I had been debating whether to address this here because it would be hard to linearize the presentation: There are so many intertwined threads. The topic of this blog is not a logical starting place, but considerable analysis and commentary is easy to find now because it is newly available on the web as the result of a court decision.
Request: The analytic data provided for the blogs leaves much to be desired. The first two comments are an informal survey. Please click the "Like this comment" on the first if you read a significant portion of this blog. Similarly, like the second comment if you found the blog interesting--interesting, not whether you agreed with it.
Note: The descriptions of events all come from media sources, so you should insert "reportedly" in those descriptions. To reduce repeating falsehoods, I have used only what has consistently appeared across multiple credible sources, but that might be negated if they are all based upon the same (uncredited) source.
Note: When I write "Britain", technically it should be the "The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland" (UK). I omit the prefix "Great" as currently unwarranted.
In early 1941, the German ambassador to Finland heard that a local dog had be trained to raise its front leg in the facsimile of a Nazi salute in response to the command "Hitler".(foot#1) One of the dog's owners was interrogated about this suspected insult to Hitler and, not finding any evidence, the Nazis attempted to destroy his business. After 3 months of investigating, which failed to turn up any witnesses willing to testify, the German Chancellory--equivalent to the US White House staff--decided that "considering that the circumstances could not be solved completely, it is not necessary to press charges".(foot#2)
----Current day Britain: Count Dankula----
In 2016, a Scottish comedian known as "Count Dankula" (real name Markus Meecham) trained his girlfriend's dog to simulate a Nazi salute in response to one phrase and to alert on another. Count Dankula made a video of the dog and, to share it with friends, he posted it to his Youtube channel, which had only a handful of subscribers (7 is the most commonly cited).
Note: I am not including the phrases because I don't want to risk this site (Embarcadero Publishing) being sanctioned by social media companies or by Google and Youtube search, especially since their filters produce so many false positives. Additionally, Twitter has acknowledged that it sanctions people for things outside their tweets, Facebook monitors private messages within Messenger ...
The video begins with him saying "My girlfriend is always ranting and raving about how cute and adorable her wee dog is. So I thought I would come up with the least cute thing I could think of, which is a Nazi." and near the end he said "I'm not a racist by the way, I did really really want to (piss her off?)." Both Count Dankula and his girlfriend are Leftists (Dankula was a Communist in his youth, but left when the group became violent). If you want to see the video, you can follow the link labeled "video" in this article: ^The curious case of the Nazi pug^ by Andrew Doyle (Spiked, 2017-07-10). You could also search for "M8 Yer Dugs A Nazi", but if you are concerned about being profiled by Google/Youtube or ..., there are alternative search engines, such as ^DuckDuckGo^, that don't track you (or sell your search history). And use a browser other than Google Chrome. Note: I am being indirect out of real concerns, and not to make a point about free speech.
Note: Britain doesn't have the equivalent of the US Constitution's First Amendment. The protections are set by Parliament and can be changed by successive Parliaments.
Note: The discussion here is not about how you feel about the Count Dankula video. It is about events that are having an impact on the debate about Free Speech in the US.
The Scottish police became aware of the video, but they had to recruit someone willing to say that they were offended by it. The trial took almost two years, which could be regarded as prosecutorial harassment. Compare this to the Nazis and the Finnish dog.
The publicity from the arrest and trial produced the predictable "^Streisand effect^": The video was viewed by millions, both the original and copies, and his channel now has roughly 200,000 subscribers. At least three major British news outlets put the full video on their websites, and quoted the offensive phrases in their articles, articles that have remained online for the full two years. The publicity also made it a cause for free speech advocates. Aside: I don't know how this particular case achieved a high profile, but suspect that it was discovered by high-profile social media personalities.
In March, the court found him guilty of having posted material that was "grossly offensive, anti-Semitic and racist" and "menacing". Count Dankula had argued that "the context of it, the juxtaposition of having an adorable animal react to something vulgar. That was the entire point of the joke." The court rejected the context and his statement of intent at the beginning of the video as irrelevant, and decided, without evidence, that he intended to promote Nazism. The sentencing on 2018-04-23 was a fine of 800 GBP--roughly $1100 (USD). Observers said that the typical fine was 300-400 GBP in such cases. To avoid this becoming a precedence, he is appealing and has significant support. Knowledgeable observers of the Scottish court system said that they had expected him to be sentenced to prison (up to 6 months), but the publicity and protests may have deterred this.
