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Censoring the Internet

Updated on February 12, 2015

What is Internet Censorship?

Internet censorship is the control or suppression of publishing and accessing information on the internet. The internet is an “information superhighway” that offers a wide variety of information that can be easily accessed by the public. In the wrong hands, this tool can be abused and the information available would do more bad than good. Censorship can limit and suppress the access to unnecessary information.

In Australia, the estimated amount of internet users in 2012 is 88.8% with more than 19 million users around the country. The information available online is practically limitless.

Freedom Of Speech

The Internet is a tool that should be used, but not abused. In order for the internet to be censor free, people in our society should our use common sense to not view or upload vulgar, violent or offensive materials. Freedom of speech is a right and a privilege to express one’s opinions without censorship. However, it does not give someone the absolute right. There are some limitations to what can be uploaded and shared.

In the Universal Declaration of Human Rights under Article 19, it is stated that when necessary, there are certain restrictions to freedom of speech.

Article 19 states,

“For respect of the rights or reputation of others" and "For the protection of national security or of public order, or of public health or morals".

As follows, content such as child pornography can be blocked or suppressed for the protection of public health and morals. In the end, in order for the internet to be free, internet users have the duty and responsibility to uphold standards that do not infringe the protection act.

Online Drug Trafficking

Silk road website
Silk road website
Anonymous Marketplace
Anonymous Marketplace

Offensive Materials

The Internet has a large amount of offensive materials that can be relatively viewed by anyone. Child pornography is illegal in most developed countries. Child pornography is sickening and it degrades and exposes young children. Censoring some parts of the Internet, ensures that child pornography is kept off the internet and kept from viewing by people.

A growing trend on the internet is buying drugs online. Sites like ‘Silk Road’, provides easy access to drugs. These sites are set up just like any normal online store, such as eBay. However, it is completely anonymous; you don’t have to reveal who you are. A student from Carnegie Mellon University, Nicolas Christin studied Silk Road,

“You don’t have to interact with shady characters, you just click on a few buttons and you get what you want in the mail”.

Silk Road also offers a variety of other things such as forgeries and porn. Recently in Sydney, a teen jumped to his death from a balcony because he took a drug he bought online. This prime example shows the danger of the online drug market.

Mother shields her child's eyes from offensive internet content
Mother shields her child's eyes from offensive internet content | Source

Children on the Internet

The internet contains a lot of materials that are inappropriate for our younger audiences. Some studies show that kids and teenagers in the technology age are growing up and developing much faster than kids from past generations. Some of the reasons why includes things like early exposure to negative materials online and exposure to adult materials online. These "materials" can include pornography, chat rooms, hate speeches, graphic violent pictures and videos and age inappropriate media.

These days, children often have unrestricted and unsupervised access to the internet. This means they can access social media sites such as facebook. While facebook can be good for talking to friends, it can also be a breeding ground for catfishes.

A catfish is someone who pretends to be someone they're not, using Facebook or other social media to create false identities, particularly to pursue deceptive online romances. ~ Urban Dictionary Definition

A person, whatever age, gender or race can become anonymous online. This is very dangerous because someone older, can create a false profile and pretend to be someone else. They lure in some innocent, naïve child. So it is very important that you monitor your child's activities on social media.

It can also work the other way around with a younger person lying about their age to access age restricted media.

Currently in Australia, the internet is not censored. However, the government does offer a “family friendly filter” that blocks access to pornography and adult material.

Filtering Systems

Internet filtering systems are not always effective; they can mistakenly block some websites or the government may over block on purpose.

There are different types of Internet filters. One type of filtering, works by filtering certain keywords or certain content, thus it can block a whole website unintentionally because there is a lack of transparency.

A cooking website, for example, can be blocked accidentally because it had the word ‘breast’. These types of filters are computerised so there is no in-depth study of the actual content.

Wikipedia.org was reportedly blocked due to a nude picture of a girl on a cover album. The filtering system labelled the picture as child pornography, thus the whole site was blocked. Likewise, sites that have done nothing dishonest or illegal may be easily blocked because of the flawed, ineffective technology.

“Every single filtering system to date has blocked legitimate sites, either mistakenly or intentionally”.

There is an implication that legitimate sites can also be blocked because the government perceives it harmful to their favour.

Political Opposition and Censorship

Sometimes implementing Internet censorship removes our right to express our opinions online without intervention from the government. The authorities enforcing censorship have the power to select and specify, which information and materials gets accessed, shared and published.

Information regarding government, political opposition or hate speeches have a tendency to be blocked and suppressed by the authority in control. Furthermore, hate speeches are not unlawful and it is classified as protected speech.

“Freedom of expression is a fundamental human right and so the censoring of lawful expression is a textbook human rights violation.” ~ L.M. Best

Internet censorship allows the parties in power too much control. The regulators, usually a government or a private owned organisation, are able to choose and pick what the public is allowed to view, publish or access on the web.

Who is to say the regulators will be just and fair?

There is question of whether the government can use censoring to essentially promote their ideologies. In past and present time, there have been cases where censorship was abused and used in the favour of the parties in power. The biggest example of this happening is with the “Great firewall of China”.

The Chinese filtering system not only removes illegal and “unethical” content, but it also removes politically harmful materials. The Chinese government, who controls what gets published and viewed, not only can choose to remove the type of content they distinguish as ‘immoral’, but they can also eradicate any political opposition.

The major problem with China was their removal of what they saw as "immoral" or "unethical". But what they (the Chinese government) might see as immoral, other people won’t necessarily share the same opinion.

What gives them the right to decide for people what's right and what's wrong?

The following video is music video called the "Song of the Grass-Mud Horse". It is a popular Internet meme in China which is infamous for it's resistance to censorship symbolism.

Symbol of Chinese resistance to Censorship

Security Against Acts of Terror

Ideally, everyone sane wants world peace, but there will always be that one person or group that have a different opinion. Everyone has their own individual values, attitudes and beliefs.

For the most part, you can probably find anything you seek on the web. For this reason, many people use the web to find information. These include tips on how to make things. Terrorists, activists and extremists may use the Internet in this way, but for extreme measures. There have been some reports that there are websites and pages that teach terrorists and extremists how to make home-made weapons and bombs.

David Copeland was a notorious neo-nazi militant who was infamous for making bombs based on techniques from a book published online called “Terrorists Handbook on how to make bombs”. Around 1999, he proceeded to set his home-made nail bombs off in public areas in London. The attack killed 3 people and injured another 139.

Governments and organisations alike, use internet censoring to ensure the safety of the people. It can be used as a security measure to keep our communities safe. Eliminating or suppressing the source of the information can prevent and decrease the amount of people accessing dangerous information. Thus, Internet censorship can be beneficial in terms of security in opposition to crimes against the state.

Should Australia think about setting up some type of censorship?

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