Issue 88: Battling Censorship, Considering the Right to be Forgotten

Posted on 3 minute read

For this week’s newsletter introduction, I searched the Flikr service for photographs of libraries in Ukraine. I thought that putting a picture here at the top of a grand reading room with dark wood shelves and neat rows of books would help us remember that a significant part of our world has been turned upside down. What I didn’t expect to find was an album titled “November 2021: Strategic Session on Digital Education Hubs development” .

Photograph a conference presentation.
Attendees of the strategic session on Digital Education Hubs development. Source, CC By-ND

Four months ago, these professionals were gathered together in a room to hear presentations, sort multi-color post-it notes on flip charts, and work together for “the transformation of libraries into Digital Education Hubs”. That is a scene that is very familiar to me, and quite possibly to many of my readers as well. Now their country is being bombed, its citizens are fleeing, and I doubt anyone is thinking about the transformation of libraries.

Let’s not forget them.

The threads this week:

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Minecraft as an Anti-censorship Tool

When schools ban books, the strategy often backfires on would-be censors, resulting in greater interest around illicit literature. Similarly, when governments censor the media, groups like Reporters Without Borders spearhead efforts to make such censored material extra visible. Their Uncensored Library project brings together architecture and journalism in an unlikely virtual reality space: the interactive gaming world of Minecraft.
Uncensored Library: Banned Journalism Housed in Virtual Minecraft Architecture , 99% Invisible, 3-Mar-2022
Screen capture of a Minecraft view showing the welcome banner for 'The Uncensored Library' and the map of rooms in the virtual world.

With help from my teenage son, I got into the Uncensored Library on Minecraft. (A hint for those trying to access it in early 2022: the instructions say you need a specific version of Minecraft—that version is now 1.16.5 instead of what is listed in the PDF.) The “Frequently Asked Questions” book in this world starts with this answer: “Minecraft is available even in countries with cyber censorship. So we build this library to provide a platform for censored journalists, connect people around the world and bring back the truth.” The content of the library is curated—you don’t have the option of modifying the elements in the Minecraft world. The books in the library are short…the ones that I saw were each several hundred words long.

Right-to-be-Forgotten Tangled with Press Freedoms

The “right to be forgotten," which exists in European Union member states and allows for mandatory delisting of results from search engines, must be balanced against the rights of the public to read media archives. EFF joined together with more than a dozen other media and free expression groups to make that point clear in a recent case from the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR).
EFF to European Court: “Right to be Forgotten” Shouldn’t Stop The Public From Reading The News , Electronic Frontier Foundation, 7-Mar-2022

Speaking of press freedoms, the courts in Europe are tackling this issue of the right to be forgotten versus the rights of readers to untampered media archives. A lower court ordered the removal of an article from a Belgian newspaper on the basis of the European “right to be forgotten” laws, and the newspaper is challenging the ruling in an appeals court. The “right to be forgotten” laws were originally intended for delisting from search engines, and EFF is arguing that much careful consideration is needed when adjudicating requests to remove content from media sites.

This Week’s Cat

Photograph of a black and white cat curled into a ball sleeping on a bed comforter.

It is starting to feel like I need to give equal time to each feline. Last week featured Mittens curled up in a ball. This week has Alan curled up in a ball. Truth be told, there are few pictures where they are together but not squabbling with each other.

I do know that there are times when I long to be a cat…napping in the middle of the day, being fed three square meals a day, being adored and having someone pick up after me. But then again, I’m the one with the opposable thumbs, so maybe the human life isn’t so bad after all.