The Danger of Online Censorship

If you’ll recall, the internet used to be somewhat free of censorship, back before anyone realized how powerful it would become. It’s all relative of course, but it was harder to control online information than it was to control print media and television reporting. Things seem to be really changing now, unfortunately.

Online censorship has been all over the news over the past year. With the latest reports of Myanmar/Burma cutting off internet access to help quash a rebellion, we’re seeing how critical the internet has become. Censorship seems to be a governmental response to something that, otherwise, they really have absolutely no idea how to handle.

I have never been a fan of censorship. It’s incredibly dangerous to mask other points of view, even if those ideas are themselves dangerous. Removing access to information of any sort tends to have the effect of simply making people flip out like ninjas and find alternate methods of doing whatever it is they want to do anyway. Preventing people from doing what they want usually opens up avenues that can be used for worse things as well…

You may not even think much about censorship if it’s never happened to you personally. That makes you really lucky actually. I remember how my brother refused his first place award in an arts competition because the arts committee had refused to showcase a painting of, gasp, a NAKED WOMAN. Naturally, the artist who had painted the censored work still felt the need to accept the 3rd place prize that he won for another painting he’d done that had not been censored. This, sadly, is typical. Most people just don’t give a damn.

Here’s why you should care though: censorship restricts basic human rights for people to express themselves. It prevents us from gaining access to opinions that we may never have considered, and shuts down our own growth as rational human beings. So what if we see the Piss Christ photo? Some consider it to be blasphemy, suggestive of society literally pissing on religion in disdain for it. Others see it as simply a representation of what society has done to religion. These are very different points of view, but both valid. Why is discussion about this so bad then?

Think about the censorship of books. In Charlotte, NC awhile back, there was an outrage over a book that had two male penguins raising a young penguin together. Obviously this was going to make homosexuals out of every kid who read it, so parents had to act. I guess no one thought about the fact that, if a book about penguins made a homosexual out of a kid, that kid simply might be gay anyway. Why would we ever think that an idea could alter our very nature? And, if it did, why is that so frightening?

J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye was censored, as were Joseph Heller’s Catch-22, Alice Walker’s The Color Purple, John Steinbeck’s East of Eden (along with just about everything else he wrote), John Knowles’ A Separate Peace, and probably at least 50 other books that you read and loved. What if you’d never been allowed to read these? You’d still encounter the so-called outrageous themes they presented somewhere else in your life. Would it wreck you? I doubt it.

Boycotting something you don’t like is just fine with me. As a big lefty, I will jump on a boycott like a hobo on a ham sandwich. I boycott several things, from candy apples (they’ll yank your teeth right out!) to Domino’s Pizza, simply because I don’t like things that they’ve done. In fact, there’s not much I love more than a good boycott. Censorship is not ok. Some people love candy apples. Obviously they’re insane though. Some people eat Domino’s Pizza (not giving them a link due to the aforementioned boycott). That’s fine with me. If everyone thought the way I do, the world would be a boring (and utterly terrifying) place. We’d all sit around eating cheese dip, watching Father Ted, and listening to Wire. Bo-ring.

So pay attention to what’s going on with online censorship. It’s every bit as dangerous as every other form of censorship. The Electronic Frontier Foundation has a great site devoted to what’s going on with online censorship. They also have a cool name that sounds like they’d do some Kraftwerk-style synth music, but somehow I don’t quite think that they do. More’s the pity.

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