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The World-Wide Muzzle and What to Do About It

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Free speech matters online, and companies and governments need to rethink behaviors that are infringing upon the rights of Internet users

After terrorists attacked the offices of Charlie Hebdo earlier this month, a group of European Union ministers executed a more covert attack on freedom of expression around the world. They issued a statement calling on Internet companies to be more proactive about monitoring, reporting, and removing “material that aims to incite hatred and terror.” British Prime Minister David Cameron seems to be on the same page, announcing last week that he wants to ban encrypted online messaging services.

The latest calls in Europe for increased censorship and surveillance are part of a broader problem: governments of all types use terror and crime (including everything from child exploitation to copyright violations) as an excuse to pressure Internet companies to monitor and control user behavior in ways that can lead to violations of Internet users’ rights.

We’ve described the extent of this problem in a new UNESCO report, Fostering Freedom Online: The Role of Internet Intermediaries, which takes a detailed look at how legal, regulatory, and commercial frameworks help or hinder Internet companies’ ability to respect users’ free expression online. Authors Rebecca MacKinnon, Elonnai Hickok, Allon Bar, and Hae-in Lim worked with an international team of researchers to examine 11 different companies operating across the world, highlighting power struggles that shape who controls the flow of information online and how content gets restricted. We conclude that governments and companies need to rethink behaviors that are infringing upon the rights of Internet users.

A lot of this thinking builds on the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, which says governments have the primary duty to protect human rights, including freedom of expression and the right to privacy (which itself is considered a prerequisite for freedom of expression). All companies, including those that operate Internet platforms and services, also have a responsibility to respect those rights. The report takes stock of how companies are doing in this regard, and how governments either help or hinder companies from upholding their human rights responsibilities.

We found two broad categories of problems:

  1. Governments are making it hard for companies to respect users’ free expression rights. While some of the most egregious examples are found in China, Russia, and the other usual authoritarian suspects, the problem exists to varying degrees across the gamut of political systems and cultural contexts. Laws, government policies, and regulations – even those enacted by well-meaning public servants seeking to address genuine problems of crime, terror, and child protection – not only erode free expression rights online but also cause companies to carry out censorship and surveillance, affecting speech that should be protected and respected under human rights law.

A major culprit is law that holds companies legally responsible – liable – for what their users say and do. While countries like China have long blacklists of words and phrases that companies like the Chinese search engine Baidu must delete if they want to stay in business, censorship can still be heavy in some democracies. Facebook received more government requests to censor content in India than in any other country where it makes an effort to operate (Facebook is blocked in China).

  1. Companies are not transparent enough about how they restrict content and collect or share user data. Despite the clear problems that governments cause, companies are not doing enough to minimize users’ freedom of expression from being unduly restricted when they comply with government demands or enforce their own terms of service. Companies also need to be more transparent about how these actions affect users’ ability to express themselves or access information – as well as clarify who has access to users’ personal information and under what circumstances.

A growing number of companies in North America and Europe have started to issue transparency reports with data about the number of government requests they receive and how many they comply with. But many companies report more extensively on user data requests than on censorship requests, and many do not report any information about requests for content restriction or how they comply.

For example, Vodafone started to report last year about the law enforcement requests it receives for user data and bulk surveillance. But it is not transparent about content removals, including its role in a voluntary scheme in the UK to protect children from age-inappropriate content. In mid-2014 the non-profit Open Rights Group found that the system blocked adults from accessing content that included an article about postpartum depression and the blog of a Syrian commentator. Also, while companies like Twitter report extensively on content restrictions in response to legally binding external requests, they provide no information about content being removed to enforce their private “Twitter rules.”

To be sure, we’re not arguing that people should be free to do anything they want online regardless of consequences. Rather, it’s critical that restriction of speech or interference in peoples’ privacy should be “necessary and proportionate,” based on clear legal authority to address a specific threat or crime, and should be as narrowly tailored as possible. Accountability mechanisms are key.

What, then, are the next steps for governments and companies? Here are a few of our recommendations for governments and companies moving forward:

  • Laws and regulations affecting online speech must undergo due diligence to ensure they are compatible with international human rights norms.
  • Policies at the national, regional, and international level that affect online speech need to be developed jointly by representatives of all affected stakeholder groups (such as industry, civil society groups, and technical experts).
  • Transparency about censorship is just as important as transparency about surveillance. Transparency from governments and companies about how their censorship and content restriction processes work, in addition to public reporting about the amount and nature of content being restricted, is essential to prevent abuses and improve accountability.
  • Companies that “self-regulate” by using private terms of service to restrict content that the law does not forbid, or which comply with extra-legal blacklists generated by non-governmental groups, must be transparent with the public about what is being restricted, under what circumstances, by whose authority.
  • Governments and companies need to set up effective mechanisms for people to report abuses and grievances, as well as processes through which aggrieved parties can obtain redress.

Our current project, Ranking Digital Rights, plans to hold companies accountable. While organizations such as Freedom House and the World Wide Web Foundation annually rank governments on how well they protect Internet users’ rights, we are in the process of developing a parallel methodology to measure and compare companies’ respect for users’ rights around the world. The first public ranking is scheduled for launch in late 2015.

Priya Kumar is a Program Associate with New America’s Ranking Digital Rights project. Rebecca MacKinnon directs the Ranking Digital Rights project at the New America Foundation. This piece was originally published in New America’s digital magazine, The Weekly Wonk. Sign up to get it delivered to your inbox each Thursday here, and follow @New America on Twitter.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Race

Being Black Shouldn’t Mean I Have to Be ‘Twice as Good’

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xoJane.com is where women go to be their unabashed selves, and where their unabashed selves are applauded

You saw it on 'Scandal.' We've heard it our whole lives

Black feminist, theorist, and author Audre Lorde once wrote, “Raising black children, female and male, in the mouth of a racist, sexist, suicidal dragon is perilous and chancy. If they cannot love and resist at the same time, they will probably not survive.”

