Tag: censorship

And the banned play on

Now and then I hear of someone who has been banned from Facebook for a period of time and I try to imagine what heinous filth they must have been disseminating for such harsh action to be taken.

Were they trying to get the Gestapo back together? Lower the age of consent to seven? Show us the Trump pee-pee tape?

This week I discovered you needn’t do any of these things to get banned. All it takes is a letter to Australian home affairs minister Peter Dutton and for one person to be offended. Am I bitter? Of course not. I deserve to be punished. I don’t know exactly what it is I did wrong, but it’s important that I be disciplined.

We need to be sensitive to the demands of the offended, even if it is only one in 250 others who liked, loved or laughed at the post. The easily upset have so few options open to them. Yes, they could stop reading my column when they start to feel themselves becoming infuriated and go for a beer. But what if they are tied to a chair and someone insists on reading it to them, ignoring their anguished cries while deliberately repeating passages that cause them the most distress, then laughing openly at their pain?

The other option they have – the most popular one, by all accounts – is to keep reading. Turn up the heat and let the outrage build to boiling point. When they can stand no more of it – and there is no more only because they have read all the way to the end – they want retribution and they want it now. Burning my house down is not an option simply because they don’t know where I live. Slumped on the couch, reeking of anger and cheap brandy, they report me to Facebook. I say ‘they’ even though it’s almost certainly just one person who did it. Man, woman or kid who found dad’s drugs? I can’t be sure. Facebook protects the identity of those who snitch on others.

The column had to do with Australia’s offer to fast-track visas for our white farmers before they are all wiped out in the genocide. Amid the deluge of likes, loves and laughter, three of my more emotional male Facebook ‘friends’ voiced their displeasure at the piece.

They came out gums blazing, shooting their mouths off like it was a showdown in the Wild West. Which, I suppose, it was in a way. It was like Ant-Man, the Wasp and Doctor Doom confronting Irony Man, except I’m a real superhero and their only power is to get me banned from Facebook for 24 hours. Curses. You won this time, villains. But I’ll be back.

These good old boys, who chose to follow me on Facebook, accused me of crossing the line. I had no idea there was only one line. And it applies to everyone? I wonder if this ever happened to the divine avatars who attracted disciples. For instance, we know about Judas Escargot, but did Peter, John, Simon the Zealot and the other dudes ever take Jesus for a beer and tell him he’s gone a bit too far.

“Listen, J. That business today with the money-lenders? We think you crossed the line, there.”

“What the hell are you talking about, James the Lesser? What line is this?”

The owner of the tavern might have announced drinks on the house at this point because there was a bit of confusion the following morning and nobody could remember who said what.

“Matthew said something about a line.”

“Who’s Matthew?”

“Guy with the beard.”

“We’ve all got beards.”

“Isn’t his name Levi?”

“Point is, there’s a line.”

“Where do we put it?”

“In the Bible, idiot.”

“Also Facebook,” said Paul the Seer, who wasn’t a disciple but the lads liked having him around because he could predict the results in the Galilee Handicap.

And so the line was handed down from generation to generation. Everyone understood it was a line that nobody should cross. Obviously it no longer applies to money-lenders because the only line they recognise is the red line they draw around suburbs too poor to qualify for home loans.

In my case – when you are reported to Facebook it is registered as a case – the line has to do with humour. You need to stay on one side of it at all times. This makes sense. If you think of humour as a six-lane freeway, you need to stay in your lane or risk causing an accident. This makes no sense at all. An accident on the crowded highway of humour leaves no casualties in its wake. There are no bodies. No injuries. Just someone standing on the side of the road complaining that his feelings have been hurt.

Even though the content is free and I never asked you to be my friend, your hurt feelings apparently trump my right to be on Facebook. Fortunately my offence only warranted the removal of the offensive piece of filth and a 24-hour ban. The dark overlords who rule this electronic megalopolis warned that a subsequent offence would get me banned for three days. And if it happened again, well, they didn’t say. But the threat was implicit. Cyborgs would be given my digital scent. They would hunt me down and chew my fingers off. And if I persisted with voice-activated software, bionic otters would be sent across the ocean to bite off my tongue and suck out my eyeballs while I slept.

The truth is, I’m in an abusive relationship with Facebook and it shouldn’t come as a surprise to be treated shoddily. I don’t know how many others have been banned for writing something that someone didn’t find funny. It could be millions. Maybe it’s just me. Real friends have been quick to condemn Facebook for censoring and banning me. But they’re wrong. Facebook is Mark Zuckerberg and it’s not him who did this to me. It’s an algorithm. Or at best a callow youth called Verminox who is frustrated because he can’t get laid and the NRA keeps rejecting his membership application and won’t give him reasons why.

