According to the Oxford English Dictionary, censorship is defined as the practice of officially examining books, movies, et cetera and suppressing unacceptable parts. “Unacceptable” here refers to content which is obscene, politically unacceptable or threat to society.
Many countries around the world practice internet censorship. Online censorship is tightly linked with authoritarian and totalitarian regimes, where content online is heavily tracked and monitored by the government. The top few countries which censor the Internet include Vietnam, Tunisia, China, Saudi Arabia, Burma and North Korea, where one might risk landing himself in jail if he is found to upload “inappropriate” content online. With censorship like the Great Firewall of China, Chinese netizens are deprived of access to many different “liberal” sites such as Youtube and Blogger where people express their views freely about practically any issue ranging from politics to economics to social and cultural. As such, rising dissent is observed among Chinese netizens as they are denied of the fair chances to view and express their views as compared to other netizens around the world.
Not only is internet censorship practiced on a national scale, but also on smaller scales such as schools and companies. In some schools with web filtering, sties containing sensitive words such as “Hitler” are blocked and denied of access. Racism, sex, and violence are often among the list of blocked key searches as well.
Although internet censorship impinges on the right of freedom of expression to a certain extent, it is not completely unjustified. Let us explore the pros and cons of abolishing and maintaining the practice of online censorship.
Why online censorship should be abolished
According to Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.
By practicing online censorship, netizens are deprived of the chance to express their opinions freely on the internet, and by doing so, this directly infringes on the basic human right that we are entitled to as shown on Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. When we cannot voice out our opinions, we are essentially denied of the right to express our thoughts. In this case, it jeopardizes the future of our society as it prevents the exchange of ideas and thoughts which could stimulate further advancement of society. In a way, censorship impedes the learning process of human and stifles the imaginative mind. When online censorship is practiced, people from one part of the world might not be able to exchange their ideas with people from other parts of the world, and this barrier would be a hindrance to our understanding of the world on the whole. When countries do not allow their information to be revealed to other countries, other countries would have perceptions of those countries as being “illiberal” and backwards, which may or may not be true, due to the lack of communication of ideas as a result of the online barriers. As long as censorship is being practiced, we would never be able to see a truthful portrayal of one country to another.
Why online censorship should be practiced
The rationale for the introduction of online censorship was to protect information for certain groups, ensure the well-being of society, and maintain harmony. Content such as violence, gambling and pornography should be censored for children below the age of 18 as to prevent them from being overly exposed to content like this when they are still growing and going through the stage of psychological instability, where over-exposure to violence and sexual content would lead to an increase in juvenile delinquency.
Also, racist comments should be condemned as they stir up social unrest, especially in multi-racial countries. It is globally recognized that comments which contain derogatory remarks about different races are unacceptable, and should be banned. In support to this notion, Youtube has created a function which allows users to report abusive and racist comments. Other sites such as Twitter also allows users to report spam. In the Singapore context, the Media Development Authority prohibits the use of any words which contain insensitive comments about any races on the Internet. As such, our multi-racial society remains to be one that is close-knit and harmonious.
Although censorship infringes on the right of freedom of expression, it protects our interests to a certain degree. In my opinion, although I concede that censorship is not fully justified, it is beneficial to some extent. When we practice censorship which allow people to express their ideas freely and only prohibiting them from posting nasty or hurtful remarks about others, it is essentially beneficial for society as a whole. Hence, online censorship should be exercised to protect people from harm, but not taking away people’s opportunity to make their voices heard.