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Internet Censorship

- Monday, October 14, 2019

Should I be Concerned About Internet Censorship?
The eternal argument about if censorship happens is dangerously close to good-for-nothing. The more productive discussion- one that needs to be kept alive- is the one about how censorship can happen, how it can affect us, and what we can do about it.

What is in our power- within reason? What can we do right now, today, without a huge investment of resources? What can one person do that will actually matter?

How concerned should I be?

The information age is an era rife with choices, pressures, dead end ideas, indecision and anxiety. The last thing we need is to add stress about censorship to our daily lot. I propose we exercise awareness instead of concern. I propose we take the actions that are manageable, and make peace with the fact we are doing what we can.

This is both a state of being and an act of doing. We become a pillar for the power of truth by understanding the strategies and motives that drive censorship, a pillar that upholds authenticity and stands against corrupted ideas.

The Problems We Face

Society is moving at a pace too fast to keep up with, and we the people feel we must hurry, or be left behind. The pressure makes immediate accessto information feel like a godsend as well as something we can’t live without. How quickly the times change. Convenience, rather than quality, is becoming the standard for information for internet users.

Everybody is competing for your attention on the web, reaching out with their key words, catchy titles, and alluring thumbnails. Your attention is valuable to them, and their information is valuable to you. It seems likea fair and economical exchange, and it should be, but the fact remains that fairness and freedom can be compromised.

Exclusive control overwhat internet users can say, and what they will be exposed to, can be had by those with certain resources, like wealth and political influence.Its a process that almost always comes with the argument that info is being censored for legal or ethical reasons. Here aretwo ways that it happens:

-Removing, altering or obscuring the information of competitors

-Removing, altering or obscuring information that contradicts the information you want people to believe

Censorship is, in essence, an act of obscuring or omitting powerful information. It can affect a single word or phrase, or an entire publication. A small omission can turnan idea into a whole separate idea. The ability to make such omissions can take the power of truthand intent out of the hands of internet users.

The power of knowledge is based on how accurate it is, and how understandable the important parts are. Biased or short sighted information is less valuable. It is the ethical responsibility of content creators to be as credible as possible, because bad information warps our world view into one that limits us.It is up to us to hold them to this standard, and reject their claims if they cannot rise to meet them. We are our own first and last line of defense.

The following definitions of censorship give us some ideas about how to describe censorship. As the comparison illustrates, even official definitions can be incongruent.

Oxford:

Censorship: The suppression or prohibition of any parts of books, films, news, etc, that are considered obscene, politically unacceptable, or a threat to security.

I find it curious that this mentions books, films and news, but it doesn’t mention the internet. Isn’t the fact that censorship can happen online important? A huge oversight, but hey, maybe the definition hasn’t been updated sincebefore the internet.

Merriam Webster:

Censor: To examine in order to suppress or delete anything considered objectionable.

Concise and sensible, saying more in fewer words. By being more general, it encourages us to explore the far reaching impact of censorship. I also think objectionable is a term more conducive to understanding that censorship can be done for good and bad reasons.

We don’t need anybody to tell us what the definition means. We need pure, unadulterated information. This comparison demonstrates how multiple sources are more reliable than one. They keep each other honest.

This comparison demonstrates how convenient information can be lower quality information. The Oxford definition just so happens to be the most accessible one to anybody with an internet connection- its the first one that pops up on Google.

The best understanding of an idea comes from comparing multiple explanations, and taking the simple and sensible bits so you can tell yourself what you think it all means.

Another standard that can compromise quality is popularity. When popular ideas are convenient, and convenient ideas are popular, limiting ideas can seem appealing and empowering ones can seem...well, inconvenient and unpopular.

If you’ve ever been the defender of an unpopular argument that you felt strongly about, you’ve felt the unfairness in such a fight. You can’t win, even when you have the more valid point.

If you’ve ever ridiculed an unpopular idea, only to see its value later, you’ve experienced first hand how popular opinions can make us blind to what should be painfully obvious.

Making objectionable ideas inaccessible and unpopular is what censorship does. It obscures them, letting less controversial ideas take their place, so the ones somebody labeled problematic are hard to find, and even harder to spread.

We need to be unrestrained in what we view and what we say. We need to be able to talk about what we can do for others to make a good life for ourselves. We need to be able to talk about the ideas that are important to us, and our ideas need to be just as accessible as other relevant ideas.

Twitter and YouTube are increasingly enforcing a Hate Policy that punishes people for posting ideas they find objectionable. However they word it, it is still just a more scenic route to the same place. Read more about it here.

As always, the process comes with the argument that its being done for ethical reasons. Honestly, it comes with a pretty noble sounding cause. I refuse to get involved- I refuse to pass judgment on their handling of the matter. I do suggest, though, that we recognize the dangerous possibilities.

They have control of the value of ideas, a control that could become proprietary. If we depend on them, and don’t pay attention to what they do, we’re giving them all of the permission they need to do as they please- at the expense of access to valuable information.

Protecting the Power the Internet Offers

We must foster an ever growing awareness to the threat of censorship, to protect ourselves from its effects. This is a manageable but very important commitment that impacts our personal lives and the value of the internet itself. The following tenets can be building blocks to a more responsible attitude.

We owe it to ourselves to slow down, where we can, whenever we can, and not make convenience our top priority for information.

If you aren’t actively looking for a piece of information, a good way to vet it is to ask why somebody wants you to believe it.

Defending the right to have an unpopular opinion is defending free speech, not only on the internet, but in every form of communication.

There are always other platforms, other pages, other sources, other points of view- even other mediums. Don’t rely on any single source, or even the internet alone.

Don’t rely on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, or Instagram for exchanging information. They are useful tools, but if we’re dependent on them, they can control the quality of our information.

Cross reference ideas and check sources, before acting on ideas or spouting them off. Why not demand valid information? The quality of your knowledge is in your hands.


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