Censorship should be avoided at all costs to preserve the wholesomeness of the government, and the safety of its citizens. Censorship is a brutal tool used throughout history by tyrannical governments, and oppressive organizations to maintain dominance, and control of public masses. The American government, and many private companies have been taking steps to limit what kinds of information are appropriate to share in public, or private circles. The only morally sound way to combat this slow march of our culture into informational oppression is by stressing the importance of education, and personal responsibility when utilizing the freedom of speech.
It’s prudent to define two key terms before proceeding.
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, censorship is “the suppression, or prohibition of any parts of books, film, news, etc. that are considered obscene, politically unacceptable, or a threat to security.” Freedom of speech is defined as, “the right to express any opinions without censorship or restraint.” When using either phase, these will be the definitions referred to.
History provides us with multiple examples of how detrimental censorship has been to the cultural, scientific, and spiritual of every society in history. When freedom flourishes, so does art, philosophy, and medicine. Any group of people unfortunate enough to feel the sting of aggressive censorship from powerful organizations, religions, or governments, has not only faced repression, but potential mass murder, cultural genocide, or the destruction of large section of human history. Commonly known examples include Julius Caesar burning the library at Alexandria, Spanish conquerors destroying the Aztecs, Nazi persecution of the Jewish people, and early responses to the civil rights movement in America, only to name a few.
Censorship has been wielded as a tool which only serves tyrants at the expense of human decency. One inspiring example of a people standing up to their adversity to claim the basic right to speak freely, is the enlightenment era in France. At that period, France was just entering into revolution. A book called, “Policing Public Opinion in the French Revolution: The Culture of Calumny and the Problem of Free Speech,” by G. Charles Walton can provide keen insight into that portion of history. In his book, Walton covers over one hundred years of French history, and their struggle’s impact on the modern free speech movements. The accounts are rife with political intrigue, and bloody resolutions as individuals fight for social liberty. In a sense, that fight extends well into the modern age. France is hardly the only group in history to fight for its liberty. From American special interest in foreign affairs to Russia’s civil rights atrocities, and everywhere in between, almost every ruling body had elected in some way to suppress dissenting viewpoints in hopes of protecting its power, and asserting its narrative.
The aforementioned opponents of social liberty have hardly relented in modern times. Many governing bodies, officials, and private companies bend to some political agenda which seeks, not to be the most correct, but the most dominant. By restricting the flow of public information, they hope to maintain stability for themselves in their position, whilst knocking opponents off balance. Look no further than the practice of gerrymandering. This tactic can be easily seen as a way to manipulate numbers to ignore opposition by weighing population distribution in favor of the powerful. Groups who favor censorship as a form of social manipulation, unless already in dominant control, ascribe noble goals to their arguments: however, legislation in favor of weakening self-expression only serve to trample human rights. Any argument of menacing, offensive, or vulgar needing to be kept in check are purely open to interpretation when any real law is passed, which opens an avenue to be abused. Any such claim should be understood as equivalent to, “This isn’t what I think, or what I want you to think, therefore, you shouldn’t be allowed to express it.”
The modern battlefield for this fight for liberty, and the public voice is the internet. Control of the internet is paramount for anyone who wishes to control public opinion. Modern China, and North Korea are both examples of limiting internet access to control public opinion. Both Russia, and the United States are guilty of shady actions involving news, journalism, and propaganda since the late 1990s. (Walton) That information should be troubling, considering the two major sources, especially “young future leaders”, get their news are “news organization websites, and cable news,” according to Peter W. Singer, a writer from Brookings.edu. In this war for minds, a major battle has been whether the United States government should impose regulations on social media sites so that they can’t express political bias. The short answer is no. Joining a social media site is not compulsory, if someone doesn’t like how that company does business, they are free to leave. Another writer for Brookings.edu addresses this concern: “Furthermore, the government intervention that they propose is potentially more damaging than the problem they want to solve.” Niam Yaraghi continues that if you’re afraid of what a large company can do to public opinion, the government should hold much less appeal.
Like a circle, humanity seems destined to repeat itself. The groanings of those dissatisfied with freedom, because of what others use their own freedom for, have begun growing louder. Most arguments a civilized person would offer are by no means those of a villain, rather, they are infantile musings from someone who has never truly been snuffed by a position of power. They don’t understand what giving up even the smallest of liberties for the sake of comfort implies: however, their arguments are not entirely without merit, and should be addressed. Common complaints in favor of censorship are simply wanting to protect their child from unsavory content, preventing slander, or preventing the spread of misinformation. They may even throw more serious accusations of allowing a totally free flow of information could pose damage to someone’s health, or property if such knowledge fell into the wrong hands. Solving these issues by limiting free speech is like taking a firearm to an insect in the home, over kill.
If history were to be learned from, the realization would occur that, while utilizing revolts to enact change is efficient, it still makes the revolutionaries guilty of the same crime as the oppressor they combat. They are using violence and threats of violence to impose their will. The only answer left, if violence doesn’t solve oppression, and laws created to prevent censorship can be abused, is a cultural change. A culture which emphases personal responsibility with exercising freedom. One which protects the liberty of the individual, but also educates them thoroughly on how dangerous a freedom abused could be. These rules would not be imposed by some law, but, instead, be a social creed; an understanding respect between free people. All this may sound harsh, maybe even utopian, but it is the best answer to censorship, and the dangers associated with free expression.
Words can have a powerful impact; words are the most powerful tool in humanities’ arsenal. Without words, people amount to little more than animals. Without being able to express those words freely, they are little more than pets to a tyrant. With no restraint, words are wildfire that have the potential to destroy: hence, those in power try to shackle the expressions of others. Censorship should be fought against. Censoring the public shows mistrust of the individual, but a lack of personal responsibility warrants mistrust.