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A creative blog by Arthur Kegerreis on The Whole 9

Arthur Kegerreis – aka Liberal Art, aka Himat Singh – is interested in way too many things, although curiosity has not killed this cat yet. In LA for 14 years now, he has lived in NYC; VT; Amherst, MA; Santa Fe; Madison, WI; and grew up on Long Island. Arthur has been a cabinetmaker, guitar maker, Kundalini Yoga Teacher, Pilates instructor, graphic designer, composer, and playwright, though he now spends most of his time taking photos, writing songs, making video art, and building websites. Having fought his night-owlish tendencies all his life, he is fascinated by the creative process, so jump in and talk shop into the wee hours…or not.

Censorship, Ann Magnuson, Lisa Douglass, David DePalo and the KGB

I recently attended the WordPress conference in San Francisco, and amidst the barrage of tech info and blogging propaganda, I was unexpectedly moved by a young, amiable, barely intelligible man named Rinat Tuhvatshin. He runs a system of blogs in Kyrgyzstan, using the same software that The Whole 9 runs on. He seemed uncharacteristically jovial; my attention wandered, but the severity and reality of his story began to sink in, and I woke up. This was not a James Bond movie; this was real. Due to some simple blog posts, many people’s lives had been threatened.

Kloop Media Foundation offers the only vehicle for people to speak publicly about political views contradicting the reigning regime in the Kyrgyz Republic. During a recent election, one of his bloggers had spoken out about the party running for office. The blogger’s father was abducted by the KGB, and although the blogger escaped, he was warned that if he didn’t shut down his blog, his father’s life would be in danger. He shut down the blog. Not much later, the entire Kloop network was forced to shut down by the government, with death threats as well. A coup later overthrew the government, and the blogging victors were able to completely restore hundreds of blogs that voiced dissent, threatening the deposed party.

Frankly, I was embarrassed that although I’m rather well travelled, and was near his country during a summer vacation as a child, I still had absolutely no idea where it was.

I was also puzzled by his KGB references; I thought them an instrument of the former Soviet Communist party, no longer in existence. I gave my Russian friend Zoya a call, discovering that despite the existence of a new intelligence agency, the Federal Security Service, many former Soviet citizens still disparagingly refer to it as the KGB. Kyrgyzstan is just south of Kazakhstan, the country made famous by the movie Borat, and it was hard not to imagine Sasha Cohen as I listened to the speaker’s less than humorous story. In reality, Kyrgyzstan is one of the most corrupt countries in the world.

In it, a national network of hundreds of blogs was built for a mere 70,000 Euros, offering a chance for both community and freedom of speech in the shadow of a government that sought to abolish both. As someone that’s always sought companionship among the most freakish and outlandish folks, the notion of censorship chills me to the bone, and the ability to “let my freak flag fly” has come to be something I pretty much take for granted.

Political censorship is a horrible thing, yet it’s pretty clear cut; you have an idea what the rules of behavior are. Personally, I’m starting to get rather bothered by the evolution of a newer form of commercial censorship that, while not life threatening, is completely arbitrary and hence exceptionally frustrating. Last month, actress Ann Magnuson’s Facebook page, which boasts well over a thousand fans, was shut down, without explanation. Musician and writer Lisa Douglass had a similar Facebook encounter last year, leaving nearly a thousand friends puzzled and perplexed. Another musician, David Depalo, had just proudly unveiled his new website online when he discovered that Google had deemed it potentially harmful to people’s computers. With one fell swoop, it was as though his site ceased to exist. Ironically, there was nothing threatening hosted on his site, even without his knowledge. In all these cases, the victims were able to get their sites back, but no explanation was ever given.

Ann Magnuson came across Sweet Apple’s visual recreation of the iconic Roxy Music album cover, below, and decided perhaps she better share her own earlier tribute to the album, the photo shoot pictured below.

Ann Magnuson’s Tribute to Roxy Music

In Ann’s case, it was surmised that her new profile picture, a recreation of a famous Roxy Music album cover, was deemed indecent by the Facebook clergy. I found this ironic as I’d had an advertisement for a call girl served up on the Facebook sidebar the night before, much to my surprise. Apparently Facebook finds it excusable to offer confidential personal information to advertisers as long as it has its clothes on.

I’m of that peculiarly American outlook that hopes people are innocent until proven guilty, and I believe both Google and Facebook have good intentions. I think people should be spared the indecency of visiting a website that could download harmful applications to their computer, and children shouldn’t be subjected to inappropriate sexual content, but I don’t think Facebook has made any effort to institute age appropriate security settings on their site, and arbitrary profile shut-downs are inexcusable, especially without subsequent explanation. Furthermore, the cases I mentioned were barely sexual in nature to begin with. Perhaps provocative, but there’s much more sexually explicit content all over Facebook. Google’s policy in China was commendable. Yet our public marketing and social personas now lie largely under the control of these commercial institutions, with no accountability to the public that relies upon them. The internet has grown from an information pipeline for military scientists into something as essential to social life as the telephone. (I could rant about the phone companies too, but that’s another post.)

Getting back to Russian “free trade,” one of my last surprising discoveries was that Putin had enlisted the efforts of Washington D.C. public relations giant Ketchum, Inc., to enable him to snag Time Magazine’s 2005 “Person of the Year,” ultimately hoping to bolster public support of his political policies because he ironically couldn’t achieve that from Russian efforts alone. The word from the capitalist Russian block is that it’s now the businessmen with the most money and influence who sway political decisions affecting whole countries like Kyrgystan, so ultimately, perhaps Google and Facebook aren’t that much different. When corporate interests dictate the rules for a society, online or not, the community’s best interests can ultimately not be served. Or can they? What do you think?

  1. Extremely well laid out and insightful. Because the interests of a community are usually so different than that of a corporation (whose main goal typically is to make money), I don’t believe it’s easy for a community’s best interests to be served when corporate interests dictate the rules.

  2. Those who have the money tend to make the rules, which is unfortunate because corruption is often the benefactor of money.

    With money at the heart of a corporation, I find it tough to serve both the needs of the corp and the best interest of a community, although there are amiable community driven corporations they are few and far between. As they say money talks, and while what may be the best interests of a corporation may wreck havoc within a community.

  3. A great (rhetorical) question – my response is here:

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  1. [...] post is in response to the question posed by Arthur Kegerreis in his blog post Censorship, Ann Magnuson, Lisa Douglass, David DePalo and the KGB, in which he asks: “when corporate interests dictate the rules for a society, online or not, [...]

  2. [...] post is again in response to the question posed by Arthur Kegerreis in his blog post Censorship, Ann Magnuson, Lisa Douglass, David DePalo and the KGB, in which he asks: “when corporate interests dictate the rules for a society, online or not, [...]

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