Monthly Archives: May 2016

Less Majesty, More Speech in Germany

President Erdogan

Offense of the Month: May 2016
Have you heard the one about the president of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan? No, that’s not an insult; that’s his name. But just about anything else said of him can land you in hot water in Turkey, where it’s a crime to insult the Turkish nation or government institutions. Erdogan has used the infamous Article 301 of the Turkish penal code more than 1,800 times to prosecute critics for insulting him. Sometimes not even critics — he went after a TV news network for running a headline “‘Dictator’ under Investigation” about name calling by an opposition leader (the news program put the word “dictator” in quotation marks to indicate it was simply reporting a statement made by somebody else). Made no never mind to Erdogan.

In early May he sought a preliminary injunction in Germany against the release of an open letter from the CEO of Axel Springer, one of the country’s leading media firms. The letter, written by Mathias Döpfner, supported the right of a comedian to ridicule Erdogan. The comic, Jan Böhmermann, mocked Erdogan in a long, sexually crude poem. Döpfner’s letter repeated some of Böhermann’s language. Erdogan’s lawyers pointed to an archaic provision of German law, paragraph 103 of its penal code, prohibiting insults to foreign leaders, a remnant of the old crime of lèse-majesté, once widespread, that counted as treason offending the dignity of the ruler. Continue reading

AO in One Easy Lesson

I missed it at the time, so this is a retrospective reflection on a curious blunder last March, when Microsoft unleashed an AI bot to talk to millennials on the Web. (Now there’s a nine-word phrase my parents would never have understood: for you elders, an Internet bot [short for robot], is an automated software program that carries out a repetitive online task that would take you or me forever if we had to do it by hand, like searching for codes or copying specific information, like addresses.)

Microsoft called its “chatbot” Tay and described it as “Microsoft’s A.I. fam the internet that’s got zero chill.” Continue reading