Facebook won’t give me reasons, either. I was informed that I had violated community standards, which I imagine are closely related to the mythical line. Dear Obergruppenführer Verminox, have you ever heard of audi alterem partem? No, it isn’t a a new car from Germany

I was banned on the grounds of one complaint. That strikes me as a little bit insane. How many Verminoxes must work there that they can ban someone every time a humourless rightwing nutjob files a complaint? Bashar al-Assad must complain endlessly about offensive stuff posted by members of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces. Do they get banned for 24 hours? Of course not. That kind of treatment is reserved for savages like me.

On the day I was banned, Facebook sent me this message. “Ben, your friends have liked your posts 74 000 times! We’re glad you’re getting support from your friends and hope this has made the world feel a little closer.”

A more accurate message might have been, “Ben, one of your 5 000 friends who have liked your posts 74 000 times was offended by a post. We’re sad that not all your friends support you and hope you understand why we have to ban you for 24 hours.”

So I had no access to Facebook for a day. After the first hour, my skin started clearing up and my eyes stopped hurting. Six hours in and I could feel my short-term memory returning. By the evening I felt so young and alive that two beautiful women offered to come home with me knowing they wouldn’t have to compete with Facebook for my attention.

Getting punished by a company that covertly distributes personal information, and which quite possibly helped get Donald Trump elected, is a badge of honour. I’d recommend everyone tries it.

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An open letter to SABC chief Hlaudi Motsoeneng

Dear Comrade Oberstgruppenfuhrer Hlaudi Motsoeneng the First, Commander of the SABC in General and the Airwaves in Particular, Guardian of Local Content, Master of Invention, Supreme Defender of the Truth, I kneel before you in greeting.

Congratulations on taking the public broadcaster to new heights. There are those who say you have dragged it to new depths. Pay no heed to these counter-revolutionary quislings. Depths, as you know, are nothing more than heights in reverse. It all depends on how you look at things. And you, sir, are able to look at things in a way that beggars belief. Speaking of beggars, please issue a decree banning the depiction or mention of beggars on your television and radio stations. People exposed to beggars will want to become beggars themselves and soon there will be nobody left to pay your handsome salary.

Well done on forcing your radio stations to play 90% local music. However, I don’t understand why you never went for the full 100%. I hope you’re not going soft on us. Imagine if Stalin had let some of his critics live? He had to kill all 1.2 million or it wouldn’t be known as the Great Purge. It would’ve been something like the Mediocre Purge and everyone would have laughed at him.

You are Hlaudi the Magnificent and people do not laugh at you. Well, not openly. I saw someone in Woolworths the other day laughing for no apparent reason. Sure, there’s a good chance he was laughing at the prices, but I had to make sure. I pretended to be browsing, then rabbit-punched him in the kidneys and grabbed him in a chokehold. Not an air choke, mind. That’s for amateurs. I went for the blood choke, squeezing his carotid artery until his eyes rolled into the back of his head.

“Are you,” I hissed, “laughing at Comrade Hlaudi Motsoeneng?” I only had a few seconds before he passed out but I wasn’t giving up without an answer. He shook his head and pointed at the beetroot spaghetti, cauliflower mash and pumpkin tagliatelle. I also had to laugh and relaxed my grip. He dropped to the floor and I hoofed him in the nuts just in case he ever thought of laughing at you in future.

The media (The New Age) is full of praise for what you are doing and it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if your boss, coach and personal hero, President Jacob “The One Who Laughs While Hurting You” Zuma, awards you the Mao Tse-Tung Medal of Honour the next time he restocks the patronage pantry.

What you have done to radio in this country is nothing short of brilliant. You could have ordered only a couple of channels to stick to local music in the hope of appeasing the likes of jazz fundamentalist Don Laka, but you didn’t. Neville Chamberlain tried a similar thing with Hitler and look how that ended. You, sir, are no Neville Chamberlain.

I should probably be honest, here. I don’t listen to the radio. Never have, never will. As far as I’m concerned, radio is little more than television for the blind. You could ban radio altogether and I wouldn’t even notice. It’s not a bad idea. With the savings on royalties alone you’d be able to buy yourself a modest island in the Caribbean. Give it some thought.

I understand your pro patria policy has also been extended to the SABC’s television channels. It goes without saying that this is good news, since all your news is good. Banning the showing of service delivery protests is a step in the right direction. And when I say right, I mean as far right as the National Party went when they banned the media from reporting on anti-apartheid protests. It was very noble of PW Botha to protect white people from having to watch angry darkies running amok when they could be watching uplifting programmes like Wielie Walie and The A-Team.

When I turn on the telly and see people burning tyres and throwing rocks at the police, my girlfriend has to strap me to my chair to stop me from going out and doing the same. I should say, though, that I frequently get the urge to do this without even watching the news.

Have you thought about what you’re going to fill your bulletins with as the noxious rabble step up their remonstrations ahead of elections? Of course you have. You’re a professional, after all. You might not have your matric, but you do have an honorary degree from the Joseph Goebbels School of Smoke and Mirrors.

