Leaked Emails Show Hugo Awards Self-Censoring To Appease China

samleecole shares a report from 404 Media: A trove of leaked emails shows how administrators of one of the most prestigious awards in science fiction censored themselves because the awards ceremony was being held in China. Earlier this month, the Hugo Awards came under fire with accusations of censorship when several authors were excluded from the awards, including Neil Gaiman, R. F. Kuang, Xiran Jay Zhao, and Paul Weimer. These authors’ works had earned enough votes to make them finalists, but were deemed “ineligible” for reasons not disclosed by Hugo administrators. The Hugo Awards are one of the largest and most important science fiction awards. […]

The emails, which show the process of compiling spreadsheets of the top 10 works in each category and checking them for “sensitive political nature” to see if they were “an issue in China,” were obtained by fan writer Chris M. Barkley and author Jason Sanford, and published on fandom news site File 770 and Sanford’s Patreon, where they uploaded the full PDF of the emails. They were provided to them by Hugo Awards administrator Diane Lacey. Lacey confirmed in an email to 404 Media that she was the source of the emails. “In addition to the regular technical review, as we are happening in China and the *laws* we operate under are different…we need to highlight anything of a sensitive political nature in the work,” Dave McCarty, head of the 2023 awards jury, directed administrators in an email. “It’s not necessary to read everything, but if the work focuses on China, taiwan, tibet, or other topics that may be an issue *in* China…that needs to be highlighted so that we can determine if it is safe to put it on the ballot of if the law will require us to make an administrative decision about it.”

The email replies to this directive show administrators combing through authors’ social media presences and public travel histories, including from before they were nominated for the 2023 awards, and their writing and bodies of work beyond just what they were nominated for. Among dozens of other posts and writings, they note Weimer’s negative comments about the Chinese government in a Patreon post and misspell Zhao’s name and work (calling their novel Iron Widow “The Iron Giant”). About author Naseem Jamnia, an administrator allegedly wrote, “Author openly describes themselves as queer, nonbinary, trans, (And again, good for them), and frequently writes about gender, particularly non-binary. The cited work also relies on these themes. I include them because I don’t know how that will play in China. (I suspect less than well.)”

“As far as our investigation is concerned there was no reason to exclude the works of Kuang, Gaiman, Weimer or Xiran Jay Zhao, save for being viewed as being undesirable in the view of the Hugo Award admins which had the effect of being the proxies Chinese government,” Sanford and Barkley wrote. In conjunction with the email trove, Sanford and Barkley also released an apology letter from Lacey, in which she explains some of her role in the awards vetting process and also blames McCarty for his role in the debacle. McCarty, along with board chair Kevin Standlee, resigned earlier this month.

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Do America’s Free-Speech Protections Protect Code – and Prevent Cryptocurrency Regulation?

The short answers are “yes” and “no.” America’s Constitution prohibits government intervention into public expression, reports the business-news radio show Marketplace, “protecting free speech and expression “through, for example…. writing, protesting and coding languages like JavaScript, HTML, Python and Perl.”

Specifically protecting code started with the 1995 case of cryptographer Daniel Bernstein, who challenged America’s “export controls” on encryption (which regulated it like a weapon). But they also spoke to technology lawyer Kendra Albert, a clinical instructor at Harvard Law School’s Cyberlaw Clinic, about the specific parameters of how America protects code as a form of expression:
Albert: I think that the reality was that the position that code was a form of expression is in fact supported by a long history of First Amendment law. And that it, you know, is very consistent with how we see the First Amendment interpreted across a variety of contexts…. [O]ne of the questions courts ask is whether a regulation or legislation or a government action is specifically targeting speech, or whether the restrictions on speech are incidental, but not the overall intention. And that’s actually one of the places you see kind of a lot of these difficulties around code as speech. The nature of many kinds of regulation may mean that they restrict code because of the things that particular forms of software code do in the world. But they weren’t specifically meant to restrict the expressive conduct. And courts end up then having to sort of go through a test that was originally developed in the context of someone burning a draft card to figure out — OK, is this regulation, is the burden that it has on this form of expressive speech so significant that we can’t regulate in this way? Or is this just not the focus, and the fact that there are some restrictions on speech as a result of the government attempting to regulate something else should not be the focus of the analysis?
Q: Congress and federal agencies as well as some states are looking to tighten regulations around cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology. What role do you think the idea of code as speech will play in this environment moving forward?

Albert: The reality is that the First Amendment is not a total bar to regulation of speech. It requires the government meet a higher standard for regulating certain kinds of speech. That runs, to some extent, in conflict with how people imagine what “code is speech” does as sort of a total restriction on the regulation of software, of code, because it has expressive content. It just means that we treat code similarly to how we treat other forms of expression, and that the government can regulate them under certain circumstances.

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