOR expecting a certain level of inclusion.
(Glenn Tiffert) Right, it’s not news that China censors, everyone is broadly aware of that and yet even within the scholarly community that works on China, the work that I have done by specifying exactly what is happening, and analyzing how they do it has been very eye opening and I think there’s been a certain level of naivety about how to approach these things, simply because we’re very busy, we have projects we want to get done, we enter our search terms into the search engines, they generate results, there’s content to work with and so we can go about our business without realizing what is missing. And so actually shining a spotlight on that I think has been effective because it’s one thing to know this abstractly, it’s another thing to quantify it, measure it, show how it’s happening. And the the question arises, well then what do we do about it, and this is more problematic because it requires training and research practices to adapt, how do you know you’re missing known and unknowns when they remain unknown? And so yeah it’s a deeper problem. And part of it is also I think the naive approach of our libraries in treating these resources much as they would treat JSTOR. The expectation that these things, at least superficially look like other platforms with which we are familiar. But the values and political system in which they operate is quite different, and you have to understand that local context, and the people who make the decisions to acquire these products and to make them available to us often don’t understand that context, and they need to be sensitized to it.
(Ada Palmer) You’re reminding me of these, when we’re thinking about publication, where we’re inundated with ads that tell us if you publish your thing in a journal that’s on JSTOR you’ll have plus 60% citation rate. Or if you put your article up on academia.edu you’ll have a plus 40% citation rate. If you think about it backwards what it means is if your article isn’t put in this space it will have a minus 60% or a minus 40% citation rate that creating some databases, which are extremely easy to access also diminishes our willingness to access other resources. Anyone who teaches and grades students papers observes which sources we see over and over, and which sources we see rarely because it’s genuinely more work to access A then it is to access B, and in fact we’ve all had the experience of being at a library and knowing we need a book, and oh that book is in the depository I can’t have it until next week, eh I’ll use the other book, the other book is here. But how those structures of organizing information are inseparable from curating and shaping the new information that’s generated by that information. Another one of these arenas where it isn’t possible for there to be no information control. Any organizational system for information introduces some senses of information control, and a lot of what you’ve commented on, especially, both in the Australian and the Chinese cases of having things be invisible from search engines is people not thinking of the structures of information as themselves being information. That the Google search results are themselves a primary source, not just a secondary source, and that it does strongly affect what information is available for that search result to be differently structured. Just as it affects it for a library catalog to be differently structured, or even an index to be differently structured. Let’s imagine that you’re taking a intro world history course and you have your intro world history textbook and it has an index, only the index doesn’t index any Communists, or anything related to Communism. You would never notice unless you went to go look that up but it would make it 10 times harder to find the information about Communism in that textbook as it is to find the information on any other topic in that same textbook. Something as simple as an index can introduce these layers of structure, but we don’t think of search results, indexes, library catalogs et cetera, as primary information generators as much as we do just aggregations of information.
(Adrian Johns) There’s a Matthew effect as it were about this as well. You know, have you heard of the Matthew effect? This is the idea that to those who have more shall be given. So it’s not just that you wouldn’t go to the depository, it’s that because everybody else is citing book X you assume that book X is the important source. So that’s what you were going to cite as well, so it actually ramifies and multiplies up–
(Glenn Tiffert) This is–
(Adrian Johns) Sorry go ahead.
(Glenn Tiffert) Oh please.
(Adrian Johns) It was just to say this happens in the sciences as well. I work with a colleague in Sociology called James Evans who became very notorious about five or six years ago for writing a paper called The Narrowing of Science and Scholarship. Which argued on the basis of a huge, millions strong data set of scientific papers that with the advent of digital networking and cross database search abilities what had happened with experimental sciences, especially in biomedicine, was not what you’d expect which is that the range of reference and exploring new ideas would have got wider, it was the opposite. That the range of reference has actually got smaller, it had contracted. And the probable reason for that is that, he himself is actually rather agnostic about why this is happening, he’s careful to document that it’s happening, but the probable reason is that there’s a very close feedback system where as ideas come along and are sort of referred to certain sources or avenues of inference, that sort of adds to the credibility of that link. So everybody else adopts that link as well, and it multiplies up very fast. So the net result is that in certain circumstances at least within the experimental sciences you get, there’s a sense that the range of imaginative possibility has actually contracted, as the range of potential reference has widened dramatically.
(Glenn Tiffert) I think it has changed, I was exactly going to say that. It has changed citation practices, it’s also changed promotion and hiring practices also within academia as certain papers that get cited disproportionately highly because they appear in the first page of search results, the people who write them become rock stars as a result. And those who might appear on the second or third page, who’s work might be extremely high quality are in a sense forgotten as well.
(Ada Palmer) Well you’re reminding me of some studies that we’re looking at, I think they were using music where they were asking people, here are 100 songs, please vote on them and rank them. And in one version of it you can just see all of the songs and you vote on it. But in another one you also get to see how many people have already voted for that one. And in the second one very rapidly people stopped voting for the ones that weren’t already high on the which ones had been voted on. So effectively if your song was voted on by one of the first four people to vote on the thing then it would skyrocket to the top because everyone else would be voting on those four songs because they already looked like the ones that were ahead. But if you didn’t by chance happen to be voted on at the very beginning and didn’t seem to be a front runner then you would never be pushed into one. Whereas the voting was much broader when people didn’t see what other people were already paying attention too.
(Adrian Johns) This is why there is of course an industry devoted to making sure that whatever you want to appear on the first page of the Google search, does actually appear on the first page of the Google search. And it’s a huge money spinner if you can get into it, and have a better output them somebody else.
(Hannah Marcus) If you’re interested in reading further on this also there’s a book that came out pretty recently, called Algorithms of Oppression, that also looks at how racism and sexism are coded into basic search engine functionality. So it’s worth considering as well.
(Ada Palmer) Cory I remember you talking about governments sometimes trying to sort of order people to have certain things be in the first page of search results, or something similar to that.
(Cory Doctorow) Yeah that’s a more and more common result. It’s something that’s being talked about now during the debate over the new copyright directive in Europe and the history of it goes a little like this. That in the early days Google would maintain that the search results that they displayed were the product of a kind of empirical mathematics. So when Google was small and the number of people who worked there, and the websites that they indexed were all in the same social network, and would go to the same parties in the Bay Area, people would button hole Googler’s and say, why is my page about cats not on the first page of search results for the word cat, and the Googler’s would say well we’ve written the math that finds the best pages, if you page isn’t there it’s because it’s mathematically not measuring up, go make a better website. Don’t try and do any search engine optimization, just make a better website. And then the governments of the world started to take notice and they started to say well if the thing that determines the page results, the ranking is just math then there isn’t really a speech interest in our dictating to you that extremism shouldn’t be on the front page, whatever that means, or blasphemy, or copyright infringement, or whatever else it is. Now there’s a lot of anti-trust enforcement over whether Google was stepping over the line when it made shopping results point at own stores instead of rival stores when people search for products. And around the time that this started happening Google started to seek out and fund research by eminentto write was obviously proof that although math determined the search ranking, the decision to write the math was editorial. Which math showed was an editorial decision because when you said we want the search results to look like this, or we want the search results to generate these responses from our quality assurance team then you are making an editorial decision just as surely as the editor who laid out the past, or this weeks, or table of contents for this weeks issue of Biz Week, may not write the articles but you are directing the overall aesthetic choices.
(Glenn Tiffert) In the work that I look at with respect to censorship I think the choice of algorithm is key. I’ve done some empirical work trying to use algorithms to reproduce the choices that human sensors are making in China and finding that they’re extremely reliable, I can reproduce the choices, build a censorship engine essentially that reproduces the choices human censors are making on a particular corpus with accuracy of between 95 and 97%. But the algorithms that I choose produce slightly different results, and so some of them might be over broad, and if you’re a regime that’s interested in making everything problematic disappear, maybe you’re not interested in spread the net, it doesn’t bother you that you spread the net a little too widely, as long as you catch everything. But if your other approach is that you want to make sure that you catch everything accurately without being too broad and it’s okay if a few things slip through then we might choose a different algorithm. And so depending upon what your motivations are as a censor, or an information controller you might choose this algorithm or that algorithm and that choice is an editorial decision, and resonates very much with what Cory just said. Even the censors are approaching these questions.
(Ada Palmer) Well you’re reminding me of when the inquisition would ban everything printed in a city, or everything printed by a particular printer, or everything printed by someone who writes letters too and from a particular person, which is casting the net wide right? This may be a Calvinist controlled city, it’s not as if every single text that they printed is gonna be Calvinism, sometimes it’s gonna be an alphabet reader page for beginners, but you’re banning it to cast the net wide because you know there are gonna be innumerable Calvinist works printed here by authors who’s names you don’t know, ’cause they’re new, who’s titles use names you don’t know ’cause they’re new. So you’re using geography as your pre-modern algorithm in this case to predict most of these things will probably be bad even if I don’t know their names yet.
