Natalie’s fight against censorship

This one’s been sitting in the draft folder for a while, and I wanted to get it out there before it got too stale.

This one’s based on a first hand account. The blog, appropriately enough, is entitled “Where are we going & why are we in this handbasket.” It’s a bit too long for a domain name, so the blogger, Natalie Munroe, simply titles it under her real name.

As chronicled in the entry “Bloggate- Day 1: The Scandal Begins”, Natalie describes what she thought would be a typical day at work as a teacher. It wound up being anything but typical, as she would be suspended from her job and escorted off the premises well before lunchtime.

And it’s all about some blog posts which the parents of students at Natalie’s school. To her credit, Natalie did try to maintain some anonymity, as she states:

When I wrote, I kept things as anonymous as possible; I know there are crazies out there and I didn’t want anyone trying to track me down. I blogged as “Natalie M” and had no location information or email address or anything listed or accessible. Nor did I ever mention where I worked or the names of students. Yet, there’s this perception that I was trying to lambaste everyone in the school without heed. That’s bollocks.

These are reasonable precautions in unreasonable times. I should note that Natalie’s blog used to be at a address which did not contain her last name. She goes on to state, in detail, just how big the injustice is:

What bothers me so much about this situation is that what I wrote is being taken out of context. Of my 84 blogs, 60 of them had absolutely nothing to do with school or work. Of the 24 that mentioned it, only some of them were actually focused on it–others may have mentioned it in passing, like if I was listing things that annoyed me that day and wrote without any elaboration that students were annoying that day.

Natalie goes on to name specific instances of parts of her post being taken out of context, and selectively misinterpreted. All in the name of censorship, of kicking a suspended teacher when she’s down, of “train wreck” news coverage. Over a few blog posts, probably numbering in the single digits. Some of which were clearly intended as humor!

I can understand why Natalie took down all of her previous blog posts (some of which are still archived elsewhere). It’s still irritating to me that someone can, in effect, censor an entire blog with an attack on one’s livelihood that is probably unwarranted.

All because Natalie exercised her First Amendment rights, and some parents didn’t like it.

The article which came out right after Natalie’s suspension contains a quote from Natalie that really hits home for me (edited for brevity, emphasis added):

I love to write, […] I need to write. That’s what I do. I don’t think that, as a teacher, with or without the scandal surrounding, I should not be allowed to do something that everybody else is allowed to do.

I concur. It is wrong to deny almost anyone the right to blog unless it directly jeopardizes one’s job. I can see, for example, not allowing undercover CIA operatives to blog from the middle of a foreign country (though, I will admit, it’s possible a blog can be part of their cover). Leaking trade secrets or information which could directly jeopardize one’s employer’s operations is obviously out of bounds.

But based on what I’ve seen, I don’t think Natalie did anything to justify being suspended from her job.

And earlier in the story, Natalie’s attorney had plenty to say as well.

Steve Rovner, Munroe’s attorney, said the school district has “no basis for firing her.”

“The school district has its power and authority and protections through the law. […] They can’t hire and fire anyone at will,” he said.

“They do not have an Internet policy. They specifically do not have a no-blogging policy. She did not do anything wrong that would give them cause to fire her.”

And he goes on to say that other teachers have censored their blogs as well in the wake of this. The chilling effect is obvious, and given the already pathetic pay rate of teachers across the board in this country, one would hope we as a society have better things to do than discourage teachers from blogging.

Indeed, from earlier in the story, comes this quote:

The posts people are talking about the most are more than a year old. Munroe said: “I really think that somebody dug it up on purpose to raise trouble. And now it has.”

I’d like to know what parent has this kind of time, to go digging up dirt on their child’s teachers like this. It just really burns me up that a disgruntled parent (or possibly even a disgruntled student) would target a teacher like this to begin with.

I wish Natalie the best and hope this is resolved in a favorable manner to her.

The end of blogging as we know it in the UK?

In perhaps the most daft attack on blogging as free speech, the High Court in London (UK) has ruled bloggers have no right to anonymity, as reported by Yahoo! News UK.

The basis of the ruling comes under the assertion that “blogging is essentially a public rather than a private activity.” I am horrified at the implication made here, as many things one does that would nominally qualify as public activities, one would still expect some degree of anonymity.

Granted, the case here involves a public official and is far from an ideal test case. But it’s a chilling effect, and sadly, I would expect no better from certain US courts. (This is par for the course in e.g. China and maybe even Iran under the current administration there.)

There are and will always be peer-to-peer anonymity-friendly networks like Freenet, though the chilling effect is still present because moving content such as a blog-like journal to such a network reduces the audience substantially. However, it is my stance now, and has been for some time, that true free speech comes only with anonymity, in light of the fact that most censorship comes “after the fact.” Thomas Paine originally published the pamphlet “Common Sense” anonymously during the American Revolution–and for good reason (as shown in this Wikipedia illustration).

Today, Paine would probably write a blog, and/or post to an online Web-based forum. In much the same way that “crimes of the high seas” has been re-interpreted to include air travel, freedom of the press and freedom of speech include publishing via the Internet and similar electronic media.

In summary, the authoring of a pamphlet such as Paine’s is no more a public activity than writing a blog accessible via the Internet, and the latter is in fact the modern day equivalent of the former. I think it is unfortunate that the High Court in London has found nearly the exact opposite to be true.