Friday, November 12, 2010

Planet iPad Blog Editor Tom Dulaney weighs in on the "Pedophile eBook" flap

By Tom Dulaney
Editor, Planet iPad

How utterly appropriate the an ebook published on October 28 has triggered a massive online debate about our freedom of speech. The internet is afire with arguments, citizen to citizen in open net forums, just in time for Veteran's Day. We honor the men and women who gave their lives, their limbs, their health and—at the very least—years of their lives to protect that freedom. We argue the shape and care of that freedom vigorously.

Two things are abominable and totally repugnant in America: pedophilia and restrictions on our freedom of speech.

The two clashed with a self-published ebook in the Kindle Store titled “The Pedophile's Guide to Love and Pleasure,” purporting to be a how to guide. The book appeared in Amazon's Kindle Store on October 28. It was removed yesterday during the firestorm of web protest. That fire ignited another: A rousing, heated, passionate debate of free speech, of what—if anything—should be censored, of who has the power to restrict even the most disgusting expression of ideas or opinions.

Pretty much lost in the outcry is an amazing truth about Amazon and the ebook phenomenon.  By making it so easy to publish a book on Amazon, the company threw open the doors to allow every person to enjoy "freedom of the press" as well as freedom of speech.  That is a major event in world history, to this reporter's thinking.

It took a couple of weeks for the offensive book to come to wider attention, but blog site TechCrunch was one of the first to spread the word widely.

From TechCrunch: "One thing Amazon loves to tout about their Kindle bookstore is their huge collection of wide-ranging titles. I’ll say. Here’s a great example of something I’m pretty sure you won’t find in rivals e-bookstores: The Pedophile's Guide to Love and Pleasure.” Yep, that’s the actual title."

TechCrunch also quoted Amazon as responding with this:

“Amazon believes it is censorship not to sell certain books simply because we or others believe their message is objectionable.  Amazon does not support or promote hatred or criminal acts, however, we do support the right of every individual to make their own purchasing decisions.”

All over the net, the debate continues today. Listen to some of the voices, using their right to speak freely, reveal the complexity of keeping our free speech unrestrained while protecting our children—and our society:

“But just because it's [pedophilia] against the law isn't necessarily a great reason [for censorship]. For example, I'd be okay with them selling a book about how to grow marijuana.”

“....censorship shouldn't be allowed but at the same time I'm all for it when it's silencing something that can lead to cruel punishment, torture or even death of a human or animal.”

“If this book was to help pedophiles get away with it or do more of it or anything like that I'd have a harder time defending Amazon. I don't know what's in the book."

"Hopefully we can trust Amazon not to publish a book that will be likely to get children molested.”

“Amazon (or any other business, for that matter) is in exactly this position of authority. They have the ability to decide what we can read by offering it or not.”

“I am totally against book banning of any sort. Think about some of the books that people tried to ban... the Bible, To Kill a Mockingbird, the Harry Potter series, to name just a few.”

“If banning is allowed on one book, it WILL lead to banning a whole lot of other books."

"Only those in a position of authority can be censors.”

“We need to protect ALL of our rights, not just a few. And the slippery slope WILL kick in eventually.”

And then there is the new form of free speech, the "troll," or outrageous statement online whose only purpose is to provoke an angry response.  The troller and friends then have a good laugh over the responses.  Here's an apparent troll, which was posted in the only positive review of the book on the Amazon site, before Amazon removed it:
“This is an ABSOLUTE must read for me. I have been looking EVERYWHERE for this and was about to give up hope..”

One side of the discussion worries—and rightly so—that any precedent allowing the constriction of free expression will lead to more controls. This is the “slippery slope” argument.

The other side argues that those who transmit news and ideas have a responsibility to protect readers by vetting their content.

The Supreme Court, time after time, has permitted objectionable speech because to do so would have a “chilling effect” on everyone's right to speak freely. The court decided free speech is so valuable it is worth it to cope with horrible speech.

There are calls and pressures coming to bear that demand Amazon take on the burden of deciding what is acceptable speech.

Others, while repudiating the pedophile book, argue that it is too dangerous to give that power to any company, or to any government body.

Amazon, in the words quoted by TechCrunch, tried valiantly to keep in its own patch which is the business of selling books, saying: “Amazon does not support or promote hatred or criminal acts, however, we do support the right of every individual to make their own purchasing decisions.”

Ever since Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote in 1919 that Charles Schenck did not have the right to oppose the military draft in print (Schenck lost), fierce arguments break out each time ideas appear in print that offend or threaten the majority. That is a very good thing.

America's “policy” is that speech should be free and unhampered by any restraints. That's stated in our Bill of Rights, the First Amendment. But the Founding Fathers left it to us to argue it ought on a case-by-case basis.

And that's what we're doing this week.

We, as a nation, cannot ignore the heart of darkness and evil by keeping it out of print. We won't know where and how to light a candle of sanity if we cannot look into the abyss and see it for the nightmare it is.

Beyond that, as citizens, we have an obligation to look—at least some of us must be able to look.

Had more people looked at a book titled Mein Kampf (My Struggle), written in a jail cell by a failed Corporal, back in the 1920s and early 1930s, then perhaps World War II and the deaths of millions would not have become part of our history.

So this is the wonderful noise we are hearing and reading today, especially on Veteran's Day. We say in our nation, “Let freedom ring.” The truth is, we must ring that bell individually, for ourselves, as we are not doing in passionate debate.

Nations around the globe will watch this debate and shake their heads in wonder or dismay. Many will not understand how such a book could even be published. Many will not comprehend how the author might escape punishment.

And many will will no doubt wonder why a nation armed to the teeth as guaranteed by the Second Amendment even has to deal with the free speech issues guaranteed by the First Amendment.

The could logically think that in a nation awash with guns, armed neighbors and friends would be ample “chilling effect” to curb the more outrageous expressions of free speech.

We shoot off our mouths around armed people who do not shoot off their guns in response.

Go figure.

And happy Veterans Day to fellow veterans from all conflicts and all peacetime years.

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