I noticed some­thing recent­ly while view­ing dis­cus­sions on the top­ic of cen­sor­ship. There seems to be gen­er­al mis­con­cep­tions about what does and does not entail cen­sor­ship, about whether only a gov­ern­men­tal body can cen­sor, and the gen­er­al thought that free speech pro­tects again­st all cen­sor­ship. It’s under­stand­able given how lit­tle we are taught about cen­sor­ship in schools and what we see in our day to day lives. Things may have changed since the time I was younger, but I do not remem­ber any lessons on the sub­ject of cen­sor­ship in sec­ondary school. We have the idea of free speech and the First Amendment that is taught in our his­to­ry and social stud­ies class­es. When it comes to cen­sor­ship, though, I don’t see much empha­sis given to under­stand­ing the issue out­side of select col­lege lev­el cours­es. So it comes as no sur­prise that some peo­ple may be igno­rant on the mat­ter. I feel pub­lic edu­ca­tion and cer­tain enti­ties do not have a moti­va­tion to want peo­ple to under­stand the fin­er nuances of this top­ic.

With this in mind, I want­ed to give a primer of sorts on cen­sor­ship, its effects, and what one can do when they feel cen­sor­ship is an issue.

To do this, we first need to define what cen­sor­ship is. The ACLU explains cen­sor­ship:

Censorship, the sup­pres­sion of words, images, or ideas that are ‘offen­sive,’ hap­pens when­ev­er some peo­ple suc­ceed in impos­ing their per­son­al polit­i­cal or moral val­ues on oth­ers. Censorship can be car­ried out by the gov­ern­ment as well as pri­vate pres­sure groups. Once you allow the gov­ern­ment to cen­sor some­one else, you cede to it the pow­er to cen­sor you, or some­thing you like….Censorship by the [U.S.] gov­ern­ment is uncon­sti­tu­tion­al because free­dom of speech is pro­tect­ed in the First Amendment, and is guar­an­teed to all Americans.”

As seen in this def­i­n­i­tion, cen­sor­ship can come from a gov­ern­men­tal body or a pri­vate group. This brings me to the first mis­con­cep­tion I see when peo­ple dis­cuss issues of cen­sor­ship. I’ve heard the idea that only a gov­ern­ment can cen­sor, which is not true. While it is true that cen­sor­ship enact­ed by gov­ern­ments with laws pro­tect­ing free speech can be ille­gal, any per­son or group can try to cen­sor ideas or issues.

soviet-censorship-naval-commissar-vanishes-1-225x300I feel we all know what cen­sor­ship from a gov­ern­men­tal body looks like. One can draw from past overt exam­ples to high­light how all-encompassing cen­sor­ship can be. Soviet U.S.S.R. up to and after World War II had near total con­trol of infor­ma­tion in their soci­ety, lit­er­al­ly eras­ing ideas and peo­ple who were incon­ve­nient and exer­cis­ing com­plete pow­er over what was taught in schools and talked about in the media. This style of com­plete con­trol over all aspects of a soci­ety can be seen emu­lat­ed today in coun­tries such as Iran and North Korea.

It can be easy to define exam­ples of gov­ern­ment cen­sor­ship as they hap­pen. Take, for exam­ple, the Great Firewall of China or the fil­ter­ing and block­ing of sec­tions of the inter­net by Middle Eastern coun­tries; the­se are much more cut and dry issues. With the­se stark­ly defined exam­ples, it can be eas­ier to break free from the con­trol cen­sor­ship has on you because you know instinc­tive­ly to not expect truth from the offi­cial sources.

It becomes more neb­u­lous in people’s minds when con­sid­er­ing exam­ples of cen­sor­ship from out­side the gov­ern­ment. When reli­gious orga­ni­za­tions push for a music album to banned, when groups work to pull video games from store shelves, when web­sites take an active role in block­ing the cov­er­age or dis­cus­sion or cer­tain top­ics, the­se are all exam­ples of pri­vate groups attempt­ing to cen­sor con­tent or ideas. It just isn’t ille­gal.

There are times when a web­site, news orga­ni­za­tion, or online com­mu­ni­ty may choose to cen­sor cer­tain issues or top­ics from being dis­cussed or cer­tain words or phras­es from being used. A news orga­ni­za­tion that refus­es to dis­play curse words, even in the con­text of a quote, is a more benign exam­ple of cen­sor­ship. The same orga­ni­za­tion not show­ing footage of a ter­ror­ist behead­ing some­one is a more extreme exam­ple. There are many online forums that cen­sor dis­cus­sions of pira­cy in an effort stop pira­cy itself from occur­ring. For the con­sumers of media and the users of the­se forums, it is an attempt on behalf of the orga­ni­za­tion to improve qual­i­ty of their pro­duct or brand. Whether you agree with or can deal with the­se forms of cen­sor­ship is up to you.

This brings me to anoth­er mis­con­cep­tion that peo­ple seem have: cen­sor­ship in any form is neg­a­tive. There are many instances where we are under pos­si­bly ben­e­fi­cial forms of cen­sor­ship, and we self-censor on many occa­sions. When you keep your­self from curs­ing around your grand­moth­er, you are cen­sor­ing your­self. When you hold in that fart on your first date, you are cen­sor­ing your­self!

