As you know I’m in Australia and am reading about the uptake of site censorship by Optus. This sets a scary precedent, no? This is a topic that has been close to my heart for many years. I wrote an essay all about censorship in China during my Masters which was in…2002 (wow! has it been that long?). I see the issue as serious, urgent and largely ignored by most of the world, mainly those as yet unaffected. This has got to change. There must be discussion.
This post is not about offering a solution, not about posting an opinion or claiming to have any of the answers. It’s just about opening up the conversation.
What the problem is:
It’s a moral issue and a political issue. Some countries want to ban things that are considered against the culture or ethics of their country. Western countries are talking about censorship mainly for nasty adult sites that I won’t mention here because they’re too horrible for words. Clearly we don’t want these around and we certainly don’t want to encourage them or even have them available. The problem is that if you censor any site at all, you set a dangerous precedent. Maybe the police should get involved and shut those down at their end, without Internet censorship actually occurring. But this is a simplistic solution to a very complicated problem.
Who decides which sites should be banned?
Governments decide which sites are deemed inappropriate and these can range from Wikipedia to music sites. I’ve always felt it was wrong to judge what a county’s culture should be, who are we outsiders with little knowledge of their culture to judge anyway? The problem is that if this happens online, it is ruining the freedom of speech and interchange of communication that is the spirit of the online community. There are a whole load of other issues here, but I won’t cover them, you could write a book on it. Should people vote on which sites should be banned? Who enforces this, and how is it done fairly? There are so many questions.
Which countries are affected?
The “Committee to protect journalists” published a list of the Top 10 worst countries to be a blogger. In that list you will find Burma, Iran, Syria, Cuba, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam, Tunisia, China, Turkmenistan and Egypt.
“…governments are quickly learning how to turn technology against bloggers by censoring and filtering the Internet, restricting online access and mining personal data. When all else fails, the authorities simply jail a few bloggers to intimidate the rest of the online community into silence or self-censorship.”
A long debated issue is whether search engines should ban certain results. One commonly used example is the sites you can find about making bombs or about how to kill yourself for example. Should those sites be in there? Certainly I am quite unhappy about those being available because they’re plain negative. If search engines drop those though, that’s censorship right? How is that different to government censorship? What precedence does it set?
Recently in Oz:
“Senator Nick Xenophon previously indicated he may support a filter that blocks online gambling websites but in a phone interview today he withdrew all support, saying “the more evidence that’s come out, the more questions there are on this”
“The Communications Minister, Stephen Conroy, has consistently ignored advice from a host of technical experts saying the filters would slow the Internet, block legitimate sites, be easily bypassed and fall short of capturing all of the nasty content available online.”
“A recent survey by Netspace of 10,000 of the ISP’s customers found 61 per cent strongly opposed mandatory internet filtering with only 6.3 per cent strongly agreeing with the policy.”
(All quotes are from The Sunday Morning Herald)
The blacklist is 1370 sites strong but is going to be expanded to 10,000. As they say though, these fiters do not stop any of that censored information being passed on via peer-to-peer networks, email and so on.
“According to author Marjorie Heins (Not in Front of the Children: Indecency,” Censorship, and the Innocence of Youth) because obscenity laws do not allow children to learn to confront and deal with real-world issues, they make them vulnerable to these issues in later life. As a result, she says, these laws end up doing young people more harm than good.” (CyberCollege)
“…when secretary of state for culture Andy Burnham says he wants to tighten up online control of content and adds that the government may have been too quick in accepting the notion that the internet was “beyond legal reach”, there is little public outcry about the impact this will have on freedom of expression.” (The Guardian - more from the Guardian here)
“There is unquestionably a vast amount of material on the Internet that is unsuitable for children and that is a serious problem. However, censorship legislation that treats all adults as if they were children is not only an infringement of adults’ freedom, it condemns today’s children to a future in which they are treated as if they are still children. That is also a serious problem.” (Libertus)
Can we control what’s on the Internet? Should we control it? How does this affect the future? Is it necessary? How can it be done sensibly and fairly? Is there even a solution? What is wrong, what is right? Who is to decide? What do you think?