(Adrian Johns) But something like that might well be just interest groups right. Your local printer might have a market in selling ABCs so they don’t want ABCs being introduced from Geneva, so they go to the censor and say, here we need to ban all of those ABCs from Geneva because those are Calvinist ABCs and then they wrap up the school market.
(Stuart McManus) Although there’s many examples of that, of if not banning them, being very, very suspicious of things written in particular languages. So if you take the case of the inquisition in New Spain or Colonial Mexico, there are various examples of books, but not only books, other written materials, including a wonderful case of these tea towels with English written on them. And these were seized by the inquisition, they spent a very, very long time pouring over these tea towels with English written on them because anything written in English was automatically suspicious, and had to be seized. That might have been the Mexican tea towel market, trying to corner it but.
(Adrian Johns) When you have something that sweeping I think I brought this up at an earlier one of these sessions. Peter Lake wrote a book about the conditions of being a Catholic reader in 16th century England when among the Catholic, what are called the recusant community in England, it’s widely believed that Queen Elizabeth I, as it were secret police, it’s an anachronistic term, but the officialdom is ruthlessly effective about suppressing about books that it doesn’t approve of. So any books that do go out, not just the licensed ones, but almost especially the unlicensed ones, are taken by Catholic readers to be in some sense expressions of approved sort of orthodoxy. So there’s a weird way that they seem to have adopted of reading books that on their face are pro-Catholic, and actually are pro-Catholic, I mean it actually does seem that these are books that are imported from Catholic printing shops on the continent, but they assume that they must have gone through this ultra efficient, all seeing censorship apparatus so there must be something in them that is actually pro Elizabeth. And they seem to spend effort doing a, as it were, between the lines passing to try and work out where exactly the anti-Catholicism is in these books that on the face of it are being produced by Jesuit martyrs. So it created a very odd sense of what it is to be a skilled reader.
(Hannah Marcus) No, I mean I agree, so when the Catholic church comes up with term for censoring, like selectively censoring parts of texts, but leaving other parts there, is called expurgation, so you expurgate a book. You can also expurgate a book shop though, so selectively taking bad books out of the bookshop is expurgating it, but you expurgate a book and the Catholic church starts publishing lists of expurgations, so ways that you would need to have your texts corrected in order to fit in a special, a particular form, an approved form. So some of the things that I’ve been looking at are both the ways in which that then makes the rest of the text licit, so suddenly it’s just okay even though it might not be. So people keep finding new problems, but additionally the debates that go into deciding what the official expurgations are create a lot of conflict about whether this is even a possible project. There’s this incredible awareness of the fact that when we read the same book we’re going to see different things in it. And this sort of fraught sense of the instability of meaning in these texts, that censorship is trying to pin down, it’s trying to create a perfect Catholic object at the same time that the censors themselves know that this is evading them at every turn.
(Ada Palmer) You’re reminding me of some of Nicholas Davidson’s comments about looking at inquisitional interrogation trials, and the inquisitors awareness that once you start torturing a subject they will break and lie and tell you anything, or hold out to the end immovably, that doing that inherently doesn’t work. We don’t imagine the inquisition actively thinking about the weaknesses in it’s system that we criticize, the inefficacy of torture as a tool for reaching truth. The impossibility of objectively policing books and creating orthodoxy, guaranteed versions is something they’re deeply worried about, and trying to figure out how to accomplish this goal despite noticing, as we have noticed, that these techniques are inherently unfeasible in a lot of ways. An awareness we don’t expect to see among them.
(Adrian Johns) I think one aspect of that is that over a long period there have been repeated efforts by, as it were, the police, different forms of the police to produce something like a classification of readers. So it’s not just elite versus popular, or Latin versus vernacular, although that may be the first cut, after that you go into sometimes quite fine distinctions about their geographical area, their gender, their educational status.
(Hannah Marcus, Ada Palmer) Age.
(Adrian Johns) Age right, all of these things, and they’re subject to a certain, it’s almost just like an academic discipline to a certain extent without having an academic home. That to do empirical research onto communities to see how you cut up the world of readers such that you then might say we want to expurgate a book in a certain way in order to not produce this effect on this group of readers, that kind of thing. It can be quite sophisticated in a weird way.
(Ada Palmer) Stuart I remember you talking about the way people are categorized in central America in some of the colonies there, could you talk about that a little bit?
(Stuart McManus) Yes so of course in Colonial America’s a multi ethnic society, a caste society with people of Spanish, indigenous and African descent. Of course there is a desire to sort of bolster orthodoxy among all of these populations but the Spanish clerics who were in the inquisition and in the colonial administration don’t treat all of these groups equally and of course these groups have different, they might all have to some degree a common language in Spanish but there’s also of course indigenous languages, and certain texts that exist only in indigenous languages. So there’s a kind of a division and a stratification of the censorship of the inquisitorial process that happens because of that. It’s not only on the basis of age and education, although some of these things overlap with the caste categories.
(Ada Palmer) I remember you saying that the line between indigenous and European is not as strict as we would imagine because sometimes people end up, people of mixed race end up choosing to identify with one group over another.
(Stuart McManus) Ah well yes, yes of course. I mean this is a society that is legally highly segregated but in reality where there’s a lot of contact and–
(Ada Palmer) Intermarriage.
(Stuart McManus) Intermarriage and also sort of forced sexual encounters as well, so you end up with a large mixed population. Some of whom are forced into one ethnic category, but others who seem to be able to move between them depending on the situation, and with the use of kind of dress and behaving in certain ways, dressing like a Spaniard, speaking like a Spaniard, doing things that’s associated with being a Spaniard, or being indigenous. And there are instances of people crossing back and forth over these boundaries, especially when they move between different cities say, they’re able to reinvent themselves, and sort of change their, what they call castor, their caste status. So it’s actually quite a relatively fluid situation, although on paper it seems more, less fluid, more concrete.
(Ada Palmer) And then they would fall under different jurisdictions for censorship depending on how they’re categorized?
(Stuart McManus) Yes, so in the final quarter of the 16th century the order goes out that indigenous people are not to be subject to the normal inquisition. So this follows a period where indigenous people had been, and there are a number of very famous instances of indigenous people being executed in fact for holding on to certain indigenous religious practices that are condemned by the Catholic church. The situation changes in this final quarter of the 16th century but they’re still subject to another form of control, it’s just a different one. It’s one specially tailored to the indigenous population.
(Glenn Tiffert) Well into the 1990s in Chinese bookshops there would be a room, a backroom in which there were internal publications, Mabu publications and you would not have access to that room unless you were a party member of a certain rank. And inside there, there would be publications created for a special channel of readers. And it’s not necessarily that they were top secret government publications, they were simply publications about topics that the regime did not want to be publicly discussed in this way, except among a sort of internal group of people who had an approved status that could be trusted with this information, that could be trusted to speak within a particular circle about it responsibly. And sometimes this even extended, very often it extended to translations of literary works too that could not be trusted in the general population.
(Hannah Marcus) On the evading flip side of that I have this incredible inquisition trial, I’m very interested in where people hide their prohibited books. It’s one thing where they sell them, but once you have them where do you hide them? Lots of people in the trunk under the bed, but I have this one inquisition trial where this Venetian noble family is hiding their prohibited books with their illiterate servants, because they can’t get in trouble for having them because they can’t read them. And then they go and use them that way, it’s sort of like the flip side of your story there, this inability to attain a certain level of intelligibility with the text so they’re allowed to have them safely in a different context.
(Cory Doctorow) There are a lot of browser plug in’s of various descriptions that people use to record the websites that they view automatically, and people are gonna make a real practice out of screenshotting things that might go down the memory hole later. And it’s often the case that when a website goes down because of a copyright complaint or something else that after a day or two someone turns up with a copy of it. I’m always amazed by this, it feels to me like it would be very hard to organize all of that or what have you but it’s pretty clear that there are some people who really make a practice of it.
(Ada Palmer) I was reminded Hannah of some of your discussions of things Jesuits can have access too and others can’t. I remember asking you at one point, what’s the hardest thing to get a hold of? And you were saying if it’s soon after the condemnation of Galileo you better be a Jesuit or a King, or you’re not getting Galileo, but if you are you’re still getting it. I wonder if you could talk a little more about, thinking again of the backroom in the bookshop for inner party members as Orwell would have put it in 1984.
