I hate your [CENSORED], but I'll defend your right to [CENSORED] to the death

Before we get any further, do you consider this device censorship? Honestly, I don’t see it as any different from controlling the media that I choose to purchase. Is that censorship?

So either this app is not censorship because it alters text that the purchaser is exposed to, or it is, in which case we are all ‘guilty’ of it, because you’ve equated choice with censorship.

(I’m not even going to go into whether controlling the media your children are exposed to is censorship. That tends to break down into ‘allowing your children to be exposed to material I find objectionable is negligence’ and ‘forbidding your children from being exposed to material I like is censorship’.)

Edit: typo


Yep. See the use of themed Twitter auto-block lists and the rage fits this inspires.

The case is that client-side ignoring (and tools to voluntarily expedite this ignoring) as censorship. It’s a delightful inversion of the fundamentally conservative idea of free speech: “let the people sort it out” has become “the state/twitter/whatever must ensure my thoughts are heard”. Which is, you know, kinda fascist.

This application seems like weak-minded drivel; but I’d be horrified by any theory of copyright(whether ‘moral’ or economic) expansive enough to make it legally problematic. In effect, such a doctrine would expand universally the (already alarming) degree of control that copyright holders can exert by technical means by the use of DRM systems and the like.

Once you attach some mystical value to allowing the author to enforce audience engagement on his terms, what can’t you demand? Web sites that are illegal to read in a browser window with the wrong height/width ratio? Why not, think of the designer’s moral rights! Bands that dislike singles releasing CDs that you can only play from start to finish, without interruption? The integrity of the work must be protected!

That’s the ugly trick with copyright. It’s always easy to find some example where the author is getting the shaft and really ought to get a fairer shake; but if you act on that, every sufficiently analogous situation haunts you forever.


*Turns every adjective to “poop.”*


I remember learning about an artist’s “moral rights” in CopyrightX. It’s not as solid a legal doctrine in the United States, thankfully. Moral Rights do kind of make sense for certain things like one-and-only-one paintings. Applying the theory to books is absolutely nuts and will quickly turn problematic if it gets applied to things like software code, or iconic shapes or designs. Next thing you know, you won’t be able to fix your car because popping the hood represents an infringement on the car company’s moral rights over the streamlined chassis. I wish I could tell myself that it’s a ridiculous slippery slope, but seeing what happened with Blurred Lines, I guess anything is possible.

1 Like

I really question the use of the term “censorship” to describe this. If you do it to yourself, it’s not censorship.

If I can easily choose whether to read the original or the bowdlerized version, and neither version is prohibited by law, then calling that “censorship” is brings a fucktonne of baggage that doesn’t really belong

1 Like

Filter out the fnords!

I eagerly await the Humument version which turns any book into a Tom Phillips artwork.

1 Like

No. It’s not.

For the record, I also support children’s right to download software to disable this dumb stuff if they want to.


This article misses an important use for this kind of app that circumvents censorship, of a kind.

I answered calls for a bank for many years, it was mind numbingly boring but made slightly better on occasion because I could send my self ebooks using the employee mail system. I read nearly every Hugo award winner since the fifties while I was working the slow shifts. Anyway, the email filter stopped any emails containing naughty words getting through so I had to edit them myself beforehand. I would go through the list of naughty words I know using ctrl-f and replacing them with something else; bustards, frack and ship were favourites and they didn’t interrupt the reading flow too much. Sometimes after ‘sanctifying’ a book and mailing it it would bounce back and I would discover I hadn’t been creative enough or didn’t know enough naughty words and go hunting for this rare swear.

Anyway, this app or something like it (one that allowed you to save an edited copy perhaps) would have allowed me to avoid all that business and really concentrate on avoiding work in work a lot more.


If I may ask, given that you were on the receiving end of fairly draconian parental restrictions on Internet use, how would you approach the problem of a conjectural 14-year old reading blogs that you found appalling. (I’ll presume you’d have rather different standards of appalling than your parents :-)).

Personally, in my household we enacted effective self-censorship by having all computers (parent’s and kid’s) in common areas. (Actually, given my kids, I can’t tell if they every self-censored, or if their interests genuinely never strayed beyond what I considered acceptable.)

Interesting theoretical, and one to which I have given zero previous thought, because I’ll never be able to have kids. But from off the top of my head, should it ever happen… (Forewarning, I’m using gender-neutral pronouns throughout.)

I’d say my standard of appalling would probably be different from that of my mum’s. To me, “appalling” is anything which condones the harm or hatred of other human beings; which celebrates the destruction of the environment, or that which promotes ignorance and unquestioning obedience to a leader – any leader. So I would ask this conjectural fourteen-year-old why zhe felt attracted to such reading material. E.g., is it a matter of feeling powerless and wanting control, of not understanding why differences happen, etc? I would want to understand the appeal of it, so that I could help hir work through whatever underlying issues there may be.