----Related Case: Instagram tribute----
Hold it! "typical fine" in the previous paragraph implies that Dankula wasn't an anomaly, but a common occurrence. British news outlets were reporting that there are thousands of such convictions, about half the number of complaints filed. Days before the sentencing of Count Dankula, a 19-year-old woman from Liverpool, Chelsea Russell, was convicted of a hate crime for adding to her Instagram profile the lyrics to the song "I'm Trippin'" by US rapper Snap Dogg (not the famous Snoop Dogg). She said that she did it as a tribute to a 13-year-old friend who had been run down by a car -- it was his favorite song. Furthermore, she said that she thought her profile was private. The prosecution showed that her profile could be accessed by the public, and cited case law that having something accessible was legally no different from intentionally distributing it (posting it). Where's the crime? Those lyrics contained instances of the n-word where "er" had be replaced by "a". Her defense argued, to no avail, that the word was commonly used in live concerts and recorded media. She was sentenced to 8 weeks of community service, an 8-week curfew and a fine. More importantly she will go through life with that conviction on her record.(foot#3)(foot#4)
Notice that in the Dankula case, he was prosecuted for creating the video, but those responsible for distributed it weren't. In the Instagram case, the creator of the lyrics and those who engaged in mass distribution were not prosecuted, but a woman who unintentionally made yet another copy of those lyrics available was prosecuted. The decisions about who gets prosecuted appears entirely arbitrary, except, as expected, the rich and powerful aren't. After the sentencing, a reporter (Sky News) ask Count Dankula if accepted that he had committed a crime, and Dankula pointed out to the reporter that he had just committed the same crime.(foot#5)
An interesting observation originating from the British commentators was that these sort of prosecutions encourage hypersensitivity of various groups to perceived insults and subsequent reactions or retaliations. This increases the fragmentation of society. The charitable view is that the British government avoided recognizing these negative effect. The opposite view is that the government is intentionally encouraging social fragmentation to stifle effective opposition. Since I am not British, I am can only report, not judge.(foot#6)
Note: Be careful when reading British media accounts of events: They tend to be decidedly partisan and promoting specific agendas. For example, ^The New Statesman^ -- a British Current Affairs & Politics Magazine -- used not only guilt by association but guilt by hypothetical association.(foot#7)
----This wouldn't happen in the US, would it?----
Before you say this wouldn't happen in the US, recognize that it already has, most prominently last August when Google fired James Damore for writing a memo suggesting ways for Google to improve its diversity. Google asserted, without evidence, that Damore's intentions were contrary to what was in the memo.(foot#8) This memo was not in line with the dominant ideology at Google and in the media, and was furiously misrepresented and attacked in most media articles. Some of this was likely malicious, but much of it could have been "journalists" not bothering to read the memo, but simply writing their articles based upon other article (Hanlon's Razor: "Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity/incompetence/laziness"). Google gave a vague reason for the firing, and if you took them at their word, that reason was contrary to the explicitly stated intent and the context of the memo.
In January, the National Labor Relations Board (NRLB) staff--led by an Obama appointee--adopted Google's argumentation, including citing as "evidence" from the memo something that wasn't there. This implies that the NRLB failed to do even basic due diligence of checking Google's claims against the document (reality).(foot#9)
The law used in Britain was the Communications Act of 2003, which was based on a 1935 law addressing harassing phone calls, and poorly adapted to the modern day Internet. If you watched the recent Congressional hearing with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, you can imagine how this can happen: Most of the Congress members came off as largely clueless about the Internet, despite having had substantial opportunity for briefings by their staff to formulate the few questions that they could ask during their allotted four minutes.
Dankula was convicted under ^Section 127(1)(a)^ of the Act:
"A person is guilty of an offence if he sends by means of a public electronic communications network a message or other matter that is grossly offensive ..."
Notice that this covers private messages on a public network, and doesn't require that the recipients find it offensive. And "grossly offensive" is undefined, that is, left to whatever government officials want to interpret it as.
This was likely not a drafting error: There are many other instances of this philosophy. From the Metropolitan Police's website about what is a hate crime: "If someone does something that isn't a criminal offence but the victim, or anyone else, believes it was motivated by prejudice or hate, we would class this as a 'hate incident' ." (emphasis added)
Notice that it directly states that an event that was not a crime can be a hate crime.
This is disturbingly close to "Show me the man and I'll find you the crime." (Lavrentiy Beria, Chief of the secret police under Stalin). No need for evidence, just someone willing to state a belief. And it doesn't even have to be the usual reasonable person. You could go to prison on the word of a raving paranoid, or anyone out to get you. Yes, I can hear you saying that the authorities would use good judgment, but history tells us otherwise: The promises are ignored and the boundaries move, often in increments. For example, bureaucracies naturally want to expand their power and reach and to have larger staffs. A common way to achieve this is to expand the interpretation of the laws they are tasked with enforcing.