(Hannah Marcus) Yeah Jesuits negotiate their own censorship structures early on with the church. They’re not going through most of the same apparatus as everyone else, and it’s interesting because this licensing system that I’ve been talking about is really relevant mostly to Italy. Also sort of weirdly to Poland in a really complicated way Spaniards aren’t using a licensing system in the same way, the Portuguese aren’t using licensing systems in the same way and the French aren’t using. So this is not a Catholic phenomenon, it varies differently in different sorts of places and within realms, even more complicated, Naples is under Spanish rule but it uses the Italian licensing system. Anyway, all this is to say, you have different abilities to get access to texts in different places and different political regimes. But then additionally there are certain people that you aren’t gonna be able to get a hold of, these are people of, of damned memory, and those are Machiavelli, Dumela and right after Galileo, Galileo. He gets grouped in right away afterwards, this idea that he’s sort of politically, as well as religiously dangerous I think is something that the church seizes on. I’m really interested also though in how people are reading Galileo before he’s banned. So Copernicalism gets banned in 1660 right, the sort of classic story, part of the reason that it gets banned is because Galileo is like on a preaching tour about great Copernicalism is with his telescope. So this gets it’s a lot of attention and then there’s a big backlash, and Copernicus is banned and expurgated in 1660. You’re allowed to correct, have a license to read Copernicus and to correct it. In the years that follow I then have reading licenses for people who are asking to read Copernicus and the number of the people who are asking to read Copernicus, are also asking to read Galileo’s works before Galileo is prohibited. So people are starting to make these connections about the subject matter that’s in place as well.
(Ada Palmer) Anticipating
(Hannah Marcus) Anticipating. People ask to read Cardozo before he gets banned, there’s this really fascinating sort of sense of who might be prohibited. There’s also really slippery, anybody with a German name is probably Protestant worry. And people who are getting banned who are good Catholics but they are German, Agricola, Hadrianus Junius, they managed to get themselves off of the ithic, some of them later which is interesting too.
(Stuart McManus) Although we should also add that in Spain, and the Iberian world just as in other parts of Europe, there are other means of information control. They come in the publication process. So there’s a kind of sifting process that happens beyond what we’re talking about as well. So this is part of a constellation of information control methods.
(Hannah Marcus) Yeah, I’ve been talking about post publication censorship. So books that are already in print, that you already might have them in your house and then you need to figure out how you can, you don’t want to burn this book that you just spent the equivalent of $1000 on, that’s not an option for you. Especially if you’re a physician and this is cutting edge medical research, you want to keep that book. We’re gonna figure out a way to make it happen is some of the conversation. But any book that’s published in Italy is going through pre-publication censorship as well, which is what I think you’re alluding to in the Spanish realm. So censors that are looking at texts and approving them before they’re printed in the first place. Although of course then things get printed without approval. Sold in the back room.
(Adrian Johns) I think it’s actually interesting, I think this is like a historical accident because it happens to be our fields of expertise but we’re kind of jumping between the 16th and 17th century when it’s a hand press era and the ultra modern contemporary internet world. Because one of the things that is weirdly in a certain sense shared between those is that it’s relatively unproblematic to at least have the ambition to track kind of completely, where an impression goes. So with a hand press impression size is somewhere in the mid hundreds to the low thousands, depending on what it is. So it’s not sort of super humanly large and you can track things like fonts and stuff like that and hope to have a sense of what poin dexter would have called total information awareness. But I think with some media that are in the middle, between these two things, that even possibility goes away, and for the state and for various institutions that’s terrifying. The medium that I know about where I think that was really true, was radio. So when radio came in, it’s actually got quite a long ascent but when it comes in as a mass phenomenon, which is early 1920s, late teens early 20s, there’s a big sort of conceptual problem with it which is that it’s literally broadcast. You send a signal out, and there is no tracing it at this point, it just goes out into the ether. And you don’t know who’s picking it up, which creates problems of all kinds. But intellectual about what the content might be, responsive, how are people gonna be taking it up? You don’t know what audiences are listening to it because the very primitive unpowered radio sets could be built for virtually nothing. And political economic, how do you finance the activity of radio broadcasting, if you’re not selling copies of something? Because you can’t sell copies of it because it’s just out there, there is no artificial scarcity to it at all. So with radio you have to come up with an entire new apparatus for thinking through these kinds of issues in a sense that you don’t quite with the internet. Because the internet it builds in a certain sort of trackability into it, unless you have people using VPNs and that kind of thing which insulate the user somewhat from tracking. And you see different countries adopting radio in different ways because they have different attempts to try to solve this set of problems. So in the UK famously or notoriously, they created a single public institution, the BBC which is centrally controlled, it’s not the same as government simply creating content, it’s not as closely censored as that, but it’s aligned with government. So during moments of stress like the general strike the BBC was notoriously pro government and anti-union. But in the 1930s it wouldn’t let Churchill on the air because Churchill was seen as too extreme, that kind of thing. But it’s financed by a system of licensing, but the licensing is completely, this is not at all related word aside to things like book licensing, the idea is that if you’re a citizen and you own a receiving set then you should go to your Post Office and buy a license every year and the fee for the license funds the programming of the BBC but there’s no way of enforcing that because you can’t track signals or reception or anything like that. So it’s based on a sense that British people are good sports and they simply will voluntarily–
(Stuart McManus) Which is not true obviously.
(Ada Palmer) But the initial BBC collapses within six months because it turns out that British people are not good sports and they won’t voluntarily go off and pay huge amounts of money in what’s essentially a tax without some kind of policing apparatus. But the thing that I was going to get to about readers and the like is this, that there’s a huge controversy that runs through the 20s and 30s and it has it’s counterpart in the US as well, between as it were, listening as entertainment and listening as experiment. Because at that point radio was still a kind of technical, scientific thing where if you were a citizen scientist you could be doing experimentation that might in principle actually advance the field. So there are hundreds of thousands, nobody knows how many people in the UK, France, Germany, America who see themselves as scientists, they have no particular qualifications but they’re doing research in the electromagnetic ether, and this research involves building a radio set and listening. On the other hand there are also hundreds of thousands of people who are building radio sets and listening, but they’re listening to the BBC or the networks, the emerging networks in America and that kind of thing. And the question is how do you tell those two apart? Because the governments have this rule that they don’t want to suppress science so you don’t suppress experimental listening but you do want to sort of police and suppress as it were casual listening. And there are enormous internal debates, which are archived in the holdings between figures like engineers and the BBC about how you might tell the difference between an experimental listener, a scientist listener and a casual citizen listener. At one point I actually came across a letter from a BBC engineer where he’s writing up to one of the managers in the BBC and he says, well it depends on the spirit in which you listen. If you listen in to the Beggars Opera, this is the example he uses, and you enjoy it, then you should pay the license fee. If you don’t enjoy it you’re doing science, so you’re an experimenter and you shouldn’t have to pay because science should be free. And they never actually solved that problem because that’s the closest that they get, and that’s completely hopeless. And there are different accounts about why this idea of experimental listening goes away. In some sense it becomes Ham radio of course, which then actually a generation later plays into the origins of home computing because that spirit actually moves over into experimentation with computing in the late 60s and 70s. But with radio I think we see these kinds of problems about classifying receivers, receptors, deciding what the responses is, how you police them come about in a new way that was not there at all with print, I think. And I wondered with how many other media you might, if you did a comparative exercise see these same kinds of questions being tackled in radically different ways so with television, cinema.
(Ada Palmer) Theater.
(Adrian Johns) Theater.
(Glenn Tiffert) Well it seems to me to riff on something Adrian said that I think this is where a lot of the thinking about the internet actually got it wrong in the early days by analogizing to that model of broadcasting. Whereas I think we’ve discovered in a lot of different scenarios that it is less like broadcasting out into the ether then sort of channeling through particular choke points that can be engineered to control content. And so one way that China does this for example is it sets up a very small number of gateways at the border that can police content in and out of the country. And so broadcasting into the ether is not really the right metaphor to control that. Similarly your ISP can filter material in and out of what reaches you, and block things from ever reaching anyone. And so I think, the internet I think we’re gradually awakening to the fact that a different metaphor applies there, and so that’s fundamental to the sort of reunderstanding and reimagining of it’s democratic potential.
(Cory Doctorow) I think that there’s a common error in how we think about the kind of early conceptions of the internet which was that it somehow censorship existed intrinsically and couldn’t be censored, and it was rather that the people who were responsible for the internet felt this kind of patrician sense of duty to the internet and would take steps to help circumvent censorship. So John Gilmore who said the internet interprets censorship and routes around it was talking not about the internet as a technical structure but specifically as the people who hosted Usenet feeds over UCP lengths, and when he said that they interpret censorship as damage and went around them he meant that they used the mechanism that UCP used to self heal when censorship, when there was down link, when a server went down that they could use those same mechanisms to evade censorship, and that they did, and it was particularly around the Church of Scientology trying to censor posts on Usenet that published secret documents from within the church that revealed elements of its doctrine that were historically out of the public view. These ideas that you get to a certain level in Scientology and it revealed that their theology includes that a galactic tyrant chained a race of pure energy beings to a volcano 70 million years ago and that there this secret race and so on. And this is the kind of thing that you only want to reveal to someone once they’ve spent an awful lot of money and time in your church because otherwise they might view it very skeptically. And the Church of Scientology was apoplectic that this was published on the internet where someone might read it before they had gone through the long induction phase. And the idea that the internet could become centralized was a very early issue that people who thought about internet infrastructure really worried about and I think that if they thought something wrong, was that they failed to appreciate just how thoroughly the dismantling of anti-trust law had gone. That was really, the watershed was I guess midnight when Microsoft wasn’t adequately bought to heal for it’s monopolism in the operating system market, the browser market, and then people started to get an inkling and really did worried that there would be a centralization, and took a lot of steps to try to avoid it, although ultimately unsuccessfully because there was such pressure to centralize the internet both from states and from markets.
