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PIPA Long Blocking

Just in case you missed it we have preserved our international SOPA/PIPA blackout day page here: Be sure to click through to swap back and forth between the redacted and unredacted versions.



Our crude example may be a bit forced but we hope it conveys the basic point: There are more problems with censorship and prior restraint than just the abstract assertion "they are wrong." To be clear, in our view censorship is prima facie wrong, but it is also dangerous.

Censorship distorts dialogue and discourse. By skewing the marketplace of ideas for or against a particular class of speech or squelching a particular set of sources censorship denies listeners, readers, and viewers information. It also has the potential to change meaning, as in our letter. Censorship is so powerful in the short-term, and so dangerous later, because it tends to reinforce pre-conceptions in this way.

Knowing even what little you probably knew about us our redaction almost certainly reinforced your own biases. Perhaps you found that butchered sentences almost rewrote the missing fragments by themselves? And we would be willing to wager that none of the gap-fillers were particularly flattering to the formerly distinguished gentleman from Connecticut.

Likely it was easy to imagine that on SOPA/PIPA blackout day the team that snapped up at auction would post unkind things in an open letter to a former United States Senator who had openly attacked SOPA/PIPA boycott participants.

One can argue that we were awfully selective about the passages we redacted. If we had set up some random redaction system probably the meaning change would be less dramatic. And this is the point.

Censorship is rarely random. It has purpose and direction. This, combined with the propensity of an attenuation in signal to boost the effects of confirmation bias, is what makes it so damaging to the marketplace for ideas and so useful to those with the power to censor.

Did you also notice that the redacted version lacks almost any hint of sarcasm or parody? Wit is a subtle and elegant thing in the English language (less so in German). It depends on very intricate interactions between words, phrases, clauses, and the overall tone of a body of content. Tamper with this delicate structure and the whole is not just diminished but destroyed.

Beneath the black smears of redaction on our letter there is a powerful interplay of themes and messages.

  • Chris Dodd does actually have a reputation for public intoxication

Here we layer this rather obvious assertion under the equally obvious artifice of "what some have termed, perhaps unfairly...." Among Americans Dodd's reputation as a drunk is so thick that the subtlety actually punctuates the point with more force than a simple declaration might. "Chris Dodd is a drunk" simply lacks craft. Neither does "Chris Dodd is a drunk" set the tone for parody, sarcasm, or wit in general that the more subtle version conveys. Or we hope so any way. 

  • "Senator Edward Kennedy"

The mere presence of the name of the distinguished dead gentleman from Massachusetts and Chris Dodd's frequent drinking companion in years past tars the entire piece with a very heavily inked brush. Without the bracketing language the reader is hard pressed not to mouth the word "Chappaquiddick" as their eyes pass over the cut passages before the reading point even reaches "wheels pointed down the road...."

Kennedy would take over the entire piece if we let him.

  • "waitress" / "sandwich"

Without redaction the juxtaposition of "waitress" and "sandwich" might totally obscure this reference to an unfortunate if only alleged Dodd-Kennedy incident back in 1985. But without redaction the suggestion is probably so subtle as to be missed by all but the most politically attuned. Or maybe shockingly ancient readers.

  • "uck" "twelve year old girls"

You are on your own here, Pedobear.  We will just comment that to a twelve year old girl the coy smile of a washed out, sexagenarian, former senator and a letter from the MPAA might be equally intimidating.

In the full text all of these combine into a whole that tells the reader both that this prose is shot through with sarcasm, and also that it is deadly serious. All of this is lost when the letter is selectively censored. A bit of sarcasm about Chris Dodd's drunken tax-and-spend brand of governance drives home just what a drunk tax-and-spend lawmaker he was.

We are just kidding obviously (no, we're serious!). And that little nuance expresses infinitely more than just "Chris Dodd is an old drunk."

We hope the message is clear: Censorship is dangerous and somewhat unpredictable. If you plan to create a regime of censorship you better be prepared to maintain control of it for the next several generations. Who knows who or what it might support in a decade or so.

Oh, and in case it wasn't obvious, we think Chris Dodd is a hack no matter how much redaction or sarcasm we cram into an open letter.