As I live life in this world as a black woman, I often wonder, how does one, at a young age, learn to both love and resist? What does resistance in the face of racism and sexism look like? And, how young is too young to learn these lessons of survival?

I was five years old, braided twists and colorful bobbles and barrettes in my hair, learning to read for the first time, when my mother held me close and gave me my first lesson in respectability politics, and, consequently, my first lesson in survival for a person of black girlhood.

My mother, a Caribbean-American immigrant born in Jamaica, and I were reading Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli at the time. In this book Mr. Magee reaches the town of Two Mills — a town literally divided by racial lines. In Two Mills, Black citizens lived in the East End while the white citizens lived in the West End. On his first day in East End, Mr. Magee met and befriended a reluctant Amanda Beale.

Amanda Beale, an impeccably dressed black girl with glasses, plaits, a messenger bag full of books, and on her way into East End’s school house, just didn’t have time for the strange, ripped-and-dirty-clothes-wearing white boy who in his haste to talk to her was making her late for school.

Amanda Beale was an avid reader, a no-nonsense girl who had no problem putting Mr. Magee in his place. She was smart, confident, well-read, and poor. Amanda Beale was relegated to best friend of the main character status. Despite the book’s white savior complex (and the fetishizing comparisons of Mr. Magee’s newfound black friends’ skin complexions to foods like caramel and coffee beans), this novel was essential to my development.

It’s clear to me, now, that my mother had chosen it for us to read because of its discussions on race relations. It was my literary introduction to my mother’s lessons on respectability and survival.

It began when I expressed my awe of Amanda Beale’s character. She wasn’t like any representation of a black girl I’d seen in the media thus far, and yes, at five, I picked up on that. To this notion, my mother held me close. Her voice trembled but she looked me squarely in the eyes.

“Are you listening?” she’d said.

“Yes, Mom,” I replied, because in our house it was “yes, Mom” or “no, Mom.” There was no, “What?” “Huh?” or my mother’s least favorite, “What do you want?” to be had or heard in that house.

“You like Amanda, right?”

I nodded my head, my hair bobbles click-clacking with the movement.

“You see that she can read and write better and she doesn’t take anything from anybody?”

I nodded again. I did see. Amanda’s intelligence wasn’t a novelty to us, though. Despite what the media will tell you, black women are statistically the most college-educated across racial and gender lines in American society.

But an Amanda Beale would be a novelty to some. And my mother understood that. In that moment, she would make damn sure I understood that, too.

“There are people in this world who will…” she scrunched up her eyebrows and nose, debating her words with careful precision, “underestimate you. They’ll say little things. They’ll doubt that you’re smart, they’ll doubt that you’re kind, some will even treat you like less than a human being deserves.”

I didn’t like where this conversation was going.

Because I was five and maybe it was too soon for me to be learning this, really contextualizing and unpacking this, but what was the alternative? A black girl ill-equipped will be chewed up and spit out. I didn’t yet know that a black girl can never be equipped enough to face the racism and sexism of this world, though we quite literally fight and, some, die trying.

All I could do in my discomfort was squirm. My mother believed that a small price to pay. She held me, firmly.

“There are people in this world that will judge and hurt you, because of me.”

She said things like that a lot.

She blamed herself for the racially and classist based mistreatment that my brother and I would face. As if it was her fault that her children are black, like blackness is a stain on our skin and a stain that needs to be wiped out by society. Or like capitalism, racism, and her disabilities weren’t partly to blame for her, at the time, working class status in society.

You see, before my mother knew anything about me, she knew two key things that would dictate the trajectory of my life: I would be born black and she would have to raise me on a limited income. She blamed herself. People of this world have ill-formed preconceived notions of black people, black women, poor people, poor black people, and especially preconceived negative notions of poor black women.

Back on her bed, she told me, “Because of that, you’ll have to study hard and push yourself. You’ll have to push yourself harder than most other people because that isn’t expected of you. You don’t want people to think you’re not smart do you?”

I shook my head slowly from left to right. No.

“Good,” she said.

She would teach me respectability and a form of survival in order to combat classist, racist, and sexist attitudes. This conversation was only the beginning.

When I was nine years old, living a few towns over in Mattapan, Massachusetts in another three bedroom apartment, I remember having fun joking with my younger brother.

Arriving home from school, we’d barely stepped over the threshold of the front entrance to our apartment. My high cheekbones etched with the laughing lines of my pronounced lips, I joked with my brother in African-American Vernacular English. Some people also refer to this language, steeped in both English and West African linguistic patterns, as slang and/or Ebonics.

My brother laughed at whatever I had said.

My mother rapped us both with a light slap to our book-bag strap clad shoulders. She wagged her right index finger, maneuvering her finger and reprimanding stern look between the both of us.

“Don’t talk like that. Because if you say that here, you’ll slip up and speak like that outside.”

She “humphed” and walked further into our home, leaving my brother and me to stew with our thoughts.

There, walking away from us further into the house, was a woman whose Jamaican born parents told her to “lose” her accent in order to better assimilate into American society and negate negative stereotypes. To this day, my mother’s voice and speech pattern of Jamaican patois only becomes laden with a Jamaican accent when she’s angry.

There was a woman who’d learned her own respectability politics from her mother, my Nana, and was now passing this knowledge down to us.

This was my mother’s act of revolution, my mother’s lesson of resistance, my mother’s shield to racism and classism that she gave to her children. It was her only hope to fight the fear of our forthcoming mistreatment.

