Do you believe that the protection of freedom of speech and expression should always be critical for the USA or censorship is a good idea? After the implementation of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, people received an opportunity to speak up their minds without any limits or prohibitions. However, the controversy regarding the benefits of such freedom and its drawbacks has existed for a long time already. People do not deny that some things should not be reached by everyone. Due to this idea, the television content rating systems exist. Still, they just recommend the viewers what to watch but do not implement real limitations. This issue becomes even more controversial when speaking about the Internet. The World Wide Web is full of information that does not usually face any selection procedure and reveals any content uploaded by the users including the one that is generally considered to be improper.
This paper focuses on technology and a topic of the Internet Censorship/Classified Information Leaks. The attention is mainly paid to the existing controversy regarding the necessity to implement the Internet censorship in the USA so that the work becomes more precise and consistent. This paper will try to answer the main question of whether the USA should adopt the Internet censorship or not. It will argue that that even though it violates the freedom of speech and expression, the US government should implement balanced Internet censorship because it prevents crimes, strengthens national security, and protects Americans.
Personally, I became interested in this topic a long time ago. At first, being a child, I just wondered why directors would make those films that I was not allowed to watch. As I grew older and started to use the Internet, my parents’ prohibitions took the backseat. Still, the main influence was made on me when I was abroad. Very often I was discouraged to continue surfing because of the improper information, such as partially distorted pornographic images, that I was not interested in but that would constantly appear on my screen. In the USA and many other countries, such things are rarely met that is why I got interested in the way different countries control the Internet. Today, I am able to ignore the information of this kind, but I also realize that the issue is not limited to the age-rating content.
Background on Internet Censorship
During the last several years the Internet turned into the most frequently used source of entertainment and information. According to NTIA, more than 2 million people resort to it each month so that about a half of all USA population can be found online on a regular basis (Kozlowsky, 2016). Already in the beginning of the 21st century, about 55% of Americans used the Internet, which reveals an increase of 26 million in a year and means that today this number is much bigger (Kozlowsky, 2016). The amount of information that can be found online grows extremely fast. This tendency is uncontrollable because there is almost no restriction regarding the content and the type of the information you can upload for other users to reach it. Thus, people can find almost everything, including hate speeches and pornography, in this way. In general, people all over the world are free to use the Internet as they want because they have a right to utilize it for different purposes. Still, not all of them believe that such privileges should be available for everyone.
From the very beginning, The Internet was just a simple communication tool. Still, with the course of time, it turned into a credible source of information. It links different people from all over the world and allows them to reach almost any information they want. Today, both individuals and businesses make use of this technology that never stops developing. However, with the development of the Internet advantages, its drawbacks affected the users more and more. A lot of hate-speeches, pornographic materials, and terrorists’ activities are maintained with the help of the World Wide Web. In order to take them under control, the government implements censorship.
It is both the legislative and moral process that prevents the users from reaching inappropriate information, materials, and actions. The justification for censorship is that it promotes the development of society. Nowadays, several bills concerning these issues have already passed in the USA, but not all Americans believe them to be necessary and appropriate. France, India, and China are among those countries that are known for the implementation of the Internet censorship. They emphasize the fact that such approach allows to ensure nation’s security. Their governments use different methods to reach this goal, including content filtering, surveillance, policies, and tapping. Using their example, the USA can also continue reaching advantages of the Internet censorship.
Moral Theories and Censorship
The issue of the Internet censorship can be considered from the point of view of different moral theories. In the majority of cases, it deals with the control of pornography that is thought to be not appropriate in modern society. However, Kant claimed that a loved person is sexually attractive. He separated sexual desires that are focused on the body and on a complete individual, underlying that the last ones should not be experienced outside marriage (Gray, Knobe, Sheskin, Bloom, & Barrett, 2011). In this way, he supported the adoption of the Internet censorship and implementation of related policies.
