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Censor censure

I’ve been on a bit of a Words With Friends kick lately (okay, more a debilitating obsession than a kick but no one’s kicked me off a plane yet) and one of the frustrating things I’ve found about the game is how it censors what it considers unacceptable words. Not sure what geniuses (or algorithms) decide what works and what doesn’t but when you’re behind by 15 points and you’ve got the letters to wipe your opponent out with a word you know is a word but that WWF won’t allow…well, it makes you a little short tempered.

Thing is, censorship is all around us and, by and large, we tend to overlook minor instances of it as long as the big freedoms aren’t compromised.   I can shake my head and keep playing WWF, say, because who cares about a silly app game.  But, is that the right attitude?  When you hear about Seth Godin’s experience with Apple refusing to carry one of his “manifestos” because there are links in it to the Amazon store, the whole Big Brother thing becomes a bit sinister.  This is censorship seasoned with monopolistic bullying, in my opinion.

How much freedom of speech can be guaranteed when behemoths like Apple and Amazon censor what is available to consumers for any reason other than that the work(s) in question poses a real physical threat to individuals?  Sure, a privately owned retailer may choose what goods and services it wants to offer, but when you have two or three entities responsible for the dissemination of vast amounts of information, it seems to me that it should not be morally, ethically, or legally okay for those entities to decide what consumers may or may not be able to buy.

Those of us in the publishing business have a rather bedeviled relationship with Apple, Amazon and B&N (especially the first two).  On the one hand, we need them in order to place our authors’ wares.  On the other, we are increasingly concerned with the practices of these soulless corporations whose only interest is the financial bottom line and for whom books and the entire publishing world are but a blip in their massive spreadsheets.  Is it time for the government to step in and regulate how content is served up?  What can we do as consumers (and book lovers) to safeguard our ability to buy any book (or story or manifesto) we want?  Should we be outraged or should we shrug our shoulders and lump this with the Word With Friends shenanigans?

What’s your take on all of this?  Am I over- or under-reacting?

8 Responses to Censor censure

  1. I haven’t ever played Words with Friends, so I’m coming at this not knowing what sorts of words aren’t allowed. I always figured it was like Scrabble. However, I don’t think you’re necessarily overreacting. Little issues like this often indicate larger, more dangerous issues. When a monopoly or oligopoly effectively controls the dissemination of a product or service, concern over their practices is necessary. If one of those corporations refuses to carry an author or slashes the prices of a book too much, the others will follow suit and it can really hurt the content creators. I believe Seanan McGuire is dealing with something like this right now; Amazon released pre-ordered copies of her book early and there was concern about it affecting her placement on the NYT list, etc. I think she’s established enough that it won’t hurt her too badly, but something like that could harm new authors who have to prove themselves with sales numbers.

  2. valerierlawson says:

    As a writer who is vehemently opposed to censorship myself, I think one should always speak out against it. It’s too easy NOT to. Making waves and causing problems over just a little something like censorship can make others feel uncomfortable, but that’s okay. They should feel uncomfortable sometimes. They should have to question the real motivations behind their decisions and justify them.

  3. Ryan Field says:

    You’re not over-reacting. Unfortunately, no one is safe. I have over 90 published works out in erotic romance and romance and I have never written anything in the categories (the strong taboo things most publishers will not accept) that were recently explained in the PayPal situation. And yet, in spite of making sure I never crossed any lines, ever, in 20 years, I recently was informed one of my short books was not only censored but banned from a retail web site for romance books, and this book doesn’t even contain any of the elements targeted on the list.

    I feel like I’m living in the McCarthy era. It’s very disconcerting to be banned for something and accused of something you didn’t even do. It’s really getting out of control now.

    It can happen to anyone.

  4. Patrick Parr says:

    I agree with Valerie. These huge companies seem to be getting a free pass from censorship accountability simply because of their e-publishing clout. I think once the initial euphoria of ‘Oh wow, now everyone can access my PG-rated book’ wears off, alternatives to A and A will start to appear. People seem to be too satisfied at the moment with these shiny companies which, when you think about it, are still quite new. It’s up to posts like these and a few thousand more to get them to start innovating their outlook.

    Far-fetched comparison, but my grandfather used to say how healthy Mcdonald’s used to be. “They peeled the potatoes right there in the store.” Hopefully Apple and Amazon won’t get too fatty.

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