While white children could speak in popular slang terms and not be judged as unintelligent and forced to represent their entire race, my brother and I had to mind our tongues from speaking in a language that our people had hatched, cultivated, and enriched. I reflect on this at a time when it is popular for ads for various companies and products to use Ebonics or slang to sell their products, although their companies don’t reflect a diverse group of employees in positions of power.

At the time of being reprimanded for our slang, my brother and I, nine and eight respectively, had only mostly been subject to microagressions. Sure, when I was only four and my father had been taken to a police station under the guise of “justified” racial profiling, a white cop walking near me, “bumped” into me and assaulted my small frame with the gun latched into his holster. And sure, he didn’t apologize and he walked on by like he hadn’t done anything wrong or, quite frankly, committed an act of violence against a four-year-old black girl. My mother lit into him with verbal foliage so colorful that I’m sure his children many times over will feel the wake of its effects before they ever commit other acts of racism. Or, so I hope.

But, mostly we’d been subject to casual racism, like the teachers at my school who told me I was so articulate and spoke so well. (What did they expect? It was at a rare rigorous elementary school in the inner city where they themselves instructed me.) Or like the people who asked my mother if she was sure that her daughter played the violin in a highly selective orchestra. Was she sure? Hell yes. She only drove me to six-hour rehearsals every Sunday.

But, my mother upheld that if my brother and I negated these ill-formed pre-conceived notions by not speaking in Ebonics and studied hard, our lot in life would be easier.

In fact, later that year when my predominately white fourth grade class that I was bused to via an advanced placement program for Boston-based minorities was learning our multiplication time tables, she turned it into another respectability lesson.

First, my mother had me make a flash card set of multiplication equations up until the “12 times” tables.

She, in no uncertain terms, told me to sit down and learn them and not to come to her unless I learned, understood, and memorized them all.

“If you come to me and I test you on any one of these and find that you don’t know them, I’m gonna spank you.”

I violently shook my head from side to side and protested, stamping my foot into the hardwood. It was ill-advised. I’m lucky she didn’t snatch me up right then and there for the rare form of disrespect administered by a child of color to her parent of color. In non-western cultures, disrespect to your elders is more than frowned upon.

And so I wised up, “fixed my face,” and sat up straighter, mumbling a sorry.

She sighed.

“I’m not doing this to punish you. You need to understand.”

She got closer now, in my face where we could be eye level.

“You have to be twice — TWICE — as good to get half of what they have. Always.”

I fought back tears.

I was already experiencing this in school — and I did have to be “twice as good” to be applauded for my work in class when my mostly white classmates escaped casual racism on a daily basis. I did have to stand out to be noticed or celebrated in a world that directly and indirectly berates children of color and reprimands us when we attempt to carve out spaces for ourselves. I did have to go above and beyond in all things to negate the racism that I would face in a “prove them wrong” fashion.

And when my white classmates’ parents leered at my peers of color and me for taking up too many seats in the local school of their suburban neighborhood, though we’d earned our seats through placing high scores on a test while some white students weren’t nearly as well-read, versed, or didn’t study as hard as we did, those white students were still celebrated and cherished members of our school environment. They would still grow up to be privileged in a classist and racial context of our society. And I would still face classism and racism as a poor black girl until the day I die.

I learned all of my multiplication tables that day.

Not before trying to skirt past my mother’s own rigorous standards and pretend like I’d learned them all. She started with the hardest ones first, weeding them out until she caught one that I couldn’t rattle off immediately.

And she whooped my butt.

From the clothes my brother and I wore, to the conversations we held, to the ways in which we wore our hair, to the music we listened to, to the schools we were admitted to, down to the grades we received, there was always a double standard to be met.

I remember as a young teen joking with my cousin and brother as we procured bandanas for our hair, loosened our pants so that they hung low, and walked with a limp in our step around my cousin’s home.

“Nah come ‘round here like no city boppin’ fool… Chuh!”

The three of us, my cousin, brother, and I, jumped in place having been startled. Turning, we spotted our grandmother’s disapproving look. We quickly straightened, fixed our pants, and ripped the bandanas from our heads. It felt like we’d been caught committing a cardinal sin. As a joke, we’d adopted caricatured mannerisms of the ways in which we saw black and brown people being portrayed on television, but with our grandmother’s reprimands, the moment quickly became serious.

I reflect on this moment at a time when it is trendy on social media for my white peers to take selfies wearing hoodies, black sunglasses and caption their photos “thug life.”

And at a time when it’s popular for college students to adopt “thug,” “gangster,” or “hood” Halloween costumes, complete with painting their skins black or brown. I can’t articulate enough that baggy clothes, bandanas, hats, and braids don’t make a person a gangster or a thug. The juxtaposition of white skin against these articles of clothing allow for a sort of costuming or ironic joke to take place. It’s funny when a white suburban kid dresses up in a hoodie, baggie jeans, etc. because “of course,” the white suburban kid would never be suspected as being a thug. “Of course,” the white suburban kid would or could never be a thug.

In reality, more often than not, a white person committing a crime is never described or policed as a “thug” but, rather, “misunderstood,” and treated as a human being entitled to due process in a court of law.

However, my brother, cousin, and I are not allowed that “joke” in the context of our lives. Despite the college educations at top universities between the three of us, more often than not we will be perceived as threats, thugs, or dangerous in our lifetimes. That statement is not for semantics. It’s not exaggerated and it’s not said for dramatic effect.

That’s not something I can prove to anyone who doesn’t experience racial profiling firsthand. And by firsthand, I mean you being on the receiving end of being racially profiled, not you driving around with your black friend. For more on the matter, I suggest tracking and comparing the 140 character anecdotes found in the hashtags #Alivewhileblack and #Crimingwhilewhite on Twitter. For my grandmother, however, her scolding didn’t go past that one scolding sentence. It would take the next several years for me to unpack and fully understand her policing of my brother, cousin, and me that day.