Similar ideas are discussed in the framework of utilitarianism. According to this moral theory, censorship can be rather advantageous because the government will have an opportunity to prevent the outspread of pornography and other information of different types with improper content. It followers underline that such subjects reduce the dignity of life, and harm those who are portrayed and those who watch as well as their families. It can ruin one’s family, lead to a divorce, and even increase incidents of rape. In addition to that, when pornography is normally available online, people tend to get used to such content. As a result, their sympathy for victims reduces.
According to the social contract theory, people’s freedom of expression is underlined. Still, it does not emphasize conscience as a right to be independent of the state and has individual values. It is rather an ability to understand personal sovereignty. The USA is still expected to protect its citizens even though they are not obliged to follow and accept all common ideas. In fact, the country should even make sure that people’s conscience is not unwillingly affected by one’s fellows (MacLean, 2016). Thus, the social contract theory also supports the idea of the Internet censorship implementation.
Experiences of Other Countries
A lot of countries all over the world practice censorship successfully. The development of the Internet provided a lot of opportunities to support economic development and democracy. It allowed the users to express their opinions in different forums. As a result, communication became more vertical, which means that people’s social levels and other discrepancies became less important. They tend to feel less affected by their position and are glad to have an opportunity to operate the same information as others. In this way, it also ensures trust and confidence, as a lot of personal information can be found on the Internet due to the fact that it is a source of social interaction.
Realizing that the World Wide Web can affect the lives of the general public adversely by harmful and inappropriate information as well as by disclosure of personal data, the governments of many countries considered the implementation of the Internet censorship is. In addition to the USA, France and India developed policies to take activities on the Internet under control. Still, the country that is widely known for its control over the information that the population can reach using the Internet is China. For instance, in China, the government considers that the Internet is full of threatening content that is why it is critical to ensure personal safety and protection. That is why a lot of different information is blocked. Still, in general, the representatives of the public do not consider such intervention to be a great limitation. Western countries basically try to protect their children from inappropriate content, but they became stricter after the terrorist attacks, especially those of September 11, 2001. While previously the population would be opposed to those policies that restricted the use of the Internet, now they realize that such intervention can save their lives and accept it (Ringmar, 2007).
As a result, the governments of different countries developed spying software that is used to monitor the information that is searched for and uploaded on the Internet. It even includes the investigation of email communication, which the majority of the general public considers to be totally confidential unless one’s account is hacked. Of course, it should also be mentioned that the governments utilize the ability to control the information on the Internet in order to make its own activities more secretive. In this way, they make such data available only to privileged populations, which does not coincide with the freedom of information. However, it also means that terrorists and other enemies of the country are less likely to obtain some significant data that can make it more vulnerable.
The Western countries actively utilize technologies of control and surveillance and help developing countries to obtain such tools so that they can follow this example as well. The governments encourage utilization of deciphering, tracking and wiretapping equipment, etc. They claim that such approaches do not affect general information and are targeted mainly at the control of pornography, hate speech and terrorism, which is undoubtfully beneficial for countries’ population. Being aware of the Internet censorship and its peculiarities, the representatives of the general public tend to accept content filtering and manipulation of telecommunication markets (Zuchora-Walske, 2010).
Benefits and Drawbacks
In order to define whether the Internet censorship is advantageous for the USA, it is critical to focus on its benefits and drawbacks. First of all, it is significant to mention that censoring can help to protect children from becoming victims of sexual crimes. Many adults who are engaged in sex trafficking and pornography find children on the Internet as they pretend to be their peers. Controlling content, the government receives an opportunity to find and prevent such issues, saving children’s lives. Adults are not able to control their kids always. Even though they explain them the concepts of morality and tell how to act in particular situations, children yield to the ideas of other people easily. Even being aware of the fact that they are supposed to follow the recommendations of content rating systems, kids may ignore them. Thus, it would be better if the inappropriate content would just be unavailable.