From there I would likely ask whether zhe would still find the material acceptable if roles were reversed.

Again, this is all off the top of my head. I could likely give a more complete answer after a good night’s sleep and an hour of meditation on the subject, but this is already kinda long.

1 Like

Perhaps I was a bit confusing because this is a nuanced point, and I’m all over it here.

I agree with Cory- using this device on yourself is not censorship- It’s an expression of the freedom to control data on your own device.

I’m guessing that Cory’s assumption that this is “aimed at kids” is because I have heard innumerable tales of people trying to control what others see- (especially kids) but very few of people trying to bowdlerise for their own consumption.

I then go on to speculate about the yearning for power over others that lies behind all attempts to censor and control- because I find the censor’s attitude (I have to control what a stranger thinks for their own good) to be an unfortunately resilient one in society.

1 Like

The problem is, it’s not just “blacking out” words. it’s also providing replacement terms that the app creators have deemed acceptable. I’m not one for “slippery slope” arguments, but in this case, it’s very much on the edge of a very slippery slope indeed - all they need is to not make it clear when words are being replaced, and you’d have no idea how the text was being altered. (It’s not showing you the “black list” of forbidden words.) You could algorithmically edit an authors work and have no idea what had changed and what the original work was.

it’s one thing to alter the text of a book yourself - you know it isn’t the original text. It’s another thing entirely to go down the road where some algorithm alters the text of a book without you being aware of what’s been changed. There’s some nasty precedent for that - see, for example, the Pratchett soup kerfuffle:

That kind of stuff happened in publishing. This is a step towards it happening again.


I disagree, largely because this isn’t strictly about the purchaser’s right to alter their property, it’s also about their “right” to alter a conversation by changing the words of your argument. Inktera.com, the site that apparently backs Clean Reader, includes a number of nonfiction and historical texts in their database. This technology allows the user to redact the content of those books alongside their fiction. It allows a reader not interested in the record of history to lessen the sting of the abuse Jackie Robinson endured, or the indignities LGBT AIDS patients endured in the early days of that health crisis.

There are legitimately vicious parts of our history that shouldn’t be forgotten, and certainly shouldn’t be minimized. If people aren’t willing to have the conversation an author initiates that’s fine, they can avoid the book. But altering the author’s words alters the conversation. It neuters their argument, makes it easier to dismiss and minimize while maintaining the pretense they got the gist. Someone here mentioned the Jefferson Bible. Jefferson read his Bible before determining what he didn’t find useful to him and removed. With this app you don’t even need to read the work first.We have enough willful ignorance of facts in our discourse without defending people’s use of a tool that chews their intellectual food for them.

1 Like

Can the police physically follow you around or stake you out if they want to? Yeah. So why would it be objectionable to have an automated process like drone/camera/GPS tracking?

When you have to spend real money and real resources we are able to measure how important something is and how intense our preferences are.

Thanks for the thoughtful reply. Your original post made me question what I’d do if my children were surfing to sites that I considered objectionable but they did not.

While I haven’t had to deal with this personally, my suspicion from watching arguments between my peers and their children is that there is usually a difference in the perception of harm. (e.g. many feel boys watching pornography is harmful to their attitudes towards women, yet the boys doing so likely do not feel there is any threat. Likewise others feel that kids reading 4chan leads to harmful attitudes towards everything.)

In these discussions, I usually try to avoid discussing exactly what appalling consists of, because I have to imagine my children will have different standards from me, just as I have different standards from my parents, and they had different standards from their parents, etc.

Each generation has to deal with the fact that the next will have some attitudes that we genuinely consider harmful. What’s interesting is to see how individuals deal with it.

Anyway, again my thanks for taking the time to answer my question.

1 Like

I can’t explain why, but I found this hilarious.

Okay, slightly off topic, but do you think that parents shouldn’t be controlling what their children interact with? (You mix children and strangers, in your post, so it isn’t clear.)

Having seen an unsupervised child get extremely upset for several years because of accidental exposure to what they were probably a decade away from being able to handle (think animal cruelty), I don’t have any philosophical objection to the idea of censoring my children’s viewing.

No doubt I’d have strongly different ideas of what to protect my children against than, say, a bible-belter, but if I’m being honest, it’s a matter of what I’d censor rather than a eschewing censorship.

(As far as bowdlerisation (s vs. z for the win!), I do use a profanity filter on the few on-line games I play, as it improves my enjoyment of the game. Not at all tempted by this software, though.)

1 Like

Totally fine with this…not my style of dealing with strong language, but telling someone what they can do with their device? Not gonna do it. It only affects them and what they read.