(Glenn Tiffert) I think anti trust law here and just the marketisation of information is fundamental. In some sense we’re experiencing a new enclosure movement where people have managed to harness information that used to be distributed geographically, spatially, books on shelves and libraries and among collectors. They’ve now through copyright law and through antitrust law managed to recentralise information in distribution chains that they can control and using technological means and copyright law reassert control over information in a way that they had lost with the printed page. So this actually gives censors, but it also gives people who want to control copyright and profit from the streams of income that come from that a much stronger hand in leasing information.
(Ada Palmer) Several different elements here have made me start thinking about the city as a unit of measure of readers. Also of producers of content, but at different moments in these many phases of different information technologies an individual city sometimes is, and sometimes isn’t a very significant unit of measure for thinking about the puzzle pieces on a, as opposed to other units you can use to measure such as an individual, a family group, a geographic region, a linguistic, a language sharing group et cetera. When the inquisition is banning everything from X city or when people who want to exert monopolistic profits on publishing will ban everything from X city. But we had a discussion a couple of weeks ago about news and the ownership of the news, and newspaper in the era in which the demographic of the readership of the newspaper is that city right, it is Philadelphia, and it’s in the interests of that newspaper to send it’s news on to other cities because they will spread the fame of the information, they will send information back but no buyer of a newspaper in Philadelphia is gonna buy the New York paper instead because that’s not how the circulation structures in the late 18th and early 19th centuries in America operated, so that the city as a unit was a significant factor in shaping information control efforts, monetization of information, the way people thought about and measured information. And Usenet had a some what comparable structure in that it really had a very geographic networking space. I think there are still some arenas in which we see the city as a unit of readership become visible in censorship and information control but not that often. I’m thinking in particular of a friend I know who works for a big international ISP and they’ve got an emergency team who’s job it is to keep the internet going in a city when there’s an emergency in that city. And they have a 24 hour emergency team that will try to reroute the internet around the damage, and sometimes that damage is a tsunami, and sometimes that damage is an earthquake. And sometimes that damage is a coo in which the perpetrators of the coo are attempting to control or shut down information. But for them, every so often, suddenly the internet is incredibly geographically in a place, and it matters physically exactly where the server is, and exactly where the people are in a way that it rarely matters when we encounter it in our daily lives, or when we conceptualize the internet. And I think that’s an interesting question that Adrian your comments about radio also made me think about, that radio has a radius which might include several towns or cities, or a completely city independent random circle inscribed on a map so that it has a geography but that it’s geography isn’t the traditional arrangement of city and city. I wonder whether any of the rest of you have thoughts on this city as a unit of measure within the different stuff we’re looking at. And then after that we’ll close for our coffee break, for a little while.
(Stuart McManus) Yeah, I mean I think you’re right. Coming from the kind of pre-modern perspective I think you’re right to point to the city but I think also while you were saying point to the fact that these are kind of dynamic and changing systems and you know, let’s take the case of the inquisition. I mean it might start in one place and have standards set in a certain place but it can spread. I mean this also allows me to use my favorite new little phrase, nobody expects the Philippine inquisition there was a Spanish colony in the Philippines from the late 16th century, there was book censorship, there was an inquisition, people were seized for having certain books and manuscripts, especially because there were fewer books there. So we really have to think of these as kind of dynamic and potentially kind of global systems. I mean maybe to go back to what we were talking about before, China is trying to set standards for particular databases that will then be used elsewhere. So I mean we shouldn’t think well this is just a problem for China, it’s a problem for a big US research university if the people working there end up using these databases as well. So I think we have to kind of think on multiple scales depending on the problem.
(Glenn Tiffert) Scale is definitely an issue, we shouldn’t approach censorship as monolithic in any sense, in the 1990s and early 2000s there was this brief renaissance of Chinese investigative reporting on social issues and embarrassing incidents, train wrecks, scandals, things of that nature. Not done by local reporters who were unable to report on things happening in their own backyard because they were too close to the scene and subject to this jurisdiction of local authorities but by people from outside the province or in other cities who came in and could report on the story but could sort of escape the local control. And so there was a tremendous amount of just very good on the ground reporting in China about things of concern to Chinese citizens on these questions, but it was all done by people hopping jurisdictions. And then gradually as the political situation tightened the controls became more nationalized and became harder for them to do that kind of work. But there was a sort of golden moment where they could kind of arbitrage the censorship regime.
(Stuart McManus) This might be a good moment to bring in Hong Kong of course as well with the relatively recent cases of book sellers disappearing from Hong Kong and ending up in mainland China which I think would not have happened before 1997, and is an innovating post handover.
(Cory Doctorow) I’ve been thinking about how the cities of America often want to establish their own internet service providers, they historically have gained internet service by giving exclusive franchises to cable operators and phone networks to provide internet service, and that internet service in America is some of the slowest and most expensive, and least reliable internet service in the developed world. And where cities have set up their own networks they’ve been very, very successful in terms of customer satisfaction, quality of service and so on but at the state level where so many of the state houses are controlled by ideological free marketers from the Republican party there has been action after action to ban cities from setting up their own municipal networks. Under Tom Wheeler the last chairman of the FCC that practice was ended but Ajit Pai who’s the current chairman, who’s a former Verizon lobbyist, who was appointed by President Trump that practice has been reinvigorated and have only been overwritten a couple of times by ballot referenda in 2016 and then through some special elections ended up a bunch of cities in 2018. The connection with censorship is that people who are ideologically aligned with the project of banning municipal internet because of their suspicion of state action have often framed their objection by saying if we let cities run our internet they will not face the same market pressure to allow free speech that ISPs face, and instead ideological bureaucrats will block Alex Jones and other right wing figures and for that reason people who are on the political right should be very suspicious of anyone who wants to break up the Comcast monopoly and replace it with extremely fast municipal fiber.
(Adrian Johns) The bell that rings with me is with pirate radio where if you go back to what in Britain is often regarded as the glory years of pirate radio in the 1960s when the pirate radio operators were actually on ships, out in the North Sea, or the English Channel, those were AM transmitters, and they’re fairly large scale, and they’re big infrastructure. But after that in the 80s especially, FM transmission was small enough that you could fit units into the backseat of a car or something like that. So there’s a second as it were golden age of pirate radio broadcasting in cities like London, which is very short range, analog broadcasting with FM transmitters done for a few hours and then you move. So that the detectives are not able to zero in on your fast enough to actually track you down. And if you’re interested in contemporary music a number of the waves of contemporary music have actually been lead by these sort of, I don’t know what you call them, but fly by night pirate radio operators. It’s something that, that old image of the pirates versus the BBC where the pirates are the kind of happy go lucky people and the BBC is the stayed old three piece suit wearing crew that we have from the 1960s, has a different iteration in the 80s and 90s and 2000s, with the ability to have these very, very short range but ultra portable FM transmitters. But they are, they’re not quite city, I mean they’re city based in the sense that you would do them in London and Manchester and Birmingham and Liverpool but they wouldn’t have the range to reach the whole city.
(Ada Palmer) Well on that note we will wrap for our coffee break and be back in 15 minutes for more and for new discussions. Welcome all to the second half of our discussion of policing readers, Adrian is gonna moderate this half of the session so I will sit back.
(Adrian Johns) Okay so I thought that a question which directly relates to everybody in this room which is what is it to be a good reader in a situation of information control? How do we just get formed, what is it to be a responsible reader, to be a good citizen reader? This is a question that one can actually go all the way back to Milton, everything is in Milton. And Milton poses this extensively in Areopagitica, the question of what it is to be a good citizen reader in a situation then of essentially a revolution. We’re living through a situation now as we’ve heard about where information control may not be obvious but it is ubiquitous. And maybe it’s never anything but ubiquitous, and readers have been formed by educational institutions, by families, by states, by communities for many generations now. However those things intersect it, are you happy? Do you think that the institutions that you’re part of do a good job in making you responsible readers to guide the next generation? Those are big questions and I put them out now partly to seed them in your mind in hopes that you may have things to say and ask about related to them.
(Kyeong-Hee Choi) Okay I’ll just relate to some of the points that have been raised in the earlier session. By just citing one kind of phenomenon that I observed in what was going on in Colonial Korean publications. So when Japan colonized Korea already there had been legal apparatuses that to control Korean language materials before annexation. In other words annexation was not the beginning of the colonial censorship but already the laws were introduced, an amount of them into Korea through the puppet government.
(Ada Palmer) Can you remind the less familiar audience members of the dates.
