Countries all over the world are placing restrictions on the use of the Internet and the content its citizens can access or not. Government and other organizations are putting restrictions on the content they feel is sensitive or could be used to promote religious or specific political agendas. Be it the well-intentioned desires of a parent to protect their children from inappropriate content on the Internet or the authoritarian attempts of a Government to control the Internet habits of its nation, we are all very familiar with the concept of Internet censorship and have been subject to it.
Internet Censorship Is On the Rise
In 2017, India reported total 20 Internet shutdown cases in various regions in the first five months itself as per the reports from Human Rights Watch. This was a huge rise in the number when compared with the previous year that saw 31 shutdowns in the entire year and the results are even more astounding when compared with the 2012 count of 3 shutdowns only. While India does not have a censorship program like China’s “Great Firewall”, but it gets its right to call for such shutdowns from a law written in 1973.
For China, the internet censorship continues to get more stringent with the regulators trying to curtail what its population of more than 750 million internet users can access or not. Beijing has already shut out its access to popular websites like Google and Facebook and the authorities are trying to shut down as many Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) as they can so the Great Firewall can’t be bypassed. China has removed many foreign TV shows from its online platforms and has introduced laws that make it mandatory for every Internet user to register to online forums with their real identities.
Attacks on Freedom of Expression
In the past two decades, many countries are trying to follow the footsteps of China and enforce restrictions in their online world. When a country like China follows some strict policies and seems to be benefiting from it, it’s only natural how that can act as a precedent for the other smaller nations to try and adopt such policies too to make changes happen on a political level.
In the U.S. too, President Trump signed a bill in 2017 that released the internet service providers like Verizon from having to protect consumer data. This has resulted in exposing the general public to surveillance and put their privacy under serious threats. There have also been cases of attacks on internet freedom like the one where Twitter sued the Federal government when it demanded the revelation of a Twitter account critical of the Trump administration. Though such incidents don’t in itself spell internet censorship, but they definitely lay the groundwork for it.
Pros and Cons of Internet Censorship
Internet censorship has been received with mixed reactions. Some view it as a necessity for the greater good, while some are absolutely against it. Whether you are a proponent or an opponent, let’s get to see some pros and cons to have a better basis on our opinions:
- Protects Your Children: Proponents believe that Internet censorship would protect the innocent young children from becoming preys to online predators. There would be almost no cases of trafficking, online abuse, and exposure to pornographic content. The violators would get punished under such new laws thus discouraging more to come up.
- Sets Standards: Even some professional members and experts in the media believe that there can be certain sensitive content which should not be published. When there are set standards, it can prevent web pages from posting racist posts, discriminatory content, and other political or religious comments that could spread like wildfire online and cause tension between nations or groups.
- Takes Away Freedom of Speech: The basic right of being able to say what one feels would be threatened under Internet censorship. Restrictions would be placed on something as trivial as what you can tweet or post on your Facebook page. If the government doesn’t think the post is worthy, censorship could take it away.
- Limits Access to Information: If people are not given the opportunity to see both the sides of an incident, they could be brainwashed for personal gains. For example, a government leader may impose a ban on the release of his videos or online content that prove his illegal activities. The people may never learn the truth if all the neutral sources are banned.
Internet censorship continues to remain a debatable topic. As everyone has their own opinion on what is right or wrong, every content that is censored leads to protests. Given such a background, absolute censorship may not be the correct solution. The governments need to implement a framework that can limit the cons of Internet abuse but not at the cost of its pros.