A similar attitude has been spreading from US college campuses. Intent doesn't matter. Neither does context. Nor evidence. All that matters is how a self-identified victim claims they were made to feel. Sometimes when someone chooses to be offended, it is claimed that violence has been done to them, and potentially that those words are a "threat to their existence".
If you are interested a British perspective, let me recommend an interview by US journalist Tim Pool (independent, Youtube) of ^Helen Dale ... in Defense of Count Dankula following Protest^ (30:54) -- her interview is in the second segment, and the link has the video cued to start there (@17:10). She is a barrister (trial lawyer) who practiced in Scotland and is now a columnist for The Spectator, which is characterized as the House Journal of British Conservatism (British Conservatism is not the same as US Conservatism). She talks about the effects of class and also points out that Scottish banter, humor and comedy is very different from that in England and Wales.
----Other entertainment promoting Nazism?----
Using the British criteria, what older entertainment mocking the Nazis might be judged "grossly offensive"? For example:
- ^The Great Dictator^ (1940) starring Charlie Chaplin.
- ^To Be or Not to Be^ (1940) starring Jack Benny & Carole Lombard. ^1983 remake^ starring Mel Brooks & Anne Bancroft.
- The Producers by Mel Brooks (for example, the song "^Springtime for Hitler^": "Don't be stupid, be a smarty, come and join the Nazi party!"): ^1967^ starring Zero Mostel & Gene Wilder; ^2005^ starring Nathan Lane & Matthew Broderick; Broadway play ...
- TV Series: ^Hogan's Heroes^ (1965-1971).
- Cartoons during the WW2 era: Warner Brothers (best) and Disney (mediocre).
- (Added) ^Young Frankenstein^ (1974) written by Mel Brooks and Gene Wilder. The peasants stage a torchlight parade carrying tridents (pitchforks), both major Nazi iconography.
- (Added) ^The Lambeth Walk -- Nazi Style: British propaganda film edited to make it look like Adolf Hitler and his troops were DANCING was first "viral hit"^ - The Daily Mail (UK), 2017-09-22: "The jaunty music is eerily at odds with the atrocities that the regime committed."
1. Finland and the Nazis:
In 1939, the Soviet Union invaded of Finland and took considerable land and portion of its economy (see the ^Winter War^). Britain and France--and the League of Nations--were ineffective in helping Finland. With legitimate concerns that the Soviets intended to conquer all of the country, Finland turned to the only realistic alternative, and developed strong ties to Nazi Germany.
2. Finnish dog, more details:
"^Nazi Germany pursued 'Hitler salute' Finnish dog^" - BBC, 2011-01-07.
There are many similar articles online, apparently originating from an AP news story (which I didn't find).
3. Lyrics are hate crime:
"^Woman guilty of 'racist' Snap Dogg rap lyric Instagram post^" - BBC?, 2018-04-19.
Most of the press coverage I saw conflated having something in your profile with posting it to Instagram.
4. Video overview of several British cases:
^UK Woman Convicted of Posting Rap Lyrics to Instagram | Cracking Down on the "Grossly Offensive"^ (10:50) - Matt Christiansen, 2018-04-25.
5. Reporter committing same crime (video):
^Dankula Owns Sky News Journalist James Mathews^ (0:51) - The Thinkery, 2018-04-24.
6. Encouraging social fragmentation:
One good statement of this from Americans (US + Canada) in a Youtube video: ^Count Dankula NOT GOING TO JAIL^ (16:05) from HoneyBadgerRadio, 2018-04-23.
7. Guilt by hypothetical association (video):
^@3:23^ in ^The Worst Count Dankula Take | "Defending Offensive Sh!tposters Isn’t a Matter of Free Speech"^ (8:58) - Matt Christiansen, 2018-03-24. The article being critiqued is ^No Ricky Gervais, defending offensive shitposters isn’t a matter of free speech^ by Nick Pettigrew - NewStatesman, 2018-03-21.
8. Google firing of James Damore:
My blog ^"Google memo": a lesson in not trusting news media^, 2017-08-09.
9. NRLB decision on Damore Memo:
My blog ^Damore's Google Memo NLRB Complaint Rejected: More misrepresentations^, 2018-02-17.
An ^abbreviated index by topic and chronologically^ is available.
----Boilerplate on Commenting----
The ^Guidelines^ for comments on this blog are different from those on Town Square Forums. I am attempting to foster more civility and substantive comments by deleting violations of the guidelines.
I am particularly strict about misrepresenting what others have said (me or other commenters). If I judge your comment as likely to provoke a response of "That is not what was said", do not be surprised to have it deleted. My primary goal is to avoid unnecessary and undesirable back-and-forth, but such misrepresentations also indicate that the author is unwilling/unable to participate in a meaningful, respectful conversation on the topic.
If you behave like a ^Troll^, do not waste your time protesting when you get treated like one.