How internet censorship works, Part 2

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Machetera’s had problems today and yesterday with graphics on the site; a banner which appears and disappears, vanishing pictures, graphics that magically resize themselves after having been saved about forty times, etc. Maybe she’s being censored?! ALERT THE MEDIA! Anthony Boadle, drop the mojitos and get over here! If the pictures are gone or gigantic when you read this, check back later.

In Part 1, Machetera explained “peering” and how it can be used to block internet end-users’ access to certain sites. In Sweden, many internet users cannot reach Rebelión.org and other Spanish language sites, and there are reports that Telia, the Swedish telephone company through whom they connect, blames its backbone provider, an American company, for actively censoring sites. The logical flaw in Telia’s argument is that gaming sites are also being blocked. A peering agreement requires that both parties involved keep their routers updated. So it could be a technical issue. Or it might be a case of active censorship, and then again it might not be. There’s simply not enough information to know for sure.

Other cases are not so murky though, and Machetera stumbled across one quite accidentally, when she was looking for the original post of an interesting map.

The map appeared at Rebelión.org, where Manuel Talens had translated an article by Gilad Atzmon which originally appeared at Mary Rizzo’s peacepalestine blog. It details the practical results of Israel’s land grabs over the years and how Palestinian and Jewish/Israeli land ownership has literally reversed since 1946, with the exception that had the swap been exact, the Palestinians would at least have ended up with some scattered beachfront property outside Gaza. Instead they are corralled well away from the sea, with the lone exception of the narrow Gaza strip which is now a fraction of its original size. (This is where Machetera will show you the map itself if the evil censors will allow it, although it may or may not be the size Machetera intended. Please be patient.)

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Gilad Atzmon is a very interesting fellow. Manuel Talens describes him best in an interview he did with Atzmon in late 2005 titled “Beauty as a Political Weapon.”

Born in Israel, Gilad Atzmon was raised as a secular Jew. He served his compulsory military service at the time of the Lebanon war (1982), an event that made him very sceptical about Zionism and Israeli politics. Ten years later he fled his native country with a no-return ticket. In the UK he studied Philosophy but after graduation chose a musical rather than an academic career. He lives in London and considers himself an exile….He has always impressed me by the intellectually structured way he criticises what he considers the racist policies of the Zionists and has put his art to the service of a cause: the liberation of the Palestinian people.

All right then. What does this have to do with internet censorship? Machetera’s getting to that. Some people find Atzmon’s views annoying, and one person in particular finds them annoying enough to have launched a one-man crusade to destroy Atzmon’s (and Rizzo’s) freedom of speech, going so far as trying to pull down the peacepalestine blog and harass the hell out of those who would presume to give Atzmon a speaking platform. Machetera finds Tony Greenstein’s behavior quite deranged and therefore will not give it much attention here except to illustrate another angle for internet censorship.

In a letter to Google, Greenstein claimed that peacepalestine “purports to be supportive of the Palestinians but is in fact deeply anti-Semitic” and notified the online company that he was pursuing “proceedings for libel and defamation against a Mr Gilad Atzmon.” He threatened to add Google to the lawsuit if it did not take peacepalestine down within 14 days.

Blogger was actually the publishing platform for peacepalestine and so Machetera imagines that some communication took place between Google and Blogger (which wouldn’t have been hard, considering that Google now owns Blogger), resulting in the blog’s deactivation. Because what happens when a threatening letter crosses an online company executive’s desk is, little alarm bells go off, and a variety of ass-covering behavior begins.

Google quickly supplied Mary Rizzo with Greenstein’s threatening documents, at her request, and Machetera supposes that if Rizzo hadn’t been so annoyed about having peacepalestine go dark for no reason at all, they might have been a good source of amusement. She wrote two quick letters to Google, pointing out that she was not listed in Greenstein’s frivolous suit, and asking that if Google had judged that peacepalestine was indeed anti-Semitic, how it arrived at that judgement?

Blogger wrote back and essentially agreed, reinstating peacepalestine, saying “We sincerely apologize for any inconvenience this suspension has caused you and your readers.”

The moral of the story? Internet censorship can happen in a variety of ways. Google undoubtedly has a team of people whose full-time job day in and out is to deal with crank threats and their default policy appears to be “better to ask forgiveness than permission,” or “guilty until proven innocent.” Considering that they are also saving each of your search queries for a year and a half, for unknown purposes, the policy is not all that surprising.

4 responses to “How internet censorship works, Part 2

  1. Mamma mia are you fast! Thanks for this post, Ma Chetera. Actually, there are loads of things I learned from all of that. I’m not the first to get censored, and I won’t be the last for sure, but there are some peculiar things to this whole affair that I find worthy of note:
    1) the censor is someone who supposedly claims to be Anti-Zionist. Yet, at the end of the day, his personal manias matter more than things like respecting the freedom of speech of others and defending platforms for information about Zionist evil. There are a few hate blogs about me, Gilad and I get hate posts here and there all the time on different blogs, but still, it was a “supporter” of the Palestinian solidarity movement who tried to pull the blog, and who used really dubious ways to go about it, by insinuating things he couldn’t even demonstrate. Basically, hoping that flapping around lawsuits is enough to make the case valid. I have to admit, I was floored by it, even though I knew it was in the air as he was hinting about it to beat the band.