(Kyeong-Hee Choi) So this is happening, the annexation is 1910, and the kind of end point I’m talking about is the end of World War II, 1945. And here I’m trying to introduce one textual sign that really calls for attention. So in the beginning of the early censorship by the Japanese regime on Korean materials you could see a lot of blanks and red ink, black inks and a lot of so called X marks and O marks, and triangular marks, lot of them. It’s a visible sign of censorship. Just around the time that is going to late 1980s, 1920s, you begin to see kind of certain change coming out of interesting kind of pattern of the word censored. So here censored is never used, but often times it is referred to the act of the deletion, but what I’m talking about here is pre publication censorship, not post publication censorship. So I think before in an earlier session much of the post publication censorship and pre publication censorship really have different kind of regimes, and I’m talking about one particular kind of regime called pre publication censorship, exercised by colonial regime over another ethnonational groups writings. So the law kind of prescribes that there should be two systems, one permission system and pre publication mode of censorship. Two post publication censorship and just the reporting. The former is applied to Japanese colonial subjects in Korea and metropolitan Japanese publications base. And the permission system, approval system and pre publication censorship is applied to the colonized. So there is an ethnonational kind of discrimination system already built into the publication field. So Korean publishers would go through pre publication system because of their national identity. So many writers would even choose foreigners as the publishers so that they could go through different systems but once they are actually publishing theirs are pre publications therefore they have to submit the manuscript and then the censors have to go through the censorship procedure. And then around 1929, May day, May or so, the word that the noted deletion began to come out. Before it was a kill, there’s a Chinese word called kill, clear kind of one that was used in the early decade of the 20th century but then it changed to deletion. deletion in the Japanese word. And the it began to come out as abridgment, and you can just see that spontaneous kind of subtle integrated into even the order of the printing on the surface and then after early 1930s you begin to see a very interesting kind of stamp on the manuscript that was written by the censor to the publisher. The stamp says the publication permitted, but caution, one do not leave any kind of marks of censorship, X marks or O marks or anything. Or do not leave the deleted part empty so that the deletion can be seen. And the third one is do not mention anywhere that censorship is prescribed. So with this you can see that before this particular censorship regime writers and publishers and editors could really show that there was censorship there but the readers orally have to be cautioned that there was a censorship, and they had to really use their mind. And this refers to how the reader is actually trained to read in between the lines and actually create their own community. But after early 1930s, now this will be changed in the complete facade of nothing is happening on the texts, and this will go on all the way through the war time. Very interesting thing about this Japanese colonial censorship system that is coming in to this invisibility line would be adapted by SCAP, the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers after World War II. So MacArthur regime in Japan would adapt the exactly the same method but not using that ethonational discrimination system, the Japanese or Korean kind of thing, but rather on the content wise system. So they would really start showing that this is a liberal deal for you, and really showing the signs. So this part of thing is going on, but what I want to emphasize is this is done through the making of the colonial subject.
(Alan Charles Kors) Let me take up your invitation to comment on prior session, just really one maybe two observations. One difficulty of finding what you want to read is not censorship, it’s an attempt to influence public opinion, it’s a strategy to maximize exposure to certain views. I grew up in the 50s, 1950s, and we all wanted to know about sex. You couldn’t find books, it was very difficult. We all found books, we all found what we wanted to find. More recently I love libertarian books, when there were books stores like Borders you would walk in and there would be a huge section, choice, the bookstores choice. They would all be Barbara Errin Wright into various poinslet, Howard Zinn, Noam Chomsky and the kind of books I wanted, way in the back that no one was walking, I did not feel that was censorship. Was it an attempt to influence public opinion, and you can find alternatives. I discovered lessay fair books in their catalogs. I could find anything that I wanted, it is not censorship, censorship is people tell you what you may and may not read. People tell you what you may or may not write. That is censorship. When people get into what you may or may not think that is tyranny of which censorship is a part. Secondly people all the time form voluntary associations that accept restrictions on what they may and may not say profess, and sometimes even read. As long as those associations are voluntary, even if they are choices antithetical to my own that has nothing to do with censorship. You go to a Catholic Benedictine Seminary and discover that they favor Catholic doctrine, which they used to, that they favor Catholic doctrine and that is advertised. You don’t go to Brigham Young University and find yourself astonished that they favor Latter Day Saint, Mormon theology. It’s a voluntary association. Swarthmore College professes in its circulated literature that we are a community that places a special emphasis upon community values, upon certain notions of civility and discussion and you go there, you can’t say they discriminate against erasable conservatists, you just can’t, it’s voluntary. As is Brigham Young University, but if you go to a public university or a private university that advertises itself as a marketplace of ideas, as a place that will not discriminate on the basis of race, sex, gender, sexuality and that says you may think the unthinkable, you may read the unthinkable here, this is a place of debate and you discover that they have formal or informal speech codes that privilege one group and not another we have names for that in ordinary, civil society, it’s fraudulent inducement, it’s fraud, lack of truth in advertising. They sold you a Cadillac with a Chevy engine, I think I bought a few fake Chevy engines and things. So I think one needs to be clear that censorship is something quite traumatic in human history, and is very different from attempts to influence public opinion to favor certain view points in public opinion, or that censorship occurs in circumstances in which people voluntarily have agreed to be part of a community that favors and that prohibits certain views.
(Ada Palmer) So how would you comment on the blurry line between censorship and information control, which we’ve often returned too in these discussions?
(Alan Charles Kors) At the most extreme before I would use the word censorship, if you can find it without needing an IQ over 130 it’s not censorship.
(Adrian Johns) The image that comes to mind quite often with this kind of question to me is the very last shot in Raiders of the Lost Ark where they take the ark and they put it in a box, and then they put the box, and what you see is the box going into this vast hanger full of identical boxes. And the idea is that it’s not destroyed, and it’s not, who knows even if they lock the door but nobody’s ever going to find it because it’s stuck in the middle of this limitless Borgesian sort of library of boxes.
(Ada Palmer) And that’s lack of information control in a sense that it hasn’t been organized amid the rest.
(Adrian Johns) Yeah and that too, that actually hadn’t occurred to me that’s true, that you could take that as the example of the suppressive effect of lack of information control. In a certain sense that’s a pure libertarian system.
(Alan Charles Kors) Of course, one of the critical conditions is if you know that there there is that information control going on and you’re in a society in which you are free to criticize it, expose it and work formally and informally against it. Quite difficult in China, much easier for people such as I if we’re up against Google.
(Cory Doctorow) I just wanted to interject that I don’t know why we would need to pose censorship as unitary thing, as opposed to a spectrum. For me the reason we think about censorship or concern ourselves with it is because the effect that censorship has on this marketplace of ideas. And so things that distort the marketplace of ideas I don’t know, I guess we can quibble over the threshold crosses over into censorship, but the distortionary effect is the thing that we care about and so attending to something as distoritonary or not to me is the significant part. If you censor a thing that nobody is looking for, nobody ever looks for, nobody notices that is not particularly important even if it is censorship. Whereas if you just put your thumb on the scales in a way that shapes the debate for generations to come to the detriment of this idea of a free marketplace of ideas that’s much more significant. Even if it doesn’t rise to the level of censorship
(Alan Charles Kors) Yeah, I think that’s true but if I look at the period I know best, the 18th century most of the works that you would think of the influential works of the French enlightenment circulated, they didn’t circulate with official permission. What the regime was concerned about was information control, so that took the form of raising the price through selective persecution of book sellers. Almost never of authors, of book sellers, and book peddlers. Which is what people used to do. Literally open their coats and there would be forbidden books, the system that the control of thethe book trade in France used in the 18th century was, you would give official permission to books that met every standard of this threatens no one in positions of power and the status quo, but you would seek to raise the price of books that you allow to circulate by a system known as pacit permission, It’s not legal, it’s not written, you have verbal or friendly communication, yes you can publish this, you will not get a royal privilege to publish it, you will not have the approval of a censor but we’re gonna raise the price, and you could find, not only find those, those ended up being the most influential works of the 18th century that changed European civilization.
(Glenn Tiffert) I wonder if I could take us in a slightly different direction and that is because many of us are focused on censorship in the pre-digital, per-algorithmic age and the paradigm I think is a little bit different there in the sense that censorship requires an act of human volition. It requires a certain amount of mobilization of human labor to accomplish. And because of that human limitation it makes it very difficult, and only rarely do we see censors recursively going through censorship decisions that were made decades earlier to revisit them and re-censor things. Simply because they have enough on their plates right now to do. The algorithmic models of censorship that we’re seeing in today’s world changed that because they’re infinitely scalable, it’s just a question really of processing power and human labor is not as involved, and is not part of it. So instead of having a set of discrete acts of censorship where people are reading a text, and making decision about okay, what is not acceptable at this particular moment in time? And making deletions of modifications, or excisions from the text, instead we should be thinking of censorship as a dynamic process, a series of infinite revisitations of a corpus because algorithms can do that now in a way that humans were never able to do in the past, and they can revisit an entire archive, millions, billions of characters, roaming them effortlessly, constantly to infinitely reshape them from day to day depending up what their priorities are in a way that was never possible before. And so we get to this new model of dynamic censorship, of effortless mutability that is qualitatively quite different then anything we’ve confronted in the past it makes the record much more sort of difficult to nail.