But, are these lessons in respectability useful for children of color to learn?

Consider, for instance, that despite being a college-educated and god-fearing man, Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was targeted and, ultimately, killed because of his race.

But, similarly in the way that young girls and women are taught not to wear revealing clothing in order to prevent a rape from being committed against them, children of color are taught the world over various ways in which we should prevent the acts of racism that are committed against us. Through an intersectional lens, consider then the gender and race-specific respectability politics that are taught to a black girl, woman, or female-identified person throughout their years in order to prevent sexual assault, sexism, and racism from plaguing their lives.

Finally, I’d like to note that this essay and similar sentiments made in other conversations or mediums (such as the scene in Scandal during which Papa Pope reminds Olivia of his instructions that she herself must be “twice as good to get half of what they have”), are not made to express that individual white children don’t face hardships or that they don’t learn difficult lessons from a young age.

White supremacy makes way for terms like “white trash,” a term that suggests that a white person who is poor, illiterate, “country,” or perhaps mentally ill, etc. is an atypical white person. The “white” in “white trash” is used to denote that this person is unusual for the white race.

However, it is important to note that these lessons in respectability politics and survival that are taught to young people of color may not be enough to save us from the violence.

I look inward, having reflected on my upbringing and understand my mother and grandmother’s version of resistance but look outward in wondering, “What other forms of resistance can we teach young people of color to thwart the racist, sexist, and suicidal dragon?”

At this time of national turmoil and unrest, it is my deepest regret that I do not, in fact, know.

Jasmine Rose-Olesco wrote this article for xoJane.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME society

The Organic Food Movement Is an Insufferably Classist Waste of Money

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xoJane.com is where women go to be their unabashed selves, and where their unabashed selves are applauded

Why must we feed this obsession and give up common sense and taste?

I am 47. I say this for reference. Correction: more as an admonishment. I grew up in the 1980s, the decade of big hair and bigger shoulder pads. In short, a time when excess and indulgence were still cool. That being said, indulge me. Here goes:

I hate the whole organic food movement. Notice I said “movement,” because it is the mindset that is perverse and insufferable.

My hatred stems from the fact that this trend is a repudiation of my own working class background. Eating organic is eating more expensively and, in my opinion, often unnecessarily.

Just this morning as I was drinking my morning coffee with milk (more on this later), I almost choked when I saw the latest report on “Good Morning America.” The “next big super drink” sweeping the country in 2015, according to GMA, is organic birch tree water. The water is actually the sap from birch trees tapped in early spring. Sounds very pastoral, almost nostalgic of a simpler era, something out of a Norman Rockwell painting.

Think again.

A quick search with Amazon suppliers indicates that this tree sap is like liquid gold. It is hard to come by, except if you happen to be a native of a Slavic country. A case of this forest juice, which equates to 10 bottles, is $24.95 — without shipping. Give me my store-brand bottled water or, better yet, water that comes out of my kitchen faucet.

I do not think it is wise to have to budget for simple hydration. Can you say fad? Remember coconut water?

People who eat primarily organic are the same hipsters who make their little ones toil in community gardens after picking them up from child care cooperatives. What they can’t harvest, they buy in small shops that sell two dozen kinds of honey, and enough soy and tofu to choke a cow.

I don’t know about you, but the only time I ever had honey as a kid was when I was sick. It was added to my mug of Lipton tea and came out of a little golden bear-shaped squeeze bottle. (And in my budget challenged household, we re-used the tea bag.)

And as for cows, they are regarded as one moo short of pure evil by people who fear the possibility they may be treated with antibodies or growth hormones and steroids. The organic foodies raise children who may never experience the lush, velvety feel of a milk mustache. Instead, they get the flat, chalky aftertaste of some almond-based alternative milk product.

Rather than dunk Oreos rich with refined sugars, they wash down carob biscuits baked with agave.

I am not going to argue the health benefits of an organic diet. Medical studies come and go, but there is no conclusive evidence which says eating organic is eating more nutritiously. And the verdict is still out on taste differences. Although those who have tried birch tree water say it is an “acquired taste,” and have likened it to flavored medicine. Yummy.

I fear, however, that some of these all natural choices (all the friggin’ time) are leading us down a strange path.

Let’s face it: When you remove “bad calories,” and “unnatural additives,” you cut out the fun, and not trim it either. Ask any person on a diet if they are happy. But at least on a diet there are cheat days.

The comforting lethargy that follows a big dish of processed macaroni and cheese (made with the little envelope of bright yellow powder) is never experienced by organic foodies or their progeny. Instead of lolling on the couch, they are busy reading labels to determine if what they ingest is locally sourced. I like farmers as much as the next person, but as a city gal, agriculture was never my strong point.

In fact, part of the expense of organic products is the extra inspection and certification by government agencies. This cost to the producers is passed down to consumers. The organic foodies are ever vigilant that their foods are not produced by methods that employ chemical fertilizers or pesticides. Granted, poisons in the food chain should be avoided. It is not like I aspire to be first on the toxic food line.

But I have to confess that the adage, what you don’t know, won’t hurt you has served me well.

There is even organic food in the marketplace for our family pets. Funny, I don’t have a desire to spend more to feed my own three beloved dogs and feel good about myself as a pet parent. I would rather donate the money to an animal shelter.

There is a superiority among the organic foodies and a class distinction that goes beyond pure consumerism. I might be sensitive about my blue-collar upbringing, but digging deeper in your pocket does not mean you are spending wisely.

