Censorship is defined as the suppression of speech, public communication, or other information, on the basis that such material is considered objectionable, harmful, sensitive, or “inconvenient” as determined by a government or private institution. Internet censorship can be further defined as the control or suppression of what can be accessed, published, or viewed on the Internet enacted by regulators, or on their own initiative. Basically, censorship ensures that we only see what we are allowed to see. While many people criticize the whole concept of censorship, it is sometimes a necessary evil. It can be used to protect innocent people when they have been violated in some way, as well as being used to keep the peace during periods of political unrest.
The levels of censorship can differ massively from country to country. For example, the United States of America and the United Kingdom are fairly liberal, so the number of web pages that are blocked to the public are relatively low. In countries like Saudi Arabia, the number of blocked web pages rockets. While the grounds for why certain countries have such different viewpoints on censorship is not entirely clear, it can often be broken down into four deciding factors — political, social, conflict and internet tools.
Political censorship often refers to blocking the web pages that include or promote views that are different to the respective countries policies. Social censorship is often used to limit the about of provocative or illegal activities that are shown in a country where this is deemed offensive. Conflict is fairly obvious, as this is always in relation to counties attitudes and relationships with one another, while internet tools is linked to instant messaging services. While these levels of censorship might sound intense, other countries have even harsher laws about what is publicly available to their residence. For instance, in Myanmar, the government has allegedly introduced Internet cafés that are kept under surveillance with computers that automatically take screenshots every few minutes. Over in China, they have introduced a new and advanced filtering system known internationally as the Great Firewall of China. It can search new Web pages and restrict access in real time. Cuba has actually gone further than this and has banned private Internet access completely — to get on the Internet, you have to go to a public access point.
However, censorship isn’t limited to the internet. In 2007, AT&T sparked outrage when they censored the band Pearl Jam. Pearl Jam were performing a cover of a Pink Floyd song “another brick in the wall” when they changed some of the lyrics to make fun of former president, George Bush. The added lyrics were cut-out of the song before it was webcast to the public. AT&T have since said that removing the lyrics was a mistake and that they should not have done it in the first place.
Instead of full censorship, many western and industrialized countries, along with developing countries and undemocratic regimes, are using software that encourages web filter censorship. Web filter censorship is often known as internet filtering, as is on the rise across the globe. This software is used to prevent the different users from accessing or getting onto web pages that can contain unsafe, illegal or inappropriate content.
Internet filtering is often met with a much warmer response that full censorship, as people feel that these new tools and software products are a protective measure, rather than a controlling one. They can rest assured that their children are not going to stumble upon some damaging materials, and so as a community they feel safer. It is important, however, to note that you cannot please everyone. There are still many people who view this as a violation of their right to access free and true information.
While everyone can agree that keeping children and younger members of the community safe will never be viewed as negative, many warn against encouraging the common use of these tools and software, as they can be used to oppress people and prevent them from exercising their rights of free access to information as part of their intellectual freedom.
Moving on from simple internet filtering, some whole search engines have introduced certain levels of censorship. Censorship by Google is Google’s removal of certain and specific information from its search engine, or those of its other subsidiary companies, including YouTube and other popular applications, in order to comply with its company policies, legal demands, or various government censorship laws. Google’s level of censorship differs between countries and their regulations, and ranges from simple advertisements to whole speeches and dialogues.
Over the years, the search engine’s censorship policies and targets have also differed, and have been the source of many internet censorship debates. Numerous governments across the globe have followed suit and have asked Google to censor what they publish. In 2012 Google actually ruled in favor of more than half of the requests that they received via court orders and phone calls.
China went further still. They had plans with Google to actually make them a whole “new and improved” search engine, which would be a whole search engine that has been completely censored for an entire country. Many employees actually felt that this was both a moral and ethical overstep and formally requested more information before they would continue engineering the software. This new search engine, which we believe is called Dragonfly, caught the attention of many human right groups, as they were outraged at the proposal that Google would restrict its users on what they are allowed to see on the internet.
Ultimately, censorship will always have its fans, and its enemies. While some people deem it to be a complete infringement on their right to free and true information, others see it is a vital piece of software that can be used to keep them, their children and their community safe. Censorship prevents us from seeing things that many would find disturbing or harmful, but people cannot often agree on where to draw the line.