RatS 2: Matt Taibbi Meets the Censored

We had intended to make RatS a regular thing but, like many plans of mice and Marty, it fell by the wayside. Maybe we’ll try again.

Matt Taibbi is the nerdish heir to Hunter S. Thompson. He is simultaneously unleashed and meticulous. He also has a habit of pissing off Democrats, and plenty on the left, by suggesting that there is much more wrong with America than Trump and Republicans. Taibbi had the temerity to argue, early and strongly, that Trump’s win over Hillary wasn’t because of Russian hackers, but because of the general ineptness and meaninglessness of the Democratic Party, and the specific awfulness of Clinton. Taibbi is also a careful and incisive critic of the news media; Hate Inc. is a must.

Recently, Taibbi has been pissing off his one-would-think allies, and pretty much everyone, by arguing that seeking to throw assholes off Twitter and Facebook and the like is dooming us to doom. Somehow he’s just not comfortable with Zuck and Jack and their fellow titans acting as our guardian angel censors. Taibbi is now reporting on the early stages of this corporatised censorship, interviewing some of people who have been whacked around. His interviews, and pretty much everything by Taibbi, are well worth reading.

Meet the Censored: Andre Damon

Meet the Censored: Ford Fischer

Meet the Censored: Abigail Shrier (paywalled, and you should pay)

Meet the Censored: Olivia Katbi-Smith (added 02/01/2021)

Meet the Censored: Mark Crispin Miller (added 06/01/2021)

MoP 2 : A One-Way Conversation

We’re not particularly looking to blog about censorship. In general, we think the problem (in, e.g., Australia and the US) is overhyped. The much greater problem is self-censorship, where the media and the society at large can’t think or write about what they fail to see; so, for example, a major country can have a military coup, but no one seems to notice. Sometimes, however, the issue is close enough to home and the censorship is sufficiently blatant, that it seems worth noting.

Greg Ashman, who we had cause to mention recently, has been censored in a needless and heavy-handed manner by Sasha Petrova, the education editor of The Conversation. The details are discussed by Ashman here, but it is easy to give the story in brief.

Kate Noble of the Mitchell Institute wrote an article for The Conversation, titled Children learn through play – it shouldn’t stop at pre-school. As the title suggests, Noble was arguing for more play-based learning in the early years of primary school. Ashman then added a (polite and referenced and carefully worded) comment, noting Noble’s failure to distinguish between knowledge that is more susceptible or less susceptible to play-based learning, and directly querying one of Noble’s examples, the possible learning benefits (or lack thereof) of playing with water. Ashman’s comment, along with the replies to his comment, was then deleted. When Ashman emailed Petrova, querying this, Petrova replied:

“Sure. I deleted [Ashman’s comment] as it is off topic. The article doesn’t call for less explicit instruction, nor is there any mention of it. It calls for more integration of play-based learning in early years of school to ease the transition to formal instruction – not that formal instruction (and even here it doesn’t specify that formal means “explicit”) must be abolished.”

Subsequently, it appears that Petrova has also deleted the puzzled commentary on the original deletion. And, who knows what else she has deleted? Such is the nature of censorship.

In general we have a lot of sympathy for editors, such as Petrova, of public fora. It is very easy to err one way or the other, and then to be hammered by Team A or Team B.  Indeed, and somewhat ironically, Ashman had a post just a week ago that was in part critical of The Conversation’s new policy towards climate denialist loons; in that instance we thought Ashman was being a little tendentious and our sympathies were much more with The Conversation’s editors.

But, here, Petrova has unquestionably screwed up. Ashman was adding important, directly relevant and explicitly linked qualification to Noble’s article, and in a properly thoughtful and collegial manner. Ashman wasn’t grandstanding, he was contributing in good faith. He was conversing.  Moreover, Petrova’s stated reason for censoring Ashman is premised on a ludicrously narrow definition of “topic”, which even on its own terms fails here, and in any case has no place in academic discourse or public discourse.

Petrova, and The Conversation, owes Ashman an apology.