While burning books have been a practice going as far back as 213 BC, it is not something that can be done with digitally published works. In that regard, platforms simply remove and ban content that violates community guidelines and ban individuals from posting. Nevertheless, in means of less drastic measures, many states and counties have leaned into banning books from the public education systems that cross their conservative views. Book banning, in this case, has risen in practice over the years. As of this year, there was even a book burning in Tennessee back in February where a pastor burned Harry Potter and Twilight books.
Banned and Censored
To combat this censorship, many digital media platforms like OverDrive and Scribd have taken measures to ensure these banned books are still available. For example, doing events like banned book week. However, as of this year, Hoopla and OverDrive have removed books centering around what can be construed as hateful content and misinformation. Hoopla CEO Jeff Jankowski states, “Due to the hateful nature of these specific titles, I have no regrets about having our team remove them from hoopla.” Then he says, “I must acknowledge that this situation highlights a complex issue that Libraries have always faced in curating their collections — avoiding a culture of censorship.”
OverDrive CEO Steve Potash has not made any comments.
The removal came about through librarian suggestions and assistance from the Library Freedom Project. The demand to remove books on behalf of librarians who found them offensive is a paradoxical and inconsistent practice in digital platforms designed to be unbiased in the variety of curated viewpoints held. This is why Scribd continuously has a wide range of voices as a digital library. Ryan Holiday, who partnered with Trip Adler, CEO of Scribd, to make banned books more available, even says:
“America has a lot of problems but people reading books is not one of them. I’m appalled by this campaign to ban or remove books from school libraries and as a bookseller, it’s my obligation to do something about it.”https://goodereader.com/blog/electronic-readers/freedom-of-speech-book-banning-in-2022
It is also why the American Library Association’s (ALA) Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF) fights to defend the “freedom to speak, the freedom to publish, and the freedom to read, as promised by the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States.”
However, as of recent hate crimes like that of the shooting in Buffalo, New York, the shooter allegedly published a manifesto citing the “Great Replacement Theory” that was recently removed from online platforms. While it wasn’t published on any digital publishing platforms or libraries, a new law is emerging out of Texas that could later be used to affect digital American publishing platforms. The law is currently known as H.B. No. 20, it prevents censorship of Texans on prominent social media platforms in spite of the potential to incite violence through radical views.
The law would fall in line with the America Library Association’s Library Bill of Rights, where the first three rights are:
I. Books and other library resources should be provided for the interest, information, and enlightenment of all people of the community the library serves. Materials should not be excluded because of the origin, background, or views of those contributing to their creation.
II. Libraries should provide materials and information presenting all points of view on current and historical issues. Materials should not be proscribed or removed because of partisan or doctrinal disapproval.
III. Libraries should challenge censorship in the fulfillment of their responsibility to provide information and enlightenment.
In the future, this could protect books like God is Bigger than Covid by Frances Deanes and A New Nobility of Blood and Soil by Richard Walther Darré. Books that were removed from Hoopla and OverDrive, world distributors of digital content for libraries and schools, due to the nature of their content.
Error Code 404
According to Rebecca Knuth, an author on book burnings and the destruction of libraries, books are targeted because they “are the embodiment of ideas and if you hold extreme beliefs, you cannot tolerate anything that contradicts those beliefs or is in competition with them.” While the books that are being censored aren’t being burned or banned from these platforms because of opposing ideas, they are being censored for promoting radical thought and presumably extremist actions like that of the shooter in Buffalo, N. Y. resulting in missing or deleted webpages—error code 404.
This could signify a new road for rules and regulations in screening works for digital library spaces and platforms in America and for what should be censored on public platforms, affecting all authors alike. Should public digital media platforms adhere to unbiased curated content like Scribd, and soon most major social media platforms, or should certain content be screened for and removed as OverDrive and Hoopla have done?