Is Censorship Really the Way to Stop Terror?
Freedom of speech and freedom of expression are among our fundamental human rights. They are ideals that are enshrined in the first Amendment to the United States Constitution, the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, and the European Convention on Human Rights. The idea that removing or limiting these rights is an effective way to combat terrorism is simply ridiculous.
The Lessons of History
Humanity has learned, to its cost, the dangers of limiting people’s freedom of speech. History is littered with examples of repressive and regressive regimes using censorship as one of their main tools in silencing dissent. Recalling Nazi Germany, the USSR, North Korea, China, modern Islamic states, the drug cartels of Colombia and even modern Russia, we have seen censorship, firewalls and even the killing of journalists as clear examples of people trying to control the “truth” by removing anyone who dares to question, criticize or ridicule the “facts”.
In all the above cases and more, attempts at censorship failed. Consider the following:
- Germany was unable to stop the Voice of the Resistance radio broadcasts during World War II.
- During the 80s the British Government tried to ban Sinn Fein to stop the Provisional IRA from having a voice, and Jerry Adams appeared on British television represented by an actor.
- Imprisonment and intimidation have not stopped or destroyed the opposition movement against Vladimir Putin.
- The Great Firewall of China has not stopped Chinese internet users from connecting to foreign VPN networks to connect to blocked
- The ban on jihadi content on YouTube and Facebook has not stopped young Muslims from seeking out groups like Daesh or traveling to Syria.
The lessons we must learn from these examples are that:
- Free societies are not afraid of open debate and opposing opinions.
- If you try and bury something, interested people will only dig harder to find it elsewhere. In our modern digital world, they will likely find it.
The Dangers of Censorship
We are increasingly doing battle with ideological extremes. Censorship does more harm than good in this battle. Whether it’s the mainstream media or online sources like YouTube, Twitter and Facebook, we cannot control all methods of communication. We cannot completely stop an idea or a conversation. In the information age where things such as the “dark web” exist, we have a very limited ability to completely control the flow of information.
Worse, by trying to suppress information or a point of view we legitimize it. Censor something and people will assume that you have something to hide. By trying to suppress a debate, the natural assumption is that your opponent is asking questions that you do not want to answer.
Rights to freedom of speech and freedom of expression also mean that other people have a right to respond, to question and to challenge. No matter how offensive or corrosive the point of view being expressed is, it is best to confront it with facts and frank discussion. As history shows, censorship gives no guarantee that an opinion will not be spread, it simply removes our ability to respond.
If there is real, modern censorship, it is far more insidious than the actions of government departments or shadowy cabals. It is not about the suppression of information, but the fact that we are now bombarded with it. Worse, with people increasingly getting their information from digital media, many are saying we live in a “Post Truth” era.
We have seen serious journalists using editable, and often incorrect, information sources like Wikipedia to fact check information. These articles go on to be published in respected newspapers, magazines and TV shows, which are then used as citations and references to other Wikipedia articles.
The birth of 24-hour news networks has resulted in degraded standards of journalism. The emphasis on the speed of information has meant that increasingly the news narrative has been defined by first impressions and speculation to fill air time rather than reporting facts. Even if inaccuracies are corrected later, it is often too late to change people’s first impressions.
With social media with have a multiple layered problem:
- We create echo chambers by unfollowing or blocking opinions which don’t agree with our own.
- Social media algorithms, intended to tailor content to our tastes, mean that we are not exposed to opinions that differ from our own, limiting our access to a wider diet of information.
- All content is created with some form of bias, even if it is just the point of view of the writer or the editors.
- The value or truth of news stories on social media tends to come more from how many times they have been shared or liked (statistics that can be easily manipulated) rather than the quality of the content or the source.
Is There Hope?
It is a simple fact that censorship has not worked. People were creating dissenting materials since the printing press was created. Now with worldwide communication networks, we cannot stop the flow of information. The real danger is no longer about access to information but trying to find information that is accurate and breaking out beyond echo chambers that reinforce our opinions.
If you want to find the truth, remember:
- Always read more than one source.
- Don’t be afraid to read sources that disagree with your point of view.
- Read whole articles, not just headlines.
- Check to see where writers get their information.
- Determine what a source’s bias might be.
- Just because something is popular does not mean it is true.
How has the information age reflected your daily life? How do you combat the flow of misinformation? What are your thoughts on censorship today? Let us know by leaving a comment below.