(Alan Charles Kors) But you’re not saying there’s an act of will to censor at the beginning of that, there is.
(Glenn Tiffert) Oh there is, and there are human judgements being made about how to tweak the algorithms but the transaction costs have been lowered to such an extent that it becomes feasible to do it at a level of detail and with a frequency that was simply impossible. And at a scale that was simply impossible in the past. So you could for example let’s say if you woke up in a bad mood and you had the power too rewrite the entire record of the New York Times today. That was simply impossible 40 years ago.
(Kyeong-Hee Choi) I also can just share some sentiments with you because the reason why I actually began to study censorship in Japanese regime was that the resources and time and effort that went into this censoring the Korean materials by the Japanese police, whether the police were Korean or Japanese, humongous in terms of budget. In other words I think that there was a definite clear volition on the part of one nation, one ethnic group to the other to control the mind in a certain way because there’s a certain kind of resistance already anticipated and expected. Therefore there’s a very drastic kind of moment with which they were really imposing this system and the meticulous translation projects were just amazing, so all the Korean materials in Japanese translations, sometimes verbatim, sometimes synoptically, enormous kind of corpus was produced that’s not just delete the mind but they wanted to learn about these people, what they were actually thinking. So the censorship as a kind of control is actually about learning process as well. So in this process I think a lot of materials are produced but interestingly the Korean case was just last 30 years or 40 years, then at the end of World War II these materials are really burned a lot. So it’s very hard to even know where to start and where to kind of end. And this not just applied to colonial case, but even in Japanese case the Emperor system that was really denounced by the allies after the war really kind of attributed to the one ministry, called the home ministry which really controlled the whole thought in the Japanese Empire. And the ministry itself was disbanded, and as a result a lot of materials also.
(Alan Charles Kors) I’d like to come back to another theme from the first session with which I strongly agreed. Namely that to look at the official written policy of censorship, or rights of publication, rights of distribution in a society tells you very little. You absolutely have to know how people behave. What’s the system in place? So for example, it was common place in early modern French history, European history, but early modern French history for the longest time to say that the triumph of the orthodox support of Louis XIV succeeded in suppressing innovation in thought challenges to existing authority, until his death in 1715, now you get the regency, now you get the explosion, now you get the enlightenment. In fact in the 17th century, in the late 17th century were the strictest attempts at the control by the devout party at the French court. Authors circulated the most heterodox ideas. One you could write commentaries on authors and share all of these thoughts in a final chapter. You say of course this person’s wrong, of course I bow to the authority of the church. Astonishingly those books are easily published. You could play, and it’s a wonderful game in the 17th century, the search for the right approbation or censor, and there’s a lot of horse trading that goes on for a book that is published. As to who will be the reader, the censor, and who will give the theological approbation if it’s a matter of theology. But also without trying too, if you’re in a culture that has ideas in ferment the most orthodox theologians in 17th century France have to follow a certain model of the disputatiams in order to make an argument which includes coming up with the strongest possible objections to your own arguments. To the contrary, and there is the most widespread circulation of the most atheistic critical, irreligious ideas, devised by learned orthodox theologians who get criticized, that create straw men against their own arguments.
(Ada Palmer) So, they’re writing a debate with an imaginary mock atheist right? So, they’re making up the positions of this imaginary mock atheist, and they have to do a good job.
(Alan Charles Kors) Or they’re taking it from epicurists, or they’re taking it from lucritious, or from Hans.
(Adrian Johns) I was struck by the line about algorithms because when you said that my first thought was well, was to ask like a Robert K Merton type of question and ask well what’s the ethical framework within codas are trained such that if they’re given, it’s like the old question that used to be asked about scientists in the weapons industry right. Scientists are supposed to be trained with the humanistic values of the sciences. A certain communitarianism, a certain objectivity, this goes back to ideals advanced by Robert K Merton in the 1940s. But notoriously plenty of scientists have been willing to go on and work in the weapons industry and don’t seem to suffer any kind of internal psychological torture from doing this. So I was going to ask about whether there was a counterpart problem for people who do the coding of algorithms for changing the record of the New York Times but then it–
(Ada Palmer) Can I, can I expand on that question as well, and then pass it back to you to continue asking because I had a parallel version of the same question. We have all these cases as Alan was just talking about with you’re gonna publish a radical book you fish around the right censor that you know will lubricate it through the censorship process. We have other cases that Hannah has found, or that I have found or that Stuart has found of radical books getting saved by the very inquisitors who job it was to destroy them and then disseminated clandestinely or later in another context by the human agents who were the decision making parties in this. One of the things that an algorithm doesn’t have is a college educated human being sitting there reading the radical text, then making the decision about it. And I was discussing this at one point online, and someone posted but there will always be a radical young programmer willing to sabotage the system. And my instinct is that that feels like, it asks a lot more emotional courage to sabotage, to knowingly conscientiously sabotage an algorithm then to lubricate through a book by a friend. But I don’t know and I would love to hear both Glenn and Cory expanding on Adrian’s question, comment on that.
(Adrian Johns) I think the thing that I was, I think the thing is though that there is another issue, there is another layer in which something like algorithmic interventions are different from say priestly ones which is that algorithms are subject to transposition. They’re often invented for something like biotech, and then you just lift them wholesale and apply them to a different database.
(Ada Palmer) But that happens to priests. You’re invented to persecute the Jews in Spain, now you’re persecuting the Protestants in Spain. This is absolutely copy pasting the priest onto the new problem.
(Adrian Johns) Alright so you cut and paste priests across but there’s a sense in which, for the title of this course when we’ve problematised over and over, and over again censorship and the control part of information control. This is one of those areas where you want to problemicise information because before maybe when I don’t know, mid 20th century, there isn’t quite that sense that you can take automated codes and shift them wholesale across radically different, what would have been taken to be, radically different bodies of knowledge. But now you can I think, and that changes the status from the Italian question.
(Glenn Tiffert) There is a portability to them and so to an extent they are duel use technologies. Some of the same fundamental technologies that are powering the search of YouTube for copyright infringement, or the policing of our social media platforms for odious content and computational propaganda, is the sort of stuff that is very much on the front page of the New York Times today with regard to Facebook and the way it has been used to sort of polarize and manipulate attention. Those technologies are easily, I mean every advance that’s made in that space instantly accrues to the kinds of censorship that I study in China because the underlying technologies are portable and highly compatible. So if we achieve and advance in one area that might be more socially appropriate, that we might be comfortable with in particular context we have to be I think cognizant of the fact that this technology is portable for uses that are more problematic by our standards. Now with respect to the ethical question I think that presupposes that you’re in a context in which you have the freedom to make the choice, and in some places one doesn’t have the freedom to make that choice, one is told simply these are the rules, you must apply them and there are consequences if you don’t. It’s interesting, the materials that I have studied very closely, I don’t believe that we are yet at the stage where automated censorship bots are making the choices. I think that is coming very soon. What I reckon is happening is that our peers very well educated specialists in my case historians, who know this material very well, at a real high level of technical methodological training, know this material well and also are aware of it’s pertinence to contemporary controversies which after all is the reason why one would censor it are making the choices, they are making the selections. So potentially my counterparts, my peers, my colleagues in China are being asked too, here’s a body of sources, you’re trained in this, you know it well and maybe they’re advantages to you playing ball or there might be consequences if you choose not to participate but get to it and do the work. What comes next is that this is actually, you can train do machine learning to kind of learn the decision rules by which these human beings are making those choices. And then apply them more broadly in an automated sense.