People who shop in supermarkets, buy in bulk, or clip coupons are not discriminatory, well-informed, or hip enough to live in the same neighborhoods for many organic foodies. Organic food, which has earned prime shelf space, is muscling out some of the less expensive choices, and is making it harder to stretch a dollar.

In short, my own dad, who was a bus driver, could never have afforded the lifestyle enjoyed by these purists. In my day, eating TV dinners and canned foods was good enough. Blissful ignorance? Maybe.

I might have evolved to the point where I prefer fresh (or at least frozen) produce over canned varieties, and meat from a butcher rather than a plastic tray. I have been known to avoid any packaging that has more than three polysyllabic ingredients that I cannot pronounce.

But don’t take away my Oreos.

Andrea Della Monica wrote this article for xoJane.

Read next: A Guide to What Kind of Eggs You Should Buy

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TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME society

Local News Anchor Announces ALS Diagnosis and Retires in Touching Broadcast

After almost 40 years, Larry Stogner told viewers, "We have to stop meeting this way"

When longtime North Carolina news anchor Larry Stogner participated in the Ice Bucket Challenge last summer, he didn’t yet know that he was one of the 30,000 Americans who suffer from the neurological disease.

“I am sure that in recent months, you’ve noticed a change in my voice, my speech slower,” the anchor at ABC affiliate WTVD said in a touching broadcast last Friday. “Many of you were kind enough to email me ideas about what it might be, or just to show concern, and I truly appreciate that. As it turns out, I have ALS, Lou Gehrig’s Disease.”

After almost four decades reporting the news, Stogner announced his retirement, telling viewers, “We have to stop meeting this way.”

After a vacation with his wife, Stogner will be back in two weeks to talk on-air with his colleagues and say a more formal goodbye.

Read next: Here’s What’s Happening With the Ice Bucket Challenge Money

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TIME weather

Here’s a Closer Look at the ‘Snowmenclature’ People Are Using

Literal is so hot right now

Every great blizzard that hits the U.S. sends people running to the grocery store to stockpile canned goods and, in recent years, to their keyboards for rampant hashtagging. As snow hit the Northeast on Monday and Tuesday, social media was rife with references to the #snowicane, the #snowjam and the #snownado.

TIME partnered with Hashtracking to find out which trending hashtags were getting the most traction on Twitter, as New York residents geared up for chaos that never really hit and New Englanders battened down the hatches. The results are in: The top hashtag for tweeting about the storm is the quite literal #blizzardof2015. (You can get a closer look at the chart here.)

Chart complied by Hashtracking

But, as with many competitions, the winners aren’t as interesting as the losers. Juno, the green line above in a solid third place, is the name for the storm chosen by the Weather Channel. That cable network decided two years ago that it would start giving names to winter storms like the government does for hurricanes, a move many saw as a branding “ploy”.

The government hasn’t endorsed the Weather Channel’s names and doesn’t name winter storms itself because snowstorms are more frequent and more ambiguous than events like hurricanes. The network has said its aim is to make people more aware of such events, but it appears that people prefer to orient themselves with the more straightforward #blizzardof2015 than the more arbitrary #Juno.

That unpoetic hashtag has also trumped the long-dominant blizzard-time puns #snowmageddon and #snowpocalypse. This blizzard may mark the first time some people are hearing this duo of “portmansnows”—as Stanford University linguist Arnold Zwicky dubbed them—but they have been around for at least a decade. And they may finally have reached a point of exposure where they’re on the way out.

Ben Zimmer, executive editor at Vocabulary.com, found evidence of bloggers using this “snowmenclature” when storms hit the U.S. in 2005. But, he says, they didn’t really blow up until Twitter had taken hold in 2010. Even President Barack Obama was on board that year. “Hashtags lend themselves to this play with blended words,” Zimmer says. “And a successful blend, one people recognize and understand, is one where the parts are obvious at first glance, like snowmageddon.”

MORE: Why Blizzards Turn Us Into Irrational Hoarders at the Grocery Store

Clearly snowmageddon is a blend of the white precipitation commonly known as snow and Armageddon, the final battle between good and evil that leaves the earth in ashes—just as snowpocalypse is a blend of snow and apocalypse, a last catastrophe that marks the end of the world.

But what really makes these words irresistible (at least for a while) is the nature of the events that inspired them. As Zimmer says, “It makes you feel like you’re in a disaster movie.” And what’s the best part of a huge snowstorm or a zombie takeover that leaves 10 newly acquainted survivors huddled in a farmhouse? The same thing. There’s a suspension of the rules. You’re expected to figure things out for yourself and you get to do things you wouldn’t on any regular day. Walking right down the middle of what is usually a busy street is a thrilling little treat, whether everybody’s dead or everybody’s cars are stuck in their driveways.

Just like those survivors in the farmhouse, there is also a sudden solidarity among everyone who is having their normal lives upended. “There’s something kind of exciting and it kind of draws everybody together,” says Tom Skilling, top weather broadcaster for WGN in Chicago. “‘We’re about to go through this as a group and if we all deal with this together, we’ll get through this.’ Major weather events affect everybody, all ages, all demographic groups. And if it doesn’t happen too often, there’s a drawing together that goes on.”

That said, Skilling is not a big fan of these “gimmicky” words. He’s more of a #blizzardof2015 kind of guy. The fact that they’re so hyperbolic—clearly no one is taking a snowstorm as seriously as an apocalypse—makes them playful. And the fact that they’re playful might lead to people not taking dangerous weather events as seriously as they should, he says. “You’re dealing with an event in nature that really does have great consequence,” he says. “Sometimes we’re better off just dealing with facts.” (Then Skilling apologizes for being a killjoy.)

Here is a short selection of puns and plays on words the people are using to get themselves through this cold, dark time.

