Internet censorship is the ability to restrict specific websites or online content from being viewed. It may come in the form of an edit, regulation, or law issued by the government. It could also occur privately is an ISP objects to the content that certain individuals wish to view.
The advantage of allowing internet censorship is that content which is violent, obscene, or dangerous can be immediately blocked. This protects children from inadvertently viewing content that could be scary or harmful to them, such as the murder and decapitation videos which have made their way to sites like Facebook and Twitter in recent years.
The disadvantage is obvious: internet censorship is a restriction on a person’s ability to view the content they wish to see, when they wish to see it.
Here are some additional internet censorship pros and cons to discuss.
What Are the Pros of Internet Censorship?
1. It creates the chance to set common sense limits.
There are some things that just aren’t part of what a society would deem to be healthy. A simple search right now on an unfiltered public search can provide anyone with access to numerous videos that purport to show real murders in progress. High-profile cases, such as the murders of Alison Parker and Adam Ward, were broadcast on-air and then a first-person video of the event made its way through social circles afterwards. Restricting this content sets a common-sense limit on the content that van be viewed.
2. It limits access to harmful activities.
There are dark areas of the internet where anything goes right now. Access to illicit drugs, sex trafficking, human trafficking, and child pornography can be accessed with relative ease by those who seek out such things. By restricting content that can be accessed, it limits the opportunities that predators can create to reach out to find new victims.
3. It could lessen the impact of identity theft.
One of the fastest growing crimes in the world today is identity theft. NBC News reports that more US citizens were victims of identity theft in 2016 than any year before. More than 15.4 million reports of identity theft were compiled by Javelin Strategy and Research, which reflects a 16% increase in the total number of reports from 2015 figures. Restricting content that would allow identity information to be easily shared could lessen the impact that identity theft causes to a society.
4. It may provide a positive impact on national security.
Although hacking will occur no matter what internet censorship laws may be in place, by creating internet censorship regulations with strict and mandatory penalties for a violation, it could become possible to reduce the number of hacking incidents that occur. That could have a positive impact on national security because the restrictions would possibly prevent alleged incidents like what occurred during the 2016 US Presidential election.
5. It stops fake news.
Claims of fake news increased dramatically in 2017. Fake news websites promote false reports for money through clicks because readers think the news is real. Internet censorship would provide another level of discernment which could possibly stop divisive incidents that are based on events that never occurred.
What Are the Cons of Internet Censorship?
1. Who watches the watchers?
Even if internet censorship is directly supervised and ethically maintained, someone somewhere is deciding on what is acceptable and what is not acceptable for society to see online. At some level, someone does not have anyone to whom they report regarding their censorship decisions. With that kind of power, one individual could influence society in whatever way they chose without consequence.
2. It stops information.
Although fake information can be restricted through internet censorship, so can real information. According to the World Economic Forum, 27% of all internet users live in a country where someone has been arrested for content that they have shared, published, or simply liked on Facebook. 38 different countries made arrests based solely on social media posts in 2016.
3. It is a costly process.
According to research from Darrell West, VP and Director of Governance Studies and the founding director of the Center for Technology Innovation at Brookings, internet shutdowns cost countries $2.4 billion in 2015. The decision to cut connectivity in Egypt came at a cost of $90 million. Censoring content is costly and it will come at the expense of taxpayers.
4. It provides a negative economic impact.
What happens if a business has their website blocked because it doesn’t meet an arbitrary standard of “goodness”? Allowing the government or some other entity to declare what is “good” or “bad” for the internet can have a dramatic economic impact at the local level. If a business cannot promote themselves online or sell their goods on an e-commerce platform, then they are placed in a disadvantageous state compared to industry competitors who would be allowed to sell online.
5. It shifts where responsibilities lie.
If the government is dictating what individuals can see online, then people are no longer as responsible for the decisions they make. It cedes that control over to the government. Once that control is ceded, it becomes easier to cede more control over responsibility because the action was normalized.
6. It prevents individuals from accessing a freedom of expression.
A free internet allows individuals to post what they want. It gives them the chance to freely express their thoughts, opinions, and views. Laws may already exist in many jurisdictions that would allow for the prosecution of individuals who share illegal content already, such as child pornography, so placing additional restrictions would simply create another layer of bureaucracy.
7. A lack of truth leads to ignorance.
In 1984 by George Orwell, people in this dystopian environment are kept under tight control so that specific societal results can occur. Once people in this society begin to discover love, they discover truth. That truth prevents them from living in ignorance. With internet censorship, there is a lack of truth which exists in such a policy. That means there is a societal ignorance in place that a ruling party could attempt to control.
8. It limits entrepreneurial opportunities.
In a world of internet censorship, entrepreneurs would be forced to have their ideas approved by an oversight committee, board, or individual instead of pursuing the idea immediately on their own. If a business in the same industry as the entrepreneur has enough wealth or influence, they could potentially restrict the entrepreneur from pursuing their opportunity. Such an action would limit innovation in many sectors.
These internet censorship pros and cons show us that what can be used for good can also be used for selfish intent. Who do you think should determine if content is inappropriate? Should it be a government, an oversight committee, or yourself?