PEN America has published a report on the rise of books being banned in public schools.
Book bans in public schools have recurred throughout American history, and have long been an issue of concern to PEN America, as a literary and free expression advocacy organization. Over the past nine months, the scope of such censorship has expanded rapidly. In response, PEN America has collated an Index of School Book Bans, offering a snapshot of the trend. The Index documents decisions to ban books in school libraries and classrooms in the United States from July 1, 2021 to March 31, 2022.
The report also highlighted the disproportionate targeting of books by or about people whose identities and stories have traditionally been underrepresented in children’s and young adult literature, such as people of color, LGBTQ+ individuals, or persons with disabilities.
Particularly concerning is that, in a change from the past,
there is a growing trend of elected officials going extremist.
State and local legislature bans amounts to censorship.
Of all bans listed in the Index, 41% (644 individual bans) are tied to directives from state officials or elected lawmakers to investigate or remove books in schools. This is an unprecedented shift in PEN America’s long history of responding to book bans, from the more typical pattern in which demands for book removals are initiated by local community members. As noted below, book banning, as a form of censorship, implicates First Amendment prohibitions on the ability of government entities to ban or punish expression, making these documented efforts by lawmakers all the more concerning.
The PEN America report on schools banning books in the United States.
Not as alarming, it is an international company and foreign to
the U.S., but troublesome all the same is WEBTOON’s rather
fuzzy standards for creators of web comics posted there.
Many creators are drawn to webcomics portals that allow them to upload their comics, tag them, and let the website’s algorithm decide who should see it. The biggest of these portals, with over 72 million active users as of November 2021, is WEBTOON, where anyone can make an account and start posting comics to the Canvas portion of the platform. And yet, some creators are growing frustrated with how they believe WEBTOON censors mature content on Canvas: arbitrarily, without warning or proper communication, and in direct contradiction to their own stated policies.
On the surface, it seems straightforward: as an app, WEBTOON is beholden to the restrictions of the App Store, and as a Google AdSense partner it is also beholden to those policies as well. Canvas creators taking part in WEBTOON’s adshare program are required to follow the AdSense guidelines. The Google AdSense publishing policy says no sexually explicit acts and no “cartoon porn”, while the App Store’s guidelines prohibit “explicit descriptions or displays of sexual organs or activities intended to stimulate erotic rather than aesthetic or emotional feelings.”
The problem is that these definitions seem open to interpretation. Obscenity has been famously defined as “you know it when you see it,” and obscenity in comics is no exception. WEBTOON Canvas creators have reported seeing their comics removed for suggestive sound effects, low-cut tops on busty women, and even cartoon cherub butts. Comics about mermaids are especially prone to censorship, as the classic mermaid shell bra is considered partial nudity, and even highly stylized and simplified cartoon breasts are too close to the line for WEBTOON’s content moderators.