#snowbomb
#snowboken
#SnowCountryForOldMen
#SnowEndInSight
#snowghazi
#snowgate
#snowicane
#snowjam
#snowjob
#snowku (for haikus about the storm)
#snowlarvortex
#snowmageddon
#snownado
#SnowtoriousRex
#snowwhat

(Feel free to tweet the author with other puns to add.)

TIME world affairs

Why Will No One Let the Muslim World Be Secular?

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Zocalo Public Square is a not-for-profit Ideas Exchange that blends live events and humanities journalism.

We all attach a de facto religiosity to people’s actions in the region that make it impossible to develop secular identities in those states

Here we go again. Each time deranged terrorists invoking Islam strike in the West, alongside the mourning of the victims comes the heated debate over how the world’s Muslims should react to the attack.

Belligerent rightists demand that Muslims distance themselves from terrorists or be deemed their accomplices. Righteous leftists warn against bigotry and Islamophobia while affirming that Muslims, being overwhelmingly moderate people, have nothing to do with terrorism. And then you have the Bill Maher approach: urging Muslims to prove their overall moderation beyond simply condemning terrorism.

It is a truly bizarre ritual, this rush to assess whether Muslims en masse are moderate or terror-friendly; and, in either case, to what extent.

The absurdity of the exercise begins with the way mainstream western discourse defines “Muslims”: a monolithic compact of 1.6 billion people intensely adhering to a faith by mere virtue of geography. Labeling all North Africans and Middle Easterners pious Muslims is akin to assuming that everyone who lives in America, or Europe, is devoutly Christian. There is a difference between cultural heritage and religious obedience. Why would the notion of a “Christian world” be dubious and debatable, but that of a “Muslim world” never be questioned?

As a liberal Moroccan journalist, it was bad enough to have my state refuse me my freedom of conscience; it’s all the more galling when it is Western liberals who refuse me that right with their blanket paternalistic sentiments about what “those people” are like.

It’s no wonder the West has been quick to give up on, or forget, the liberal, cosmopolitan youth that fueled the Arab Spring of recent years – a demographic that hardly fits into the Western view that everyone in these countries is primarily characterized by religiosity.

Islam is not encoded in anyone’s DNA. Being religious is a personal choice, one that every individual is free to make—or not—as stated in the Universal declaration of Human Rights. As it happens, human rights (including freedom of belief) are widely denied to the 1.6 billion persons we’re talking about, by most of the governments they live under—as well as by the prejudices of well-meaning Western liberals who bend over backwards in their politically correct efforts to be understanding of “Muslim countries” and their ways. What well-meaning Westerners need to understand is the wide gap between Islam as it should be—a personal choice—and as it most often is—a set of pervasive constraints enforced by undemocratic States.

In all the countries where Islam is the religion of the State, merely criticizing the faith (let alone leaving it) is a criminal offense. In 2007, as the publisher of the Moroccan weekly magazine Nishan, I ran a cover story about popular humor in my country. Because the issue included jokes about Islam (harmless ones at that—the most notable one featured God assigning a deceased Muslim man of virtue to hell, before teasing him: “Smile, it’s the candid camera!”), copies of the magazine were publicly burnt by grimacing extremists, and my colleagues and I received hundreds of death threats. Yet instead of cracking down against the fanatics, the government prosecuted us for “damaging religious morals,” and banned the magazine for 3 months.

It’s not just about mandatory religiosity. In most “Muslim countries,” school curricula include inescapable religious classes at every grade, with disturbing teachings about the role of women (mainly to procreate and stay at home), the duty to “defend Islam” and “fight its enemies,” and so on. Grown-ups are not spared either, with omnipresent state media never losing a chance to hammer into them that Islam is the highest moral norm, and transnational Arab channels like Al-Jazeera engaging in constant “us-versus-them” rhetoric (“us” being Muslims and “them,” Westerns, of course). Even opposition parties (mostly made of Islamist groups) do nothing but double down on religious intransigence, hoping to outdo the—already bigoted—official institutions. In these conditions, the psychological pressure is such that opting out of Islam is unthinkable—or more accurately, unthought-of—for the vast majority of the people.

This is not to say that no one living in the swath of territory from Morocco to Indonesia adheres to Islam out of intimate conviction. Many obviously do. Yet as long as coercion isn’t replaced by freedom of choice, the extent to which these people can be truly identified with the Islamic faith is dubious. Flatly calling 1.6 billion people Muslims—even with the purpose of praising their moderation—only makes you the accomplice of their oppressors.

The same flawed assumptions are taking place in France. As a consequence of the horrendous Charlie Hebdo massacre perpetrated by local-born-and-bred religious fanatics, “French Muslims” are, once again, in the eye of the storm. Depending on the political sympathies of the commentator, they’re either guilty of moral association with terrorists or misunderstood moderates. But no one is letting them off the hook for their Muslimhood.

All sides of the debate presume that the five million citizens of North- and West-African descent, whose parents immigrated from former French colonies one or two generations ago, are Muslim. Many of these families are certainly religious by choice, but those who’d rather not be are afforded very little space to carry on with their secular lives—especially amidst so many well-meaning efforts to “understand” the immigrant communities’ “Muslim essence.” All this despite the fact that the French republic is supposedly blind to the religious affiliations of its citizens.

Secularism—actually, headscarf-banning laïcité, a more aggressive brand of it—is the cornerstone of modern France’s founding values. Alongside fine wines, exotic cheeses and relaxed sexual mores, its church-bashing culture (of which the slain Charlie Hebdo cartoonists were the proud flag-bearers) is one of France’s main staples. Any French intellectual would gasp in horror at the assertion that 60 millions of his fellow citizens are Christians, yet president François Hollande lumps together the other five million to refer to them as “Muslims” (who should not be conflated with terrorists, yes, we know).