Most work­places have rules again­st speak­ing about reli­gion, pol­i­tics, or oth­er polar­iz­ing issues (I had a job that ruled out talk­ing about sports!) due to an effort to avoid unneed­ed con­flicts and increase the pro­duc­tiv­i­ty of employ­ees. This is cen­sor­ship as well. It just is not an exam­ple of cen­sor­ship that peo­ple tend to ral­ly again­st, because it is with­in the rights of the com­pa­ny in ques­tion. You are not stopped from dis­cussing what­ev­er you will in your free time. You can choose between being cen­sored dur­ing work­ing hours for your pay or sim­ply not work­ing there.


censorship-300x267Censorship can become increas­ing­ly insid­i­ous, though, depend­ing on the top­ic in ques­tion or the form that cen­sor­ship is tak­ing. We can cir­cle back around to news orga­ni­za­tions to pull exam­ples from. If a news orga­ni­za­tion blocks cer­tain top­ics from being cov­ered due to gov­ern­ment edict, this is cen­sor­ship that can impair pub­lic dis­course or poten­tial­ly cause per­son­al harm. While it is still not ille­gal in all cas­es, it is high­ly uneth­i­cal and can jeop­ar­dize the rep­u­ta­tion of the peo­ple or orga­ni­za­tion involved.

Another exam­ple that can be dam­ag­ing to pub­lic dis­course can come from Wikipedia. Wikipedia is a crowd-sourced ency­clo­pe­dia and is curat­ed by thou­sands of peo­ple. On more con­tro­ver­sial top­ics, entries can change mul­ti­ple times a day as edi­tors bat­tle over what ver­sion of events they want to make defin­i­tive. This is why Wikipedia is not a citable source for col­lege papers. When the edi­tors of Wikipedia inad­ver­tent­ly or pur­pose­ly dis­tort, delete, or revise arti­cles based on ide­ol­o­gy or opin­ion, they engage in cen­sor­ship. Again, this is not ille­gal, but it is uneth­i­cal in the extreme and helps to bend pub­lic per­cep­tion. Wikipedia is a flu­id set of truths and ‘“facts,” and the entire fab­ric of it ebbs and flows. More con­tro­ver­sial or pop­u­lar top­ics are altered so often that it can be amus­ing to see as it hap­pens. At least Wikipedia allows users to see the dis­cus­sion behind the prover­bial slap fights and attempts to alter per­cep­tions.

People are increas­ing­ly access­ing crowd-sourced infor­ma­tion por­tals the­se days, as the pop­u­lar­i­ty of Reddit shows. Reddit is a pop­u­lar and influ­en­tial web­site that works with vol­un­teer mod­er­a­tors, just like Wikipedia does. However, instead of attempt­ing to be an ency­clo­pe­dia, it works to aggre­gate con­tent for the com­mu­ni­ty to vote on how inter­est­ing an item may be and to dis­cuss that item. Reddit was found­ed on ideas of being pro-free speech and anti-censorship, only delet­ing items or users that were again­st their Terms of Service or the law. Idea and exe­cu­tion are not the same, though, and over time Reddit has shift­ed away from this stance with their actions. Recently report­ed on exam­ples from the mod­er­a­tor chat logs of cer­tain red­di­tors high­light how cen­sor­ship can emerge and how it is enforced in an ad hoc com­mu­ni­ty. These were not iso­lat­ed exam­ples of how infor­ma­tion and per­cep­tion is con­trolled, but that is digres­sion for anoth­er arti­cle.

Image Via www.businessinsider.com
Image Via www.businessinsider.com

This should help form an idea of what cen­sor­ship can look like in its more heavy-handed exam­ples, as well as the less vis­i­ble instances. This brings me to the last mis­con­cep­tion I’ve seen that I want to address: we are not being active­ly cen­sored every day by gov­ern­ments or pri­vate groups. Even with laws pro­vid­ing for free speech, America cen­sors items on a reg­u­lar basis. Despite ideas to the con­trary, some groups will always work to cen­sor oth­er groups that they dis­agree with.

This is not to ped­dle a deject­ed view of the state of affairs we live in. There are always things you can do to fight again­st the forms of cen­sor­ship that you feel are harm­ful. The most import thing you can do is to point it out — let oth­ers know what is hap­pen­ing and encour­age dis­cus­sion of the issue. I feel that when an enti­ty wants to cen­sor an item, it is impor­tant to dig into it and deter­mine why it is occur­ring. It is true that not all forms of cen­sor­ship are harm­ful or ille­gal. In my view, though, when a top­ic or idea is cen­sored, there is often an agen­da at play or there are peo­ple who sim­ply do not want to face incon­ve­nient truths.

You can also work with groups or found your own to help unroot and bring to light cen­sor­ship in areas you feel are neg­a­tive­ly impact­ing issues. Keeping a watch­ful eye on the process­es of gov­ern­ment and busi­ness is a big ele­ment in a free mar­ket and a free world. The modus operandi of cen­sor­ship is to block dis­cus­sion. Don’t mis­take silence for igno­rance of issues. You are not alone.

https://supernerdland.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/Censored_section_of_Green_Illusions_by_Ozzie_Zehner-e1427639555306.jpghttps://supernerdland.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/Censored_section_of_Green_Illusions_by_Ozzie_Zehner-e1427639555306-150x150.jpgJosh BrayEditorialCensorship,EditorialI noticed some­thing recent­ly while view­ing dis­cus­sions on the top­ic of cen­sor­ship. There seems to be gen­er­al mis­con­cep­tions about what does and does not entail cen­sor­ship, about whether only a gov­ern­men­tal body can cen­sor, and the gen­er­al thought that free speech pro­tects again­st all cen­sor­ship. It’s under­stand­able given how…
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Josh Bray
Josh has worked in IT for over 15 years. Graduated Broadcasting school in 2012 with a focus on A/V pro­duc­tion. Amateur pho­tog­ra­pher with a pas­sion to make things work… by any means nec­es­sary. Leader of the crazy exper­i­ment called SuperNerdLand
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