Rabbits are good. People love rabbits. I am quite happy to produce a 900-part series on rabbits. White ones, black ones, fat ones, thin ones, smart ones, silly ones. If you’d rather not have white ones, that’s fine with me. They can all be fat and black for all I care. There will be scenes of gratuitous fornication so a late night slot might be best. There will be a lot of eating, too. And sleeping. Rabbits are big sleepists. I see it as a sort of Big Brother, only with rabbits. Viewers will go mad for it. They might even start paying their licence fees.

Scrapping all international shows and films and replacing them with homegrown content (rabbits!) will be widely welcomed by the 1.57 million people who force themselves to sit through The Bold and the Beautiful or the two million who suffer in silence through Days of Our Lives and Snow White and the Huntsman.

Freelance producers must be ecstatic at this new development. It costs around R5 000 to produce one minute of television. This means that men with moonbags and ponytails are set to become the wealthiest in the country. Not in terms of money, of course. The SABC doesn’t have the money to pay for this deluge of local content. This is where my show comes in. I foresee a surplus of rabbits after the first season of Big Bunny Brother. So you pay the producers in rabbits. A hundred of the floppy-eared vermin for a documentary, a thousand for a feature film. Feel free to claim the idea as your own.

I believe you met independent producers the other day. Why did nobody tell me? Is it because I live in Durban? This is the home of the bunny chow, for heaven’s sake. We could have wrapped this up right there and then at Orcland Park.

One thing I like about you is that you don’t bother with public participation. Your attitude is, “You have an idea? Bring it to Hlaudi. I and I alone will decide.” This is the way it should be. Genghis Khan would never have united the Mongol tribes through any namby-pamby process of consultation. On the other hand, he was a big fan of meritocracy. You’re no Genghis Khan.

This is my favourite quote from that meeting: “The team that I work with, they should walk like me and talk like me – that is what I am expecting from them. That is how I run the organisation, because we need to sing one song at the SABC and that song should be sung by everybody within the organisation.”

I couldn’t agree more. Great organisations are underpinned by great songs. Without the Horst Wessel Song, for instance, Germany might never have been the great nation it was from1933 to 1945.

I have been practising talking like you but it’s not going well. I still come across as coherent and educated. Perhaps it will be easier if I just learn to walk like you.

You also said, “We have given instructions. The ‘how’ is not my business.” Your use of illeism in this instance is commendable and not in any way an indication that you might be a narcissistic zealot. Instructions have been given. How they are carried out is irrelevant. And rightly so. Comrade Mugabe gave the order for white farms to be confiscated. It was not his business to make sure they were taken over by people who knew their plough from their poephol. And few would deny the success story that Zimbabwe is today.

Compadre, you are a man who knows powerful people. They, in turn, know other people. Who also know people, but once you get this far from the centre of power you need not bother with those ones. Have faith. Do you see what I’m getting at? No? Let me spell it out. Does the name Faith Muthambi ring a bell? Of course it does. She is the minister of communications. She has a degree from the University of Venda, whatever that is, and she calls you several times a day. Not with instructions, obviously. That would be inappropriate. You are, after all, a Man. I imagine you simply chat about this, that and the other thing. The other thing obviously being the profound and lasting subversion of the public broadcaster’s mandate.

A final question. Did you grow up in the same village as our foreign minister? She said in an interview with al-Jazeera the other day that she had a hole in her head from carrying buckets of water as a child. This was in response to a question about the recent brawling in our parliament. I think it’s a perfectly acceptable excuse for carrying on like a raving lunatic.

Do you also have a hole in your head, comrade?

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Lynch mobs need to get a larf

This last Sunday morning, two cyclists riding in a group on the Ruth First Freeway (M4) near Durban North were killed when an allegedly drunk driver ploughed into them. The following afternoon, East Coast Radio senior producer Kevin Minter-Brown posted this on Facebook: “I’m thinking of starting a running club. I know there’s plenty of other roads, but I think if there’s an opportunity to put us directly in harm’s way, then why not?”

Minter-Brown was fired from his job within two days. His sponsors, McCarthy VW Umhlanga, dumped him moments after.

I’ve never met Minter-Brown. Barely know what he does, to be honest. I found out that he’s been at ECR for almost 15 years. Started a television studio at the station. Does a lot of charity work.

Minter-Brown took his Facebook post down an hour after he put it up and apologised for being insensitive. He explained that, while doing research for his monthly column at the Sunday Tribune, he discovered that eight cyclists had been killed on that stretch of road over the last six years. He said he couldn’t understand why they kept using that road despite its obvious dangers.