(Cory Doctorow) I wanted to talk about the relationship of the labor supply to these questions. So I’m not an expert on the clericy during the inquisition but my impression is that there was no shortage of second or third sons to go and be priests. Whereas there’s a massive shortage of people who actually understand machine learning. And this has really tilted the balance of power towards techies, and we’re in the midst of something of a tech worker uprising where for example thousands of Googler’s walked out over things like sexual harassment, they forced the company to abandon a military project that was kind of a trial run for a 12 billion dollar Pentagon contract called Jedi. And just recently, in fact yesterday, when the news leaked that Google had bypassed it’s own privacy and security team while planning a censored search engine in China, an engineer at Google went on Twitter and said, it’s our job as Googler’s to have the backs of the people who look out for our users privacy and security, we should be ready to strike if this product goes forward. I’m putting up $100,000 towards our strike fund, who will match it my fellow Googlers. And within about three hours she’d matched that $100,000 strike fund and it’s still growing. I think it’s about one million dollars now. And so there is this enormous labor shortage that gives this enormous labor leverage to people who want to look into this ethical dimension of what they’re doing. The CEO of Google’s Cloud business was forced to resign after her bid to bring the company, the military contracting failed. Now there is a domain of machine learning in which there is no labor shortage, there’s a huge labor surplus which is snake oil. So there is an enormous over supply of people who don’t know how to do machine learning, but are willing to lie about how well they know machine learning, and if you’re making a product where no one cares whether it works or not then you can have a huge customer base for that kind of thing. So these are the things An example would be an automated sentencing tool, or tool that predicts where the police should go and ask people to empty their pocket in case they have knives. Those tools are notoriously inaccurate but since their accuracy is never measured there are a lot of engineers, or engineers in quotes who are happy to work on those projects and continue to do the work. One thing that I wanted to say about dual use technologies is that in a lot of network tests, not so much the technologies of dual use as they are rubicons or thresholds. So if you have a network that has no choke point from which there is filtering or censoring or surveillance that network has institutional barrier that you have to overcome to institute it. Once you add a filtering mechanism, or censoring mechanism whether that’s to catch child pornography or some other category of speech, even malicious hacking attempts. Once there’s a place through which all traffic goes and a tool that spies on the traffic it becomes a kind of moral hazard. People come along and start to use that tool for other purposes, and we’ve seen this function especially with filters in Scandinavia, Australia, UK where what started out as filters that policed a very narrow category of content now have a very, very broad categories of content.
(Glenn Tiffert) There’s a kind of mission creep that it catches.
(Adrian Johns) Yeah.
(Alan Charles Kors) One of the issues that this last bit of discussion raises for me is if you do a history of how people get around attempts at censorship, you discover a rather creative species. People find ways around, it’s astonishingly less difficult in the 17th century to get around censorship then people might imagine, and doubly so for the 18th century. Are some of you raising the possibility that the ease of getting around censorship is going to be severely limited by the impersonality of it, the algorithmic nature of it?
(Kyeong-Hee Choi) Actually literature, that’s the kind of area that creativity really comes in and in fact in the colonial Korea many of the kind of political and social and other potentially dangerous contents were all really kind of suppressed. And to journalists, lecturers and teachers they really go into literary medium because they could go around the censorship. So for instance one of the things that kind of coming out from this censored literary tradition is that instead when you have a very able bodied male, and a very influential political activist the role is supposed to be portrayed. You cannot use that person because the Japanese colonial censors will not allow then you change that into impaired and young, and weakened bodies, often female or childlike. They are the ones who will take over, so the kind of political subversive energies. So you have to really go around the why these particular kind of patterns and configurations of the characters are actually employed in the literary work.
(Glenn Tiffert) The human spirit is to an extent irrepressible. There’s an extremely long tradition in the Chinese context going way back into imperial times of using historical allegory to talk about things that are impossible to talk about in a current context. But that automatically presumes that you’re dealing with a highly literate, extremely educated audience who can interpret, read between the lines and extract the meaning from that historical allegory. And so it consequently developed that one mark of ones erudition in China was to be able to master that kind of language. And you see that in cultural revolution texts, where people are attacking each other in the most obtuse, impenetrable language but it is a code that requires an extremely high level of training and learning to be able to decipher. But the people who were meant to understand what it was about were able to sort of extract the meaning, today on social media in China too you have a similar sort of cat and mouse game between the censors and the algorithms and the humans behind the algorithms who are meant to catch whatever the algorithm has missed, using allegory, using new vocabulary, using neologisms to talk about things that yesterday one could talk about but today can’t. And so you talk about it in a quite different way, but what it also means is that it is impenetrable and very difficult to keep up with how this language is evolving, so it instantly raises the threshold and limits the audience for it too. And so to an extent the censors still win a little bit by making it so hard to talk. Five or 10 years from now people will look back on some of these materials and I mean they will be unreadable because they’re written in such a sort of dense code that changes from week to week, month to month, and it takes a tremendous amount of effort to stay up to speed on that.
(Cory Doctorow) I want to mention a very good paper that came out this week from the Berkman Center at Harvard by the political scientist Henry Farrell and the cryptographer Bruce Schneier about using information security to understand disinformation campaigns in democracies. And the question they asked and seek to answer is why is it that disinformation campaigns make atrocity stronger and democracies weaker. He used the example of Putin and his Oligarchs deliberately sowing disinformation about what the political views are of different actors in the political sphere for example. Which political groups are secretly funded by the Kremlin on both sides of the debate and so on, and how that has worked to strengthen Putin’s hand, when the same campaigns are worked in the US it weakens the democracy against the institution. And their conclusion is that in an autocracy the system requires that people not have good public knowledge about the views of other people. That once you know how many other people the view that things are kind of messed up you are likely to challenge and in a democracy legitimacy springs from the idea that you actually have a pretty good handle on how neighbors are thinking so that when politicians reap the decision, even if it’s not one that you can agree with you can see how it arrives at some kind of compromise that splits the difference between what you can live with and what neighbors can live with. And when disinformation campaigns are worked in democracies that fragments of knowledge of what people actually believe and it makes it hard for us to judge the justice. I wanted to also raise the question of, well celebrating how clever can be at circumventing censorship and the joy that we can take from the kind of bloody minded and making sure that people know the forbidden knowledge. I’m concerned that when we valorize is this as the answer to censorship, or as a partial answer to censorship that we are maybe committing the fallacy of survivor buttons. If censorship worked some of the time then we wouldn’t know it because the censorship worked and so when we say well people are infinitely creative and they find their way around censorship and all the dangerous ideas of Korea in this period, or France in this period manage to survive despite the censorship, what we’re really saying is all the ideas that weren’t successfully censored, weren’t successfully censored. We don’t necessarily have a look into the successful censorship view. And the last thing I wanted to say is about whether or not networks are better at censoring then humans and at least in one respect it’s a kind of mathematical formulation which stenography, hiding a message inside another message. Like disguising a text inside a picture flipping actually pretty easy to defeat methods because the histogram of that image statistical picture of how the pixels are right in that image differ from a normal picture would. Information has it’s own characteristic signature, and when you add information file it’s actually easy to quickly determine that file has extra hidden information in it. And that’s one thing that computerized censorship is really good at, particular to over censor. If you don’t care if information then you can pretty
(Alan Charles Kors) I’m interested in the mechanism of the new censorship and the technical proficiency that might or might not work to certain degrees. Someone goes from mainland China to Hong Kong briefly, picks up a paper and reads about the persecution of the Muslim Uyghurs in the south west of China. Being sent to reeducation camps, people are being housed in their homes, now he goes back to China. What, and he says I want to find out about this myself. Can one get around it, what happens if one searches on the internet for knowledge of the Uyghurs and the persecution of Muslims in the south west.
(Glenn Tiffert) Right, that gets to the question about whether censorship needs to be perfect to be censorship.
(Alan Charles Kors) Doesn’t it clearly.
(Glenn Tiffert) Yeah, I think a determined person clearly can get that information if they’re so inclined and if they’re willing to undertake technical, use VPNs to hop the firewall, easily. It can be done, but it’s much harder today than it was even five years ago.
(Alan Charles Kors) That’s effective censorship.
(Glenn Tiffert) Yeah, and one has to of course have the inclination. I think for censorship to be most effective also requires not just the sort of absence of information or barriers to the acquisition of information but also sufficient information to distract, amuse and satisfy people to keep them from looking for the things that they can’t find. And so to the extent that, someone certainly could find information on Xinjiang if they wanted too but then the question is how many people want to? How many people want to go to the trouble of doing it? And then once they learn what they’re able to learn about it, in what context can they actually act on that information, decimate that information without encountering consequences from the state. So in a way the Chinese government has been highly affected by the raising of barriers. They don’t have to be perfect, it just has to be hard enough and the consequences for disseminating what you do learn have to be hard enough that in effect you put a blanket on the circulation of that information.
(Alan Charles Kors) One difference there from 17th and 18th century France, especially from 18th century France is you had remarkable sympathy for the new philosophy, to the enlightenment within the very structures that were controlling censorship. The director of the library in France, royal appointment leading monarch, lost his life defending Louis XVI during the French revolution, a man named Malleal. He allowed so much circulation of enlightenment thoughts but he also was the head of a regime that had to honor, less the church, then the monarchy, and the honor of people. So much, he’s much more willing to censor personal liables and satires against individuals then he is the circulation of the most subversive ideas in the course of the French enlightenment. And this is true of the whole regime of censors in the 18th century on the whole. Significant numbers of them very sympathetic to the new ideas, and while they understand they have to do something to limit circulation, raising prices, they want to aid enlightenment authors. There is of course no such approval in China or in Putin’s Russia that they’re able to serve. You get remarkably paradoxical situations. The censoring of Beaumarchais’ le Mariage de Figaro is a philosoph censor, he’s a member of some of the most radical salons in Paris, man by the name of Or for example the head of the Malleal writes to one of the two editors of the Encyclopedie, the Great French Encyclopedia, when D’Alembert, great mathematician, philosph writes to him and says there’s a play that’s just been performed in Paris, Le Philisoph, it slanders us, it insults us. And Malleal, the voice of royal authority writes to him and says, well I let you speak, I’m letting him speak. About 20 years later so attuned to the enlightenment are major players in the regime in France that the lieutenant of police for all of France, Satine writes to Diderot and he says oh there’s a terrible piece being written about you, do you want it suppressed? Do you want him punished, and Diderot says no, give him the same liberty that I have to write. So the remarkable phenomenon in a changing French and European context and growing sympathy within monarchical regimes to people who are willing to assert the legitimacy of the monarchy and criticize the church and secondary institutions in France does make getting around censorship remarkably easier.