French citizens of North- or West-African origin have attended the same schools as their native countrymen; and they studied Voltaire and the enlightenment age just as much as them. Unless we consider that ethnicity impacts mental processes (the definition of racism) there is no reason to believe that France’s citizens of color are less receptive than others to the proud teachings of the école républicaine laïque. Yet the country’s common discourse singles them out as a religious group. Liberté Egalité Fraternité? Not really.

Westerners are rightly concerned about the danger posed by Islamic radicalism, but anxiously assessing the commitment of more than a billion people to religious moderation doesn’t help in any way. All it does is deepen the—already profound—misunderstanding.

When it comes to Islamic terrorism, the worthy social debate is about the way to drain its breeding ground. My two cents: promoting secular democracy in the so-called Muslim countries (and please, no need to bomb them for that—empowering local liberals is enough) would be a good place to start.

Ahmed Benchemsi is the editor in chief of FreeArabs.com. He wrote this for Zocalo Public Square.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Culture

What Unemployed People Do With Their Time

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While most of unemployed people spend a sizable part of their day job-hunting, plenty of others seem to, well, futz around

Last September, after I got fired from what was painfully close to being my dream job, I was gripped by aimlessness, malaise, and more than a little self-loathing. I imagined myself jobless, penniless, and miserable for the rest of my days. Then, I decided to seize this less-than-shining, underemployed moment to pursue my dream of writing full-time (in my case, as a freelance culture, news, and lifestyle journalist).

Though I was nervous about taking the leap into a profession that’s notoriously competitive and unlucrative, I felt ready to try something new: to work from home on projects of my choosing, without a Big Boss breathing down my neck. I’m lucky to be semi-successful at the freelance thing, because losing or eschewing a traditional job doesn’t always unfold so smoothly for everyone, millennials included.

MORE Lessons I Learned From Getting Fired

Traditional jobs can be hard to come by for millennials — who are shaping up to be the most educated generation in history (but not the most employed; in 2014, 9.1 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds were unemployed). While the job market is picking up for many, that uptick isn’t necessarily helping millennials, for whom job security has been rocky throughout most of their adult lives. As Andrew Hanson, research analyst at Georgetown University, said back in July, “Young people are the first to be let go by companies in a recession and the last to be let back in.” As of July 2014, millennials made up a whopping 40 percent of America’s jobless masses (that equates to 4.6 million people, in case you’re curious).

As usual, the statistics for women lead to a more complicated narrative. For women 25 to 54, unemployment is 30%. The number of working women has climbed overall during the later part of the 20th century, but those numbers have been sinking since 2000, partially due to economic trends, but also to a recent rise in stay-at-home parenting. (Notably, in wealthier areas, like the Salt Lake City suburbs and the Upper East Side of New York City, rates of women working are lower than in other US regions.) Rates of female unemployment are also higher in more rural and poverty-stricken regions, of course, like the Deep South, Appalachia, Northern Michigan, and various locations in the middle of the country. (Education, or lack thereof, plays a major part.)

MORE Why Getting Pregnant Cost This Woman Her Paycheck

Plenty of American men are jobless, too (in November, 5.4 percent of men over the age of 20). Unemployed guys, reports The New York Times, work out less and feel that they have worse relationships with their families than when they were members of a workforce. Women, on the other hand, are “more likely to say that their health and their relationships with friends and family have improved since they stopped working.”

Maybe that’s because, according to this New York Times interactive that documents the average daily activities of 147 unemployed men and women aged 25-54, females tend to spend a lot more time doing housework and “caring for others” than their unemployed dude counterparts; women spend a whopping six hours on both, while men spend less than three each.

And though plenty of unemployed people spend a sizable part of their day job-hunting, plenty of others seem to, well, futz around. They tend to sleep more than their working peers (slightly more than an additional hour), and devote much more time to entertainment like TV and movies — especially the men. Out of the 65 people who spent more of their day watching movies and TV than doing anything else, 46 were men; only 19 were women. And both men and women sans jobs “spend about 1.5 times as much time socializing as the average employed person.”

MORE Why It’s So Hard To Make New Friends

The day-to-day lifestyles of the thousands of Americans eschewing traditional 9-5 workplaces — either by choice or necessity — look dramatically different from those with “normal” jobs, indeed. But as more millennials struggle to find and hold onto jobs in a competitive, overcrowded market, it seems likely that their everyday habits will be forced to evolve, whether that includes six hours of TV, socializing, traveling, care-taking or…something else altogether.

This article originally appeared on Refinery29.com.

TIME relationships

Investors Are Putting Millions Into ‘Tinder For Elitists’

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Modern Dating Getty Images

Unemployed need not apply

There’s a Tinder for dogs, a Tinder for Jews, and now… a Tinder for elitists.

Or, as The League creator Amanda Bradford prefers to describe the dating app that only allows a selective cohort of singles to join, “curated.”

“The best universities curate students,” Bradford said to Business Insider. “Employers curate their employees. Work and school are the top places where 20-somethings meet each other. So it makes sense for a dating community [as well.]”

And even though the power couple-making app is only in beta with 4,500 San Francisco-based users, The League just announced $2.1 million in investor funding Thursday.

“I was just going to raise a small seed round, but we had a bunch of interest and we went from $500,000 to $2.1 million almost overnight,” Bradford told Tech Crunch.

What are investors putting their money into?

The League is all about selectivity. Singles apply to join, and then wait for approval by administrators. While apps like Tinder, Hinge and Coffee Meets Bagel pulls user data from Facebook, The League also goes to LinkedIn to curate its community — largely made up of lawyers, doctors and tech execs.

