Internet censorship is the suppression or control of what an individual may access, view, or publish while they are online. It is something that can be enacted by regulators, private organizations, or even at individual’s initiative. Some may choose a self-censorship for business, moral, or religious reasons. It can even be an activity which allows households to conform to specific societal norms.
There are also times when Internet censorship occurs for legal reasons. Several countries have their ISPs restrict access to torrent sites like The Pirate Bay because of the high likelihood of a copyright violation occurring.
The reasons for Internet censorship are varied, but they all tend to have same outcome in mind. By blocking specific content, an oversight entity seeks to create a positive experience based on their definition of what is wholesome instead of allowing individuals to make that decision on their own.
These are the biggest advantages and disadvantages of Internet censorship to consider today.
List of the Advantages of Internet Censorship
1. Internet censorship blocks dangerous content from being viewed.
Parents often use Internet censorship as a way to protect their children from online content which could be potentially dangerous. One example of this involves the Momo challenge. Although the actual event is more of an urban legend that is closer to a hoax, there are reports that videos accessible through YouTube Kids can promote self-harm and suicide even when restrictions are present.
By creating options that allow parents to control what their children view, they can block access to pornography, violence, and other forms of “scary” items that they may feel is harmful.
2. Internet censorship stops people from seeking celebrity status through violence.
There are numerous videos that are disturbing that users upload regularly that we can access through social media. Although this content helps us to see another side of humanity, some people do not want to see beheading videos, violent deaths, or animal attacks appear on their regular feed. The processes of Internet censorship allow people to restrict this content without forcing other people to follow the same rules.
3. Internet censorship limits access to illegal activities.
If you have ever received a marketing note from a credit agency telling you that they can check the dark web for information about your identity, then you’ve encountered one small element of what can happen online. Illicit drug trades, human trafficking, child pornography, murder-for-hire, and many other extreme elements of humanity are present if you’re willing to go looking for them. When Internet censorship regulations are permitted, then law enforcement and government agencies can block this content for public access while pursuing those who create it in the first place.
4. Internet censorship provides a firewall against potential hacking attempts.
Internet censorship is rightly seen as a restriction on a person’s freedom. The reason why it exists is because of the security that it provides at the cost of certain decisions or actions. When implemented appropriately, the goal of this process is to offer more individual safety while still accessing the benefits of being online. When there are regulations in place that prevent access to specific websites, then it becomes more challenging to access information items that could place people at risk. It would also reduce the number of fake news items that are deemed to be real while creating a defense against potential hacking.
5. Internet censorship could help to reduce identity theft incidents.
According to a Harris poll, we’re 60 million people in the United States have been affected by identity theft at least once in their lives. About 15 million people experience this issue each year. Although the $16.8 billion in losses is significantly less than the $22.1 billion lost in 2012, the numbers are beginning to rise again thanks to extensive data breaches. Over 178 million records were exposed in 2017 alone, including information on Social Security numbers, birth dates, and even driver’s license numbers. Implementing a mild form of Internet censorship could help to pump the brakes on this issue.
6. Internet censorship can stop violence before it starts.
A 15-year-old in Chicago was arrested after he posted on Twitter that he would commit mass murder if George Zimmerman was found not guilty of the shooting death of Trayvon Martin in 2012. A 19-year-old named Justin Carter threatened to shoot up a kindergarten class in 2013 allegedly in response to gaming activities. By having policies of Internet censorship in place, it becomes possible to detect actions that may result in violence before people get hurt. Even if the words are just sarcasm or an empty threat, taking content like this seriously allows people to take action if it is deemed necessary.
List of the Disadvantages of Internet Censorship
1. Internet censorship is not cheap to implement.
When Egypt decided to implement a policy of Internet censorship across the general population, the final cost for the process total $90 million. About $3 billion in consumer transactions is lost each year because of the current policies that are active which prevent users from accessing specific websites. When China placed restrictions on the Internet in 2002 when there were 22 million users, their costs rose to $770 million. With 770 million users now online, the final total could be in the eight-figure range.
Even companies which offer self-imposed restrictions on Internet use must pay for the development of these features.
2. Internet censorship stops the flow of information.
Although Internet censorship does stop the flow of false information, it can also be used as a way to control what individuals are allowed to post from their private accounts. This issue even occurs in the United States. According to the ACLU, Robert Frese was accused of violating the criminal defamation law in New Hampshire when he posted a comment online on a news website that a police chief was covering for a corrupt officer.
