Friday Night Lights’ Ban Sparks Outrage After AI-Driven Decision in Iowa


  • AI’s role in book bans ignites debates on free speech and tech reliance in Mason City, IA. 
  • Author Bissinger challenges AI-driven ban, calls for human judgment in literary censorship.
  • Rising book bans in the U.S. likened to historic book burnings, highlighting alarming trends.

Controversy surrounds the Mason City school district following its decision to ban “Friday Night Lights” and 18 other books from its libraries. The move, prompted by an AI tool’s recommendations, has ignited debates about freedom of speech, the essence of literature, and the potential risks of over-relying on technology in decision-making processes.

AI’s role in literature censorship

The Mason City school district turned to ChatGPT, a sophisticated AI software, to identify books that might violate a new state law signed by Gov. Kim Reynolds in May. This law prohibits material containing “descriptions or visual depictions of a sex act.” As a result, revered titles such as “The Color Purple” by Alice Walker, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” by Maya Angelou, and “The Kite Runner” by Khaled Hosseini also faced the axe.

Defending the district’s reliance on AI, Bridgette Exman, the assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction, emphasized the balance between obligations. “We do have a legal and ethical obligation to comply with the law,” she said in an email to PopSci, hinting at the challenges of manually reviewing every title.

Author’s retort to the ban

H.G. “Buzz” Bissinger, the celebrated author behind the 1990 classic “Friday Night Lights,” didn’t hold back in his response. His book, which chronicles high school football in Texas, has inspired a TV series, and a movie, and has been a beloved read for over three decades.

“The tragedy is, this is a great book for kids,” Bissinger remarked. The author voiced his frustration at his book’s “false depiction” as inappropriate for children. He stressed the positive feedback he has received from young readers, especially teenage boys, over the years.

Bissinger highlighted the broader issue: “The idea that this book has been banned is totally against what our society is and should be, freedom of speech and the ability of kids to choose what they want to read.”

AI decision faces criticism

ChatGPT’s decision regarding “Friday Night Lights” has received particular backlash since, according to Bissinger, his book contains “no sex at all.” The author criticized the district’s heavy reliance on AI, branding the decision-makers as “pathetic,” “a danger,” and “complete idiots.” 

“Why don’t you read the book first and then make up your mind? Instead, you rely on AI?” Bissinger challenged in his conversation with the Globe Gazette, pointing out the pitfalls of trusting AI without human judgment.

A disturbing trend in literature

The decision in Mason City is part of a larger national trend, with book bans skyrocketing. According to the American Library Association, there were a staggering 1,269 attempts to challenge literary material in 2022, a significant increase from the previous year. Groups like Moms for Liberty and certain Republican leaders have championed these bans, rallying under the banner of “parental rights.”

Drawing a parallel to darker times in history, Bissinger warned of the dangers of such censorship. “It is similar to the book burnings in Nazi Germany,” he commented, urging readers to reflect on the kind of society they wish to shape.

While technology offers various tools to assist in administrative decision-making, the Mason City controversy underscores the importance of human judgment, especially in areas as nuanced as literature. Balancing legal obligations with cultural enrichment and freedom of expression remains a challenge, but the hope is that such incidents will inspire more thoughtful approaches.

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Editah Patrick

Editah is a versatile fintech analyst with a deep understanding of blockchain domains. As much as technology fascinates her, she finds the intersection of both technology and finance mind-blowing. Her particular interest in digital wallets and blockchain aids her audience.

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