The following piece was written for Writing 2202: Winning Your Argument – Rhetorical Strategy in a Visual Age course at Western University. It was submitted in partial fulfillment of the final project. You are more than welcome to use the information provided here by correctly citing the source; however, you may not use or submit this for an assignment.
Censorship both in media and politics has always been around, and the controversy associated with it has been one of the most discussed topics. The growth of services such as social media, blogging platforms, and video sharing websites in the past decades have given the public the opportunity to share their opinion more freely and constantly. The real motivation behind censorship on the Web is no different than that of the censorship implied to the traditional publications. Its sole purpose is to either silence an idea or hide an opponent’s point of view from the public.
Although content censorship is very easy on the Web, the result is very ineffective since the Web serves as a barrier for enforcing censorship. First of all, there is no magnitude on which the censorable content is determined. Secondly, it is very difficult to completely eliminate the content from the Web once it is posted. Thirdly, the act of censorship itself motivates individuals to seek further inquiries about the censored subject, and therefore, it should be avoided.
People Love Sharing
With all the freedom of speech on the Web, people are under the assumption that they are able to share and express their opinions without any restrictions. They expect to be able to express their views on social and political events freely and without being questioned or prosecuted. However, the act of censorship is many cases have been observed both at the personal and social levels.
What makes it censorable?
One study shows that the “support for censorship [of violence] was higher among mothers and parents of younger children, and marginally higher among older parents” (Hoffner and Buchanan 241). Another study assessed through a random digit dialing survey of adults shows that “substantial majorities (71-77%) supported censoring sexually violent media, about half (47-54%) supported censoring nonsexual violent media, and about one-third supported censoring nonviolent sexually explicit movies and videotapes” (Fisher, Cook and Shirkey 229).
Consequently, these studies show that among ordinary people violence and erotic contents are two of most important factor for supporting censorship. However, there are no guidelines on deciding what determines a censorable content. Back to the question of what defines a censorable content, let’s look at the data published as part of the “Transparency Report” by Google Inc. regarding the number of removal requests made by governments to Google services.
Figure 1.0 shows the frequency of removal requests made to Google products. It can be seen that products such as Google’s web search service are targeted by governments around the world. However, the majority of removal requests from December 2010 to December 2012 were made to Blogger, Google’s blogging platform and YouTube, its video-sharing website.
Now let’s look at the reason behind these removal requests:
Figure 1.1 shows that “defamation” accounts for almost half of these removal requests followed by “privacy and security”, “adult content” and “government criticism”. When in fact “violence”, “suicide promotions” and “bullying/harassment” is responsible for a minor portion of these removal requests. This demonstrates that the majority of content removal is not based on public safety but rather political reasoning.
It Is Always There
The web does not differentiate contents based on their accuracy and correctness, and even false information can circulate among thousands of people. The Washington Post highlights how easy it is for false information to go viral by having a “What was fake on the Internet this week” column to prove that “there is so much fake stuff on the Internet in any given week that we’ve grown tired of debunking it all” (Dewey). For instance, they mention the story of a Florida woman who claimed she’d had a third breast implanted. The story exploded the Internet only to be found that it a hoax.
The same principles apply to Bloggers, where the content can be archived online, or downloaded and accessed by readers even if Google removes it. On the other hand, there are alternative ways for an individual to express his/her thoughts if they are being censored as a result of website administrations.
As discussed, there is no specific guideline to determine what should be censored, so one website’s description of a censorable material is different from another website. With more than two billion blog posts being published every day, there is no easy way to identify the source of the original post and be able to delete that content fully. One can simply select an alternative route and still publish it on the web.
People are Curious
Considering the example where the photo of Chelsea Handler is removed from Instagram because it did not follow the community guidelines, it never stopped individuals from accessing that photo. Handler immediately expressed her concern about this matter on Twitter and provoked individual’s interest in viewing the censored picture.
The graph displays the interest over time for the keyword “Chelsea Handler” which is searched on Google search service. It clearly shows that during the incident which took place at the end of October to the beginning of November 2014, the number of users who searched for this term increased exponentially.
To censor the web, to take control of individual’s freedom, to decide what is wrong and what is right and to repress someone’s opinion is practically impossible
Sharing of information on the web is becoming a habit for individuals, thousands of content are being published every second, which makes content censorship ineffective. Censorship is a futile attempt to keep the web silence, not only because it is very difficult to determine which content needs to be censored but also because the censorable content may be accessed through different routes and censorship itself simply encourage people to share the censored subject.
- Dewey, Caitlin. “What Was Fake on the Internet This Week: Everything, Basically.” Washington Post. The Washington Post, 26 Sept. 2014. Web. 28 Nov. 2014.
- Fisher, Randy D., Ida J. Cook, and Edwin C. Shirkey. “Correlates of Support for Censorship of Sexual, Sexually Violent, and Violent Media.” Journal of Sex Research 31.3 (1994): 229-30. Web.
- Hoffner, Cynthia, and Martha Buchanan. “Parents’ Responses to Television Violence: The Third-Person Perception, Parental Mediation, and Support for Censorship.” Media Psychology 4.3 (2002): 240-41. Web.
- “Intellectual Freedom and Censorship Q & A.” American Library Association. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Nov. 2014.
- “Statistics.” YouTube. YouTube, n.d. Web. 30 Nov. 2014.
- “Total Number of Websites.” Internet Live Stats. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Nov. 2014.
- Worchel, Stephen, Susan E. Arnold, and Michael Baker. “The Effects of Censorship and Attractiveness of the Censor on Attitude Change.” Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 9.4 (1973): 227-39. Web.