With 2016 safely behind us, it's time for Popehat's annual Censorious Asshat of the Year contest!
As always, only asshats we have written about are eligible. Candidates have been narrowed down through a process involving ennui, psychological trauma, and misanthropy.
It's a rather weak lot this year, heavy on bluster and light on actual censoriousness:
Donald Trump: Our President-Elect promised (perhaps without a basis in fact) to "open up" libel laws to make it easier to sue, called for prosecution of flag-burners, talked a lot about suing press critics, promised to sue women who accused him of sexual assault, sends stupid libel threats written by rhetorically incontinent lawyers, and brags about using bogus libel suits to harass. meanwhile, he styles himself as the foe of "political correctness." In aggravation: As omnipresent media figure and now leader of the free world, a horrifically bad role model for respect for free speech legal norms, and a powerful promoter of civic ignorance. Also, may cause our impoverishment, internment, or evaporation in a fit of fluffy pique. In mitigation: Blusters much, much more often than he bites, himself the subject of many false and censorious arguments, more about feelings than about legal norms.
Twitter: By haphazardly banning people, many of whom could be construed as "conservative" if you really don't like conservatives, Twitter has set free speech brother against brother in an argument about what "free speech values" means and how to address private entities being awful biased censors (if you listen to some people) or exercising their own free speech and freedom of association by banning assholes (if you listen to me). In mitigation:Briefly induced James Woods to flounce off of Twitter by being mean to white nationalists, best seen as just exercising their own rights to run the sort of private-owned forum they want. Will probably win this poll thanks to greasy gravel-knuckled Redditors even though manifestly not qualified, thus offering object lesson in uselessness of online polls. In aggravation: Utterly incompetent at articulating a coherent position on free speech that promotes understanding of speech norms. Having labeled themselves as a free speech platform, too dumb or scared to clarify what that means. Unwilling to say "we are a private entity and have a free speech and free association right not to house Nazis and assorted douchebags," instead mouthing platitudes and vagaries about harassment and hate speech and safety, and applying the banhammer in an arbitrary and capricious manner that mostly sucks up to famous people.
University of Wisconsin – Superior: Investigated a student newspaper for an April Fool's edition that "crossed a line," saying "satire is fine, having a difference of opinion is fine, but disrespectful and offensive language is not fine." In aggravation: Responded meekly to student thuggery by launching an inquisition. In mitigation: As modern college administrators, unfamiliar with fundamental civic values of free speech or due process. Check your privilege!
Northern Michigan University: Threatened students with discipline if they shared their suicidal or self-destructive thoughts with peers, then were slow and snotty about walking it back. In mitigation: Announced they had dropped the policy. In aggravation: Thoroughly evil, nobody was fired or will be fired or summarily shot.
City of Parma Police Department: Investigated, and forced felony prosecution of, man who created satirical Facebook page mocking them. In aggravation: Actually had a dude prosecuted criminally — for a felony — for a satirical Facebook page on a theory that the satire "disrupted public services." The jury acquitted him. In mitigation: So obscure that I completely forgot I had made fun of them. Managed entire investigation and prosecution without shooting any unarmed black men in the back.
State of California Attorney General and State Fair Officials: California, saddled with a new law banning the state from displaying or selling Confederate flags, decided to ban an artist's civil war painting from a state fair open-to-the-public art exhibition because it depicted a Confederate flag. In aggravation: AYFKM? In mitigation: To be fair the California Department of Agriculture has limited First Amendment litigation experience.
Patrick Zarelli: A self-described "legal marketing" expert who looks like he showed up late for the casting call for a Weekend at Bernie's reboot because he couldn't find his flip-flops, Zarelli issued a series of cinematic and imbecilic legal threats to lawbloggers who had written about his alleged "client," Florida technically-a-lawyer Gary Ostrow. Eventually, to the best of my understanding, he threatened me, including a promise to put his responses in an "organized and sweeping manor," which I assume refers to the weekly-residence motel where he lives. It has an ice maker! In aggravation: You call this a hate site? This is fucking pathetic, Patrick. It's just flames and flame noises. Show some effort. This is just insulting. In mitigation: His mopery is kind of endearing in a Kato Kaelin sort of way.
Milroad Trkulja and his lawyer Stuart Gibson: Trkulja, perhaps rendered bitter and unreasonable by a tragic vowel deficiency, sued Google because searches for his name turned up pictures of an underworld figure. Then, enlisting Australian lawyer Stuart Gibson, he threatened to sue TechDirt for calling him the sort of gangster who uses courts rather than guns. In aggravation: Threatened to sue for calling him a "ridiculous litigant." In mitigation: Australian.
Damn College Kids On Ken's Lawn: Whined that criticizing their speech was censorious. Mewled that criticizing their censoriousness was mean. Generally blundered around trying to the best of their smug semi-literate ability to censor things. In aggravation: Young, healthy, vibrant, with their entire lives before them stretched hopeful and with shining promise, completely fucking insufferable. In mitigation: Never taught any better. Currently too occupied with therapy kittens and soothing adult coloring books to pose much of a censorship threat.
Cracked Often funny, and sometimes a source for serious and insightful social commentary, Cracked is routinely absolutely awful at writing about free speech issues, spreading ignorance and misinformation that arguably encourages censorship. In mitigation: Just spreads stupid censorship memes, doesn't try to apply them itself. Possibly not an institution we should look to for reliable free speech information given its primary focus of photoshopping dildos onto things. In aggravation: Actually these days we do need to look for reliable free speech information even from institutions that photoshop dildos onto things.
Jeff Jarvis: Cried "halp, lawyer!" when subjected to obvious satire. In aggravation: Encouraged indignant loudness amongst silly people. In mitigation: Nobody cares.
Vote! Voting ends Friday at noon my time.
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