Business Insider reports:

The acceptance algorithm that The League uses scans the social networks to ensure applicants are in the right age group and that they are career-oriented. That doesn’t mean they have to be Ivy graduates or work for a big-name firm. But they should have accomplished something in their 20s.

Those accepted not only get to check their 5 p.m. “happy hour” matches, but they also get a pass to refer a friend.

TIME society

My Neighborhood Doesn’t Need Football or Your Pity

Cars pass along Manchester Boulevard on Sept. 5, 2012 in the Los Angeles-area community of Inglewood, California.
Cars pass along Manchester Boulevard on Sept. 5, 2012 in the Los Angeles-area community of Inglewood, California. David McNew—Getty Images

Zocalo Public Square is a not-for-profit Ideas Exchange that blends live events and humanities journalism.

Inglewood, California is an economically diverse Latino and black city, with possibilities to deliver the American dream

To live in Inglewood is to have people make assumptions about you. Recently, people have been making assumptions about what a new pro football stadium, proposed by the owner of the NFL’s Rams, would mean for us. One such assumption now prevalent in the media is that we’ll embrace it, because we’re assumed to be economically desperate because Inglewood is “over 90 percent minority” (LA Times), “a largely low-income suburb” (the U.K.’s Independent), or a bad “neighborhood” (a characterization in movies back to Grand Canyon).

Inglewood, where I live and work, has 100,000 people. It is a city, not a neighborhood. Indeed, it, is made up of very different places. I grew up in Morningside Park, a middle-class neighborhood that borders the Forum and the Hollywood Park property where the stadium would be built. Morningside Park has nearly 10,000 homeowners. According to City Data, the median income in the ZIP code 90305 (which includes Morningside Park) is $65,000. The median income in California is $57,000.

That proximity to familiar landmarks is one reason why my family located here in 1974, before I was born My parents researched many communities and after not being allowed to view a house in Santa Monica—because they were black—they had a choice between a house in Carson or Inglewood. They chose Inglewood.

“The Forum is here, they have a hotel and it’s right by the airport,” my dad often said when asked how he and my mom came to own a home in Inglewood. There was also considerable pride: Morningside Park was one of the first black middle class neighborhoods in L.A., a destination beginning in the ’60s for people moving out of what was then called South Central and now is known as South L.A.

Growing up, I’m not sure I appreciated what a special place Inglewood was. I didn’t realize that not all black kids in Los Angeles enjoyed my carefree life: I rode my bike, did chores for a $10 weekly allowance, and danced around to cheesy ’80s tunes on the weekend. Only after going away to college at UC Riverside did I learn the extent to which people viewed Inglewood as scary.

In the 1990s, if you were Black and lived south of the 10 freeway (whether in Inglewood, Compton, Crenshaw or Watts), you were said to live in “South Central,” even if Central Avenue was on the other side of town. The regional term was code for “black” and living in a black neighborhood in Los Angeles County meant you lived where all the scary black gang members lived.

There was no allowance for diversity in blackness. Blackness was considered—and still is, to many—a personality type like being humorous or empathetic. In high school in Inglewood, I was Teka, “the weird poet girl with all kinds of fun ideas whose mom is the prettiest mom on the block.” In college, I was “the black girl from South Central.”

During my freshman year in the dorms, my roommate saw a picture of my parents and, shocked, said,“You have a dad!?” I guess black people don’t have dads.

I stopped saying I was from Inglewood and said I was from around the airport.

When people assumed Westchester, I just never bothered to correct them.

“You speak very well,” people would say. I was not used to being patronized and complimented for talking like a typical L.A. kid. I did not know how to respond in any way, so I remained silent. And when I did speak, I remained vague.

That is Inglewood’s story in a way. It doesn’t matter that our community is filled with writers and artists (I’m one of them—I came back after college and started a newspaper). Nor does it matter that the black people in Inglewood’s Morningside Park and Century Heights—which border the Forum—are homeowners and among the most highly educated African American populations in California. What matters is that we’re south of the 10 and so we must be in need.

The reality is that my neighbors aren’t happy about the prospect of living so close to a NFL stadium. That shouldn’t be surprising when one considers the traffic, noise, pollution, hassles, and history of communities next to big sports facilities. We’re also not happy about nonstop building in Inglewood – the stadium is part of a large redevelopment of the Hollywood Park property — with no concern for urban planning or the environment. We moved here because of the character of the community and to live in a residential neighborhood with single-family homes where kids can ride their bikes.

We also moved to Morningside Park because it was small and our neighbors said “Hello” to each other. We liked that my mom—who never learned to drive the L.A. freeways—could easily take her Datsun to get groceries and then pick me up from the local Catholic school.

My hope is that, with attention fixed on Inglewood, my neighborhood will finally be recognized as a gem, and that the assumptions people make about Inglewood will float away and people will see it as it truly is. Inglewood is an economically diverse Latino and black city, with some good and some bad. It is also a place that reliably delivered the American dream to my parents. Here a couple with typical jobs can afford to buy a house, raise a kid or two, and go on a few vacations.

Progress and change are not bad, but what good will come from building a football stadium that mostly sits empty? Corporatization of a city under the guise of concern for the community is neither future-minded nor progressive.

It’s the same old tale of “progress” being defined as black people being left with nothing more than the insecurity of jobs as security guards for the rich. Instead of protecting what’s here today, communities are maligned so that the city can “move forward” and bulldoze whatever must be bulldozed to create touristy entertainment. Because if it was black, it couldn’t have been much of anything, right?

It is long past time for people to stop making assumptions about Inglewood.

Teka-Lark Fleming is an Inglewood native. She publishes the Morningside Park Chronicle and is the producer and host its vlog MPC presents The Blk Grrrl Show. She wrote this for Zocalo Public Square.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

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