Censorship and Web 2.0

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When we are talking about censorship and the Internet – especially since the wake of web 2.0 – we always tend to say that the Internet helps to overcome censorship. Bloggers and Tweeter(?) are able to deliver information from their dictator-ruled country to the free press of the western civilized countries in order to generate pressure – according to for example the principle of social constructivism – on its regime. We get daily news from Human Rights violations from countries we never heard of before. Even China’s approach to limit the use and freedom of Internet – the Great Firewall of China – is eventually overcome by the technical opportunities of the Internet and of course their interest in economic growth. The latter coincides to a huge degree with having almost free access to the Internet in order to do research and communicate with companies all around the world. We also have to take into account that there has not been international free speech before, so when you are saying that China is limiting free speech, that is not entirely correct. With implementing the Internet technology into the information infrastructure of China – which was before running a communications infrastructure other than the Internet – actually gave people free speech. But this free speech was limited but kind of censorship which was intrinsic to them opening up. So I would rather say that China gave some rights to free speech instead of saying that they limit it by applying censorship measures. However, the point is: Internet overcomes censorship.

Now, we have the plans – and some have already been implemented – to force the Internet Service Providers to blacklist certain websites. So a list is compiled in some very opaque process by some state authorities, the list is given to the ISPs with a law or policy stating that they have to block the access to all these websites from now on. Reasons? Well, whatever suits the current Zeitgeist. Child pornography, indecency, illegal gambling or… of course: terrorism. Funny thing: Sites are added to that list but taken of it? Nah, I don’t think so. We are talking here about liberal and progressive and western developed countries implementing this policy. Not some dictator-ridden third world country which is training to sustain the power of the ruling class until everything implodes like currently developments in Arabia show. Here again, it is the same banana: Free speech was given and now it is kind of taken away. These cases however are different to the Chinese case because there the censorship was implemented together with the access. In the so called western countries I am talking about, it was first given and then taken away. In this case the existence of the Internet facilitates censorship. However, there is still a net gain of free speech compared to limitations by censorship approaches. Also: most activist groups do not take censorship lightly. With a more active hacktivist scene, I would be very careful about what to implement @Australia.

All of that is another story for another blog. Let us have a look at the micro-level. When I am doing New Media consulting, there is the question if ‘we’ can have Facebook group where everyone can join and discuss things. My answer? No. Either you have a private group or you have a public fan-page. But a public group, no way. If you have a public group for your organization (or a public fan-page with enabled wall for others to write on), what do you do if they write something you don’t like? Well, you can leave it there. But I do not think it is a good PR approach, if the first three comments on your own Facebook fan-page say: ‘You suck’. So, the other option is censorship. As owner of that page or group, I can of course delete the post. No one realizes at that very moment that this is an act of censorship. Even a ‘you suck’ is insulting, it is still free speech. The person posting it might have his or her reason to do so. of course it might work and the person will never have a look at the page again or will just let it go. Even he says, that he has been censored, there is not a whole lot of people believing him. But, if in the mean time other people saw the post, and then it is gone later, you are doing plain censorship – encouraged by the tools and the technology at your hand. It is so easy to just click the ‘delete’ button and all the bad stuff is gone. If you do that, you are not better than your government trying to limit your freedom of speech/ information by blocking the access to certain websites.

Let that be two words of advise:
No matter what your government says it is doing it for: It is censorship and most likely a plain lie anyway.
No matter what you think you are doing: If you delete someone’s post just because you can, it is censorship.

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