The Internet is one of the greatest results of the human mind’s application of digital technology. However, what it later became was not as great as the original idea. For a long time, the Internet remained an unregulated space where any type of content, even immoral and harmful, could be found easily. It was only recently that this stage of the digital age ended when many governments finally turned their attention to the online space.
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The incentives for this were the fact that more and more people began to use the Internet and digital services and the emergence of the digital economy. Nowadays, censorship laws and censorship policies of social media platforms in local online spaces manifest the direct and indirect presence of states on the Internet. This work aims to discuss and analyze the current form of censorship in digital technology to understand the direction of its further development better.
Internet Censorship in the United States (US) and Europe
Currently, the US and European Union countries are best at balancing freedom of speech and expression with online safety. The owners of social media, websites, search engines and operating systems determine what content and code terminology is acceptable and appropriate in the US online space. However, during Donald Trump’s presidency, state officials attempted to censor Chinese apps such as Tik Tok and promote The Clean Network Initiative (Zhou).
The European Internet space is similar to the American one. Still, it is becoming more and more censored every year since most of the European Parliament voted for Article 13 in 2019. According to European Digital Rights, “Article 13 of the copyright Directive contains a change of internet hosting services’ responsibility that will necessarily lead to the implementation of upload filters.” Many believe that this could lead to biased content filtering and restriction of freedom of expression.
Changes in Code Terminology
Recently, the issue of racism in code terminology has been raised again in Western digital technology discourse. Kolakowski notes that “for years, some developers have regarded certain programming terminology… as racially problematic.” As a result, leading digital companies such as Python, Google, and GitHub have removed words such as master, slave, whitelist, and blacklist from their code terminology (Kolakowski). This case is about digital companies being politically correct rather than them censoring something. Nevertheless, this precedent could potentially lead to censorship of the products of independent and small developers who use the old terminology in the future.
Internet Censorship in China and Russia
It is safe to say that China’s Great Firewall is the apogee of modern Internet censorship. Chinese authorities and digital companies use a variety of censoring techniques in the domestic online space. These include content blocking, keyword blocking, search filtering, and content removal (Pan 172). According to Pan, “while keyword blocking prevents the production of certain types of information, content blocking, search filtering, and content removal prevent the dissemination of existing information” (172). It should be mentioned that non-Chinese social media, search engines, and websites are blocked in the country.
It seems that Russia is slowly but gradually following on the heels of the Chinese model of censoring the Internet. State digital censorship in Russia, which has increased significantly over the past decade, is primarily aimed at opposition information channels. Zittrain et al. note that Russian government agencies blocks “websites critical of the government and websites associated with militant or extremist organizations” (13). Websites with gambling and pornography and those that sell drugs and illegal alcohol are also banned from search results.
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Internet Censorship in Arab Countries
Internet censorship in Arab countries is similar in many respects to Russian but much heavier. Arab regimes block political opponents and especially pornographic websites, because their content contradicts Islamic religious norms. (Shishkina and Issaev 9). State censorship intensifies during times of demonstrations and political instability (Shishkina and Issaev 9). The Middle East and other Muslim states also block criticism of Islam and related satirical and ironic content.
Thoughts on Censorship in Digital Technology
Positive Impact of Censorship
Censoring Internet content and code terminology has a positive effect. Based on personal experience, extremists and radicals have declined with private censorship on many social media. Censorship also allows online users, especially children and the elderly, to avoid harmful content. It sounds paradoxical, but digital censorship makes the Internet more inclusive and more accessible. I believe that the state should act as the censoring actor because it is a less interested stakeholder in the online space.
Negative Impact of Censorship
Censorship is a method of regulation that requires a solid moral and ethical basis and a system of checks and balances. It quickly turns into a tool for controlling information channels in the hands of the wrong people, which eventually leads to a local dictatorship, authoritarian and totalitarian practices. The question is old but valid, “who will guard the guards themselves?” (“Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?”). Censorship in digital technology today looks like a half-measure on the way to full-fledged Internet legislation, which may lead to both positive and negative outcomes.
European Digital Rights. “Press Release: Censorship machine takes over EU’s internet.” European Digital Rights. 2019. Web.
Kolakowski, Nick. “Developers Debate Deleting ‘Master’ and ‘Slave’ Code Terminology.” Dice, 2020. Web.
Pan, Jennifer. “How Market Dynamics of Domestic and Foreign Social Media Firms Shape Strategies of Internet Censorship.” Problems of Post-Communism, vol. 64, no. 3-4, 2017, pp. 167-188.
Shishkina, Alisa, and Leonid Issaev. “Internet Censorship in Arab Countries: Religious and Moral Aspects.” Religions, vol. 9, no. 11, 2018, pp. 1-14.
“Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?” ICLR. Web.
Zhou, Qijia. “Building the (Fire) Wall: Internet Censorship in the United States and China.” Harvard International Review, 2020. Web.
Zittrain, Jonathan L., et al. “The Shifting Landscape of Global Internet Censorship.” Berkman Klein Center Research Publication, 2017, no. 4, 2017, pp. 1-24.