There are 23 other states in the U.S. where you can be arrested for a misdemeanor if you post something mean about someone else. Frese eventually had the charges dropped against him, but it doesn’t change the dangers that people face when Internet censorship is a priority for an administration.
3. Internet censorship removes one of the checks against the government.
In 2016, there were people arrested in 38 different countries because of posts or comments that they made on social media. Over one-quarter of everyone who is online right now lives in a nation where at least one person was arrested for content that they liked, shared, or published on Facebook. These aren’t people who are uploading violent videos which depicts a murder or sexual assault. They are individuals who are critical of their government or elected officials. When no one is allowed to speak out against those who are in charge, then those in power can do almost anything they want.
4. Internet censorship can lead to a misinterpretation of the facts.
In January 2012, friends Emily Bunting and Leigh Van Bryan arrived in Los Angeles and were promptly greeted by law enforcement officials. Their passports were confiscated, and they were interrogated for several hours – including an overnight stay in a holding cell. The reason why involves a tweet where Van Bryan said he was going to “destroy” America. He was using a slang term for “partying,” but officials didn’t have a sense of humor. They sent the pair back home the next day. Internet censorship can quickly devolve into a misinterpretation of comments or facts that can lead to detrimental consequences for the people involved.
5. Internet censorship limits a person’s freedom of expression.
There will always be an opinion which is unpopular. People will always make jokes which someone somewhere will find to be offensive. If we use Internet censorship as a way to create a safe place where there is no possibility of disagreement, then we are creating a space where no one can express their views, opinions, or thoughts freely. We already have laws in place which prohibit the creation or distribution of specific items or content. Creating regulations which allow for the censoring of online communities creates another layer of legal bureaucracy that everyone must follow.
6. Internet censorship leads to ignorance.
Even with a bevy of false information floating around the Internet, people need to have the option to choose what they will believe. There is a personal responsibility involved in researching the accuracy of blogs, new stories, or individual status updates. Far too often, we see a headline or a brief statement on a graphic, and then make an assumption about what the content contains. Battling a lack of truth with regulations that encourage ignorance or silence will only dumb down society further. We must be willing to maintain an open mind and listen to the feedback people offer while pursuing those who actively seek to harm others as a way to protect ourselves.
7. Internet censorship limits new ideas and business opportunities.
Entrepreneurs who are trying to do business overseas in countries where Internet censorship exists will quickly find numerous roadblocks standing in their way. Should their profile or website become blocked because the government feels it is critical of some element of their bureaucracy, then a person’s livelihood can be immediately threatened. At the very least, information restriction leads to a lack of innovation.
8. Internet censorship takes away the responsibility of online behavior.
When there is someone or something dictating what you can or cannot see online, then the accountability of each choice shifts from the individual to whomever is responsible for the Internet censorship. If someone is no longer responsible for their choices, then there is no meaningful reason to have a shared morality within society. People can be told what to do, think, or say in this circumstance. Then this process can extend to other aspects of life as well. It is a disadvantage where people can go from free express to complete restriction without even realizing what they are giving up.
9. Internet censorship cannot apply to everyone for it to be useful.
Whenever there is the possibility of Internet censorship, then there must be an approved group or individual that is responsible for reviewing the different sites that are deemed to be questionable. That means you cannot extend this issue to everyone in society. There will always be a privileged few who operate outside of the legal framework that everyone must follow. Because information is power in the digital age, it would be easier for this group to oppress whomever they choose because they have access to resources that others do not.
The biggest advantages and disadvantages of Internet censorship rely on the integrity and morality of those who are tasked with its implementation. At some level in this process, there is someone who is making arbitrary decisions about which content is acceptable and what is not. If they pursue selfish ambition, then there may be no way to stop that activity. When these processes are used to provide security and protection, then it can lead to a healthier perspective. People should be given the opportunity to make this choice personally instead of having it dictated to them.
Crystal Ayres has served as our editor-in-chief for the last five years. She is a proud veteran, wife and mother. The goal of ConnectUs is to publish compelling content that addresses some of the biggest issues the world faces. If you would like to reach out to contact Crystal, then go here to send her a message.