    No Zionist has yet gone as far as to try to pull the blog. (well people who admit to being Zionists). And, this is the person wrote another smear peice (that’s all he is capable of and they come in doses of about 3 a week! It is stupefying!) saying “There are no gatekeepers, only anti-racists”. The guy thinks there is no lobby either, but yet, he prides himself of being a supporter of free speech.

    2) A company like Blogger doesn’t often respond, and I didn’t think they would. First of all they told me I was being sued, kindly sent me the entire 15 page file and when it was clear that I wasn’t but “they” would be, I figured, that is it, they are going to collapse under the threat and do the safe thing. Then, since I was being punished in a roundabout way (sue them because they would give more money?? but make sure the result is that there is no blog left, so the result is the same, win, lose or draw) the case got shifted to the content of the claim because I requested that they specify since they had made such a radical – and unannounced- blackout of a relatively popular blog, and I have to be very honest here: I was not about to write anything at all, much less anything detailed. A friend of mine called and insisted I gather my strength and try to do it. I was in no real state, because while I know it’s just a blog, people lose things far more important, it still represented something to me and to some other people, and losing it for no reason was not comforting.

    The letter actually asked for justification, but more than that, it asked for them to leave their anonymity. This is important for the fact that most of the writers on the blog write under their names, and Blogger might want to respect that and give the names of the people making the decision.

    In the same day, they apologised, and (this is wild) for the 21 or 22 hours the site was down, it was still registering over 2000 hits. I ask myself if they had a group of people to search the archives with the word searches or something, because the posts to check were over 800 and people were obviously all over the site. I had NO access to it.

    And this is where 3 comes in: the blogging community and activist friends were solid. Steve from Desert peace alerted me that the site was unaccessible a few minutes after it happened, I checked the site meter and all of a sudden, from about 80-100 readers and hour, it dropped to zero. I wasn’t even using internet at the time, just email and Word programs and I checked it out and it was true, I asked other bloggers what their sites were doing, all of them were up. Laila al-Haddad, Annie Annab, Haitham Sabbah, Akram Awad, Iqbal Tamimi, all of them were up and running and all of them asked me, “how can i help you now at this moment. Fight back! Don’t worry, we can save this!” Javier, Daniel, Miguel and Steve were saving things and Haitham was registering me for blogs and uploading everything he could find, some of these people still working at 4 or 5 AM! Nadia was making plans to save things one by one all weekend even if she was preparing to go back to Jordan at that time! Ariella, Asad, Reham, Sumaia, Gilad, Nancy, Adib, Edna, Khalid, Khaled, Paola, Paulo, Tarek, Walid, Susanne, Kris and inspiring Wael …and so many others, were all there going to work to save things and make Plan B… I got about 30 letters in a half an hour, about 5 phone calls from Europe and Palestine (Manuel can tell you what state I was in, as I was almost in tears and would have cried too if I could have!) and everyone was asking, “what can we do?” and telling me that we would get through it all. It was as if…. as if I was being rescued by a real community. The next day, about 50 friends were still busy saving all the posts they could find, archiving it, creating me blogs (I have 5 new ones now!!) organising fund raising for the lawsuit. It was truly a demonstration of love, solidarity, affection and amazing “pulse” as we say here, that I never would have expected. It was really a salvation.

    Then, things started to change over the course of the day, Greenstein had no case and Blogger was not going to be bullied by him, and … the blog was reinstated with apologies.

    So, Ma, dear, there’s a lot to learn from it:
    1) fight back, fight back, fight back!
    2) the enemies of free speech are everywhere, in every political colour on the spectrum
    3) remember that the blogging community does not tolerate its members being censored and we fight like mad and drop everything to come to the rescue. It is a force that transcends geography and language barriers. Love of our cause and love of one another and understanding of what it means to lose a blog, to lose another voice, another platform…. that brought out all of our strength and reinforced out commitment to what we were doing.
    4) These big companies at the end of the day are run by humans and they can be reasoned with sometimes.

    Thanks again for the really nice post!

  2. Tony isn’t giving up that easily.
    I imagine it must be him…. but now Google has taken me off again, claiming they got a report that my blog is spam.

    Free speech and political dissent are all the rage when someone wants to destroy their political opponent. Funny, yesterday was a blog post stating his Uber zionist statements about Palestinians!

  3. The fact hat you are discussing the censorship on the intenet is very important and the fact that you are distributing the map is very important too but you have to be aware that the map you are talking about in this article has been distributed in print and on the net very long time before Gilad Atsmon has “published” or distributed it. It was for example on the Gush Shalom website for ages. The censorship on the internet and elsewhere are serious enough and we should be very careful not to spread facts that are not verified and be careful in giving the credit to those who had been distributing a fact on the net (in this case the map).

  4. Dror, please read the post again. I did not say that the map originated with Gilad Atzmon or Mary Rizzo, I said that the map appeared at Rebelión, and then I went looking for the original. I did not say that I found the original map. I actually found it at a number of places, including JewWatch. You don’t say that Gush Shalom originated it either, just that it was there for ages.

    In any case, I don’t care. Since the originator could not be determined, I did not give credit to anyone. If you’ve been paying attention, Machetera is usually quite generous in crediting sources, so please don’t lecture her on what “we should be careful” about.

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