In addition to that, it is critical to pay attention to the very essence of a free society. The implementation of the Internet censorship does not mean that people will not have freedom of speech and expression. Even if it is not absolute, the public still has an opportunity to share ideas, but the incidents of cyber-bullying and racism will be reduced. In the same way, illegal activities can be taken under control, which will make the country safer and more pleasant to live in. The control of the content tends to lead to the reduction of malicious messages and is likely to influence people positively. Such alterations can strengthen national security. Prevention of hacking and punishment for it are sure to improve protection of personal data. Both terrorists and citizens can affect the safety of the general public adversely, which proves the necessity of the Internet censorship. Identity thefts happen more and more often because the users tend to believe that the information they do not share openly is totally protected. Limiting the content that can be uploaded and accessed on the Internet, the governments ensure that the information that can make organizations and users vulnerable does not become available on the Internet.
Some supportive ideas regarding the Internet censorship are outlined in the article written by Keen (2012). The professional focused on the Western democratic countries because their perceptions tend to be the most contradictive. In fact, the author’s position on this issue is rather clear, as he emphasizes the necessity to implement an effective regulation system applied to the Internet. The author believes that the propagation of the terrorist agenda can be minimalized in this way. Still, Keen (2012) cannot disagree that civil liberty organizations tend to oppose such intervention. He provides several examples that reveal previous experiences of legislators who tried to censor the Internet but failed. As a result, no policies that could prevent the expansion of social networks and control the Interned were developed. These outcomes prove that the representatives of the general public perception are not willing to be controlled when they enter a digital world even though the author is sure that such attitudes are mistakable.
However, some people would argue that the implementation of the Internet censorship removes the freedom of expression and prevents the representatives of the general public from reaching the truth. With reference to the First Amendment, some people argue that no prohibition regarding the content of the information that is accessible and can be uploaded should exist, otherwise their rights would be violated. In addition to that, having no opportunity to obtain real information, people can become ignorant and spread wrongful perceptions. In addition to that, the governments can hide important information, for example about international relations, from the population. Of course, abusive officials can conceal wrongful practices, including corruption, in this way. Censorship prevents any digital evidence of illegal activities from reaching the public. What is more, the leaders of the country can obtain an opportunity to provide people with the information they consider to be appropriate regardless of the real situation. As a result, their personal gains tend to increase while others tend to have problems.
The adoption of the Internet censorship is not free, which means that additional costs will be required to maintain it. Realizing that there is a necessity to get at least new equipment and manpower, the government may increase taxes so that needed money can be obtained. The general public is not likely to have positive views on such intervention. One more drawback of censoring is that it can affect businesses negatively, which will also harm country’s economy. Many organizations use the Internet to sell their products and services and to advertise them. Thus, being banned, they will lose their opportunity to develop, remain competitive, and reach a global market. What is more, instead of censorship people can have rating systems that guide them but not limit. Of course, such approach requires much self-autonomy, but it can be seen as a transitioning measure and the golden mean between the absence of censorship and total control.
Such ideas are supported by MacKinnon (2011) who claims that the USA should not follow China’s example because it will abuse American law. The professional believes that the government should not forget those efforts that were taken to develop and protect the freedom of speech. She also underlines the fact that the Internet allows the representatives of the general public to participate in politics and influence leaders’ decisions. In addition to that, the author emphasizes the fact that without censorship people will have an opportunity to be aware of a real situation in the country and prevent abuse of power.
Taking everything mentioned into consideration, it can be concluded that the controversy on the Internet censorship is an issue that remains on the front burner for a long time because it has almost the same number of reasons to support it and to oppose. The population of the USA tends to have different views on it, which makes it even more difficult to find out what should be done. Still, when focusing on the best practices of other countries and theoretical backgrounds, it seems that the government should do its best to ensure the safety of the population even if it means content censorship. The thing is that the prohibitions should not cross the line of being protective. Absolute censorship does not seem to be a solution, and Americans are not likely to accept those rules that are practiced in China, for example. Still, they tend to understand the necessity to protect personal information and prevent children from reaching inappropriate information or becoming victims of criminals who hide in the World Wide Web. The government should do its best to find a balance between prohibitions and allowances. It can be reached when taking the discussed information as the basis for the future policies and make them aligned with the population’s views.
Gray, K., Knobe, J., Sheskin, M., