Should governments censor material on the world wide web?
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Despite the generally prevailing principle of freedom of speech in democratic countries, it is widel...
Despite the generally prevailing principle of freedom of speech in democratic countries, it is widely accepted that certain types of speech are not given protection as they are deemed to be of insufficient value compared to the harm, they cause. Child pornography in the print or broadcast media for instance is never tolerated. The internet should be no exception to these basic standards. Truly offensive material such as hardcore pornography and extreme racial hatred are no different simply because they are published on the world wide web as opposed to a book or video.
Censorship is generally an evil and should be avoided where ever possible. Child pornography is an extreme example and there is already sufficient legislation to deal with those who attempt to produce, distribute or view such material. Other forms of speech may well be truly offensive but the only way a society can deal with them is by being exposed to them and combating them. Otherwise these groups are driven underground and become martyrs.
Censorship is tailored to the power of the medium. Accordingly there is a higher level of censorshi...
Censorship is tailored to the power of the medium. Accordingly there is a higher level of censorship attached to television, films and video than to newspapers and books. this is because we recognise that moving pictures and sound are more graphic and powerful then text and photographs or illustrations. There is also normally more regulation of videos than cinema films because the viewer of a video is a captive audience with the power to rewind, view again and distribute more widely. The internet, which has become a huge repository of video and sound (for example, the speeches from hiding of Osama Bin Laden) should be attached the same level of power and regulated accordingly.
The distinction between censorship of the print and broadcast media is becoming increasingly irrelevant. It is quite possible that in ten years time people will be entirely reliant upon the internet for news and entertainment. The reason why the print media is comparatively unregulated is because we recognise that this is the primary means of distributing information in society. For this reason the internet must be allowed the same protection When Mill and the founding fathers of the US constitution spoke of the freedom of the press they were concerned about the primary and most powerful organ of the media at that time, the print press. Nowadays they would more likely be concerned with preventing censorship of the broadcast media and the internet which are our prime means of distributing information.
That it is hard to censor the internet does not mean we should not seek to do so, it is extremely d...
That it is hard to censor the internet does not mean we should not seek to do so, it is extremely difficult already to prevent the sale of snuff movies or hard core pornography but governments do so because it is deemed to be of societal importance. A more relevant difficulty is the anonymity provided by the internet which gives pornographers and criminals the opportunity to abuse the medium. But work by regimes such as Saudi Arabia and China have shown that it is possible to exercise considerable control over the internet and its users. Other Asian countries have experimented with requiring citizens to provide identification before posting content on to the internet, such a system if universally adopted could be a relatively simple way of enforcing laws against truly offensive and harmful content.
Even allowing for the extreme problems surrounding freedom of speech, internet censorship would be more or less impossible. Governments can attempt to regulate what is produced in their own country but it would be impossible to regulate material from abroad. What is the point in the USA removing all domestic reference to hardcore pornography when it is possible to access material from the United Kingdom or Sweden? It is also possible for citizens to produce material and store it in an overseas domain further complicating the issue. True freedom of speech requires anonymity in some cases to protect the author, the governments who have introduced ID requirements for internet use also deny many basic rights to their citizens. The internet allows citizens to criticise their government and distribute news and information without reprisal from the state, such a system clearly could not survive with ID requirements.
In many countries there will be multiple liability for production of slanderous material, material w...
In many countries there will be multiple liability for production of slanderous material, material which incites racial hatred. Where the author or publisher can not be traced or are insolvent the printers can be sued or prosecuted in some circumstances. The relatively small number of internet service providers (ISPs) should be made liable if they assist in the provision of dangerous and harmful information such as bomb making instructions, hard core pornography etc.
Internet Service Providers are certainly the wrong people to decide what can and can not be placed on the internet. There is already far too much control of this new technology by big business without also making them judge and jury of all internet content. In any case the sheer bulk of information ISPs allow to be published is such that vetting would be more or less impossible - are phone companies held responsible for abusive calls made over their networks? Were there liability for allowing such material to be displayed ISPs would inevitably err on the side of caution to protect their financial interests which would result in a much more heavily censored internet.
The issues at stake in this debate, protection of children, terrorist activity, crime, racial hatred...
The issues at stake in this debate, protection of children, terrorist activity, crime, racial hatred etc. are all international problems. If a global solution is required then it can be achieved by international co-operation and treaties. It is acknowledged that it is justifiable to censor where harm is caused to others by the speech, words or art of an author, all the examples cited above are clearly causing harm to various groups in society. By a combination of the initiatives listed above it is possible to limit that harm.
Many ISPs have shown themselves to be responsible in immediately removing truly offensive content where they have been alerted to it. What is required is self regulation by the industry recognising their responsibility to internet users but not imposing arbitrary and draconian restrictions upon its use. It is already possible for parents to use 'Net nanny' browsers that will edit out offensive and inappropriate material for younger users.
What do you think?