The issue of internet censorship has begun to pop up more and more frequently over the last couple of years. With more of us making a living and spending our free time online than ever before it pays to find out what’s really going on. Let’s dive right in and take a look at some of the latest events.
Internet Censorship is a Global Phenomenon
Some people will tell you that the only place you’ll experience true censorship is if you find yourself behind the Great Firewall of China. What I want to get across to you in just a couple of minutes reading is that that’s not true any longer. Beijing keeps a tight grip on its citizens so that the ruling Communist Party can stay in power. Clearly, this is a tyrannical regime that combines control of information with a projection of force.
Chinese citizens have no access to global platforms like YouTube and Facebook. Their only real contact with the outside world from within their own borders comes via the risky use of VPNs. Clearly, this is a country that uses censorship and control of information to control the actions of its people. The question then is: what is the western world doing?
Issues like US YouTube censorship are clearly not unique to tyrannical governments or totalitarian states. It’s something that is all around us and has got in via the back door without the general public noticing. Take the issue of marijuana for instance. Whether you use it or not, one thing that is indisputable is the demonetization of channels broadcasting such content. They were not showing illegal content from where they were filmed and broadcast, so should they really be sanctioned?
The Internet Should be Held to a Higher Standard
Net neutrality was envisioned to make the internet a free-flowing platform for ideas and opinions. Unfortunately, this is now being undermined by global YouTube censorship deciding what we can and can’t watch. Now, you know me, I’m not for watching anything illegal or gruesome because not everything needs to be online. What I am against however are private companies being able to further their own agendas by shaping the conversation.
We’re not just looking at a couple of novelty websites like in the year 2000 folks. These are now primary communication tools used by several billion people every single day. They shape popular opinion, convey news, and connect people right across the world. If YouTube is then meddling with what we can and can’t see based on its own opinions rather than laws, then we have something to worry about.
But let me get one thing straight. I am using YouTube as a prime example here because we all take its perceived neutrality for granted. Don’t think I’m bashing them for the sake of it, I’m not. Nor am I explicitly rallying solely against them. I’m just using them to illustrate a point. There are however some layers of subtlety that we also need to address when considering the internet censorship debate.
What’s Illegal or Undesirable in One Country Won’t be Seen That Way in Another
This is where the internet gets exceptionally complicated because it crosses borders whether governments like it or not. Saudi YouTube censorship is strict; after all, this is the only country in the world that still bans women from driving a car. So how should major platforms like YouTube address the idea of freedom to download, watch, or read content as they move across borders?
The first thing to ask here is should you be demonetized for doing something that’s legal in your own country, but illegal somewhere else? It’s an answer with a few different threads…
It would make sense if you couldn’t earn money showing something illegal to people in a country that forbids it. Even if you believe it is for the greater good, you shouldn’t be able to profit from doing so. That would set a dangerous precedent and could allow espionage or cyber terrorism to become legal. Even if you set out to allow people to try and sow the seeds of democracy with these types of policies, there is a word of warning. They can be easily bent to allow other activities to take place.
My Issue: The Crux of the Matter
The issue I have is with governments or organizations removing your ability to earn by doing something legal. There’s no constitutional basis for doing so, and it smacks of top-down internet censorship. If a company doesn’t like what you’re doing, but it doesn’t go against any of their ToS, then it shouldn’t be an issue. If instead, they decide to penalize you monetarily then this is really just moralizing.
Make up your own mind what you think, as this is what the debate is all about. I’d be keen to hear your thoughts