Minter-Brown chose to express his thoughts through satire. Well, more like sarcasm, which is a valid and handy weapon in any satirist’s arsenal. The sub-text of his post was clear. Cyclists should consider other options rather than keep using a potentially deadly stretch of the M4 – a stretch that the cyclists were, according to the city police, not legally allowed to be on in the first place.

If he had put it that way, he would still have a job. Instead, he chose to use satire and is unemployed as a result. Obviously I’m not saying the death of those two cyclists is in any way a laughing matter. And I doubt Minter-Brown was going after cheap laughs. I also doubt that he is a psychopath unable to feel empathy for others. Perhaps he is. It just seems unlikely.

He apologised and tried to explain what he had been trying to do. But it was too late. The lynch mob was gathering and the calls for his head grew louder.

East Coast Radio’s Facebook page was flooded with outrage. One woman wrote, “What action will be taken against Minter-Brown? His recent post on Facebook is both distasteful and disgusting! People should be held accountable for their social media remarks! He is a disgrace!”

It’s almost certain that this woman put less thought into her comment than Minter-Brown did in his. Outrage is easy. Especially in a country where everyone seems constantly pissed off about something or other. We are an angry nation and we lash out blindly at any target that comes within range.

I have said far more contentious things, couched in satire, over the 17 years I have written a weekly column for a number of publications. When I wrote my first column for the Cape Times in 2001, letters flooded in over the next few days. Readers demanded that I be fired. They demanded to know why the editor was giving me this space. They were Outraged. Editor Chris Whitfield was smart enough to understand that out of a circulation of tens of thousands, a few angry readers could be dealt with tactfully. He handled it by explaining, in a short piece on the front page, that the paper’s new columnist was, in fact, a satirist, and not really a racist, sexist, homophobic misogynist at all. Eventually they got it and calmed down.

In his career-ending post, Minter-Brown attempted to do what I have been doing for years – writing about serious subjects using humour. Satire is often more effective than bludgeoning. The danger is that not everyone will get it. Actually, the danger is far more insidious.

As I’ve already said, Whitfield and subsequent editors I have written for, including Tyrone August, Aakash Bramdeo and Mazwi Xaba, have defended me against the lynch mobs. They don’t stick around for long, these mobs. Once they see that their shrill cries are being ignored, or once they have been talked off the ledge, they go back to whatever it was they were doing. Or they move on to the next outrage.

In this case, Minter-Brown’s bosses caved in so fast that it makes the head spin. Within a couple of days he had been hauled before a disciplinary hearing and fired. There have been murmurings of outrage at the way he has been treated, but that’s all they are. Murmurings. People don’t want to get sucked in to the madness. They have jobs, families. They don’t want to be condemned by association. I, too, had second thoughts before writing this. Did I want to get involved? Will one of the editors I write for shut me down, too? I don’t know Minter-Brown. Why should I care? Let him fight his own battles. You know what that’s called? It’s called self-censorship. Once that takes hold, there will be no more healthy exchange of ideas. Minter-Brown’s post should have led to a debate of the issues. Should cyclists take more care on the roads? Are the bylaws banning cyclists from freeways unfair? What more can the police do to catch drunk drivers? That’s the kind of conversation Minter-Brown’s comment should have sparked. Not demands that he be fired. That only serves to scare people into silence. Self-censorship has no place in a free society. Freedom of speech is a principle worth fighting for. The government would love nothing more than to shut it down. Let’s not help them do it.

Minter-Brown’s bosses at the radio station are cowards. They reacted out of fear, not principle. And if they caved in because of pressure from advertisers, well, that’s even more despicable. Either way, it was classic knee-jerk fuckery. Besides anything else, they almost certainly did not act in accordance with the labour laws. I expect his lawyer will demonstrate this, just as Dali Mpofu demonstrated it in Gareth Cliff’s case. Insensitivity is not a fireable offence. But if it turns out that it is, I’m fucking off to North Korea.

Minter-Brown’s sponsors – McCarthy VW Umhlanga – are equally craven, because it’s highly unlikely they would have done anything at all had he not been fired. The company said in a statement that while it accepted his apology, it in no way endorses blah blah blah. How can you accept his apology and still dump him? The company also claimed to have acted “on the advice of its attorneys”. Bullshit. They acted on the advice of its PR rep. But they’re car dealers. We shouldn’t expect much honesty from them.

Here’s the thing. We have laws against libel, defamation, crimen injuria, hate speech and more. If Minter-Brown had violated any one of these, I would say charge him and, if convicted, fire his ass. But he hasn’t.

Did Minter-Brown’s two-sentence Facebook post add to the grief felt by the families of those two men killed on Sunday morning? Perhaps. Perhaps not. In the event that it did, he apologised profusely. Was it right that his career and quite possibly his reputation should be destroyed? Absolutely not.

Nobody has the right not to be offended. Try to remember that before you join the next lynch mob.

Anyway. That’s enough of that. Time for a beer.