(Adrian Johns) I think to my mind this brings us back to the question that I sort of wanted to start with. So in the 18th century, censorship is a negotiation and some things sure get suppressed, but truthfully it’s not quite a question of suppression, it’s a question of channeling, and things appear with different levels of emission, they appear through different venues or something like that, and if in China now it’s often the case that it’s not sort of technically impossible to find things out, it’s a question of having the expertise and the will, and the means to adopt sufficiently sophisticated VPNs or whatever it might be. We can’t do anything about China particularly, but in modern UK or western Europe or the United States we face issues where information is channeled and we face this kind of issue rather like in a certain sense the lost ark in the big warehouse where our issues as citizens is often not that something has been out and out suppressed. It’s that to find the truth we’re having to wade through massive amounts of, sometimes deliberate disinformation. And the question I think for institutions not least the university sector is what do we do? How do we form the next generation of readers citizens such that they are not just sort of willing to live in this world but are actually going to be informed, motivated, active discerners of meaning and truth in that environment. An environment that realistically isn’t going to get that much better. It’s not that next year we’ll be back in to the, whatever period you think is good, the 1970s, where the New York Times finally is the arbiter of truth and we can just go to that. That’s probably not going to happen, where probably we may take down whatever the Putinesc agents were that screwed us up in 2016 but there’s going to be replacements for them. And in that sense the point of application where maybe we can do something about this is not so much the point of the creation of records, media, content and so forth, it’s the point of reception. In other words it’s you and me. So my question really to everyone, to the panel, but in some sense also to everybody else is the Lenin question, what is to be done?
(Ada Palmer) I’ve been thinking for 20 minutes about the question of manpower raised by Cory, and whether it’s true that there’s no shortage of second sons to go into the church in the inquisition. And the answer of course is the inquisition is always strapped for man power and desperately feeling that they don’t have enough people to police what they’re looking at. And I wonder whether thinking of that in comparison to digital censorship technologies, whether it’s valuable to think about both do you need these resources elsewhere? And how expensive was it to produce this resource? So an inquisitor is from a pretty good family, educated enough to have strong Latin, that’s very expensive, that’s a very expensive investment on the part of the family that produced this. And then in a patronage network dominated pre-modern Europe that is a person who has the potential to be an enormous political asset for the family and allies of that family that that person comes from. This is a political tool who can exercise influence in offices that have political. This is an economic tool who can get positions where they’re gonna have a high salary, just bring benefices in, they can block memories of rival families, or rival patronage networks from offices. So the decision to use that human labor unit for censorship, to use the man hours of such an expensive produced person, produced in a period in which a library is itself extremely expensive. And if we think of the expensive resources of a modern university investing in a particle accelerator they’re spending to have a Latin library what we’re spending on a particle accelerator. So they’re spending on producing this Latin reading second son, what we’re spending on producing a nuclear reactor, they really are. It is an enormously valuable bit of man power and economic investment that you the have to decide are we gonna use this to censor things or are we gonna use this for something else, to advance my political regime to defend my family, to battle the English, whatever it is that you can deploy that resource on. And I wonder whether we want to compare the investment that went into producing an educated inquisitor more to the investment that goes into a mega processing power super computer today then the production of an individual censor today who, and I’d love to hear a comment on this from the Korea colonial standpoint as well, you don’t need as sophisticated an education I think to be a censor now as you needed to be a censor then, when a lot of the materials were being in a literary language. When all of this coded material is being used. And there’s a huge difference in what’s possible when a censor has to be an incredibly esoterically trained person, an expensively trained person from when it can be a comparatively lay produced person. Now the programmer who makes the algorithm probably needs a more expensive and comparable training, or the hardware designer make the machine but the interesting question of manpower I think is one that’s changed a lot in different contexts of censorship.
(Kyeong-Hee Choi) I think I would like to just respond to that because I want to compare say post colonial South Korean censors during the dictatorial authoritarian literary regime versus Japanese colonial censors in the 1920s and 30s. So when I compare the content and the ways in which the sophistication is kind of differently played out in these two cases I can see that Japan really invested on the formation of the censor. So I think two points, one they had to really rely on creating Korean colonial censors who are really versed in both Japanese language, over Latin, and also Korean vernacular language. And also very much versed in cosmopolitan kind of liberal thoughts that were kind of circulated in Europe and Japan so that they could really go into this constantly outsmarting creators. Before that the Japanese censors had to be really kind of controlled through numbers. Because on the permission system they didn’t have to permit many newspapers to be published in the first place. So to just stick to two, that was the Korean two, Korean newspapers allowed and the reason is that there was only one censor who is so competent and has all the knowledge, and he would be forming the kind of like head of the mind of the whole publication police, and so because there are not many people who have that kind of trained knowledge, they did not permit foreign newspapers to be published. And through the process, what is very interesting about this colonial case is that colonial Korean censors that are employed later after only the Japan period is over they’re the ones of the public educational system, product of the public educational system, not the private educational system. So the public was more or less controlled by the colonial regime, whereas the private was more or less subject to various kind of variances. So only the graduates of Keijo Imperial University or some legal kind of vocational school, graduates are employed and they’re the ones, interestingly who have not been abroad. Whereas all the writers in fact went to Japan or Shanghai or United States. But these censors really keep the mind of the Japanese colonial state, kind of infiltrating the whole public education system.
(Ada Palmer) Neat.
(Glenn Tiffert) You know I think you put your finger on an important point, you can tell me if you think this is the right metaphor, but one way I understand the way censorship, the manpower question of censorship has changed in the last several centuries is the sort of progression from a kind of artisanal model of production to a rational bureaucratic industrial form of production in the early 20th century where you had Leninist bureaucracies, or highly bureaucratic states which created structures of control that were organized along very modern lines of sort of a varying rationality, to now a model that is beyond the industrial age and possibly post industrial, and now the machine or the computer age, the digital age and it’s a different kind of metaphor which with just as the progression from artisanal production to industrial production lowered costs, and was a force multiplier for each input of human labor, similarly the algorithms are forced multipliers for the inputs of human labor and they allow people lower on the production scale with the kind of differentiation of labor input to play different roles and to be much more efficient at lower cost. And so I think that kind of model helps you understand how it has changed over the centuries and so that allows in China, there’s a term, the 50 cent army which kind of encapsulates the idea that the costs of hiring people to participate, to kind of mold social discourse, to chime in to bury dissenting views with the party line on social media and also to kind of pull the plug on dissenting views and censor them, it is so cheap now because the technology has changed and people are willing to play that role who don’t require the kind of investment that it once did require.
(Ada Palmer) Now Adrian I realized I undercut your beautiful question about we can do, so I hope we can talk about that tomorrow but Cory won’t be with us tomorrow so I wonder Cory whether you’d like to address Adrians question now before we have to sign off today.
(Cory Doctorow) I think that we have historically worried about selective enforcement and the discrimination that comes with it, where the cop who pulls over a black kid for speeding charges him with a felony, and then pulls over the mayors white son for speeding and says, boys will be boys. And clearly there’s a problem with that but the correlate that maybe the inverse of that problem in the machine age is perfect enforced with no common sense. And we have a presage of this for example with a zero tolerance policies around school violence and weapons over the last decade with high schoolers who let, there was one person Ibought a used backpack, not realizing that there was a pocket knife forgotten in the lining of the backpack, pocket knife who was excluded from school and faced criminal charges for bringing a weapon onto school property. And that’s the kind of thing where common sense should intervene but in the absence of a space for common sense just in these paradoxical or nonsensical outcomes and the machine function is full of a lot more events and we do also get discriminatory outcomes where the people who design the algorithms have preferential access to their contours and make sure that these cases and fixed, whereas use cases that might hurt someone else never get a look in. But much more significant it’s the perfect enforcement. It’s the idea that there’s just never a time when anyone gets to say the word And one of the ways that this really manifests is that school censor where information about how to report sexual assault, what constitutes sexual assault often includes frank anatomical terms, and therefore falls afoul of the filter. Whereas the harassment, use synonyms that the filter neverand now you have a situation where theimmunity and the information you need to stop the harassment is blocked the filter that was meant to prevent harassment in the first place.
(Adrian Johns) I think we must draw to a close because it’s 4:20 so the common sense thing to do would be to adjourn until tomorrow morning. So thank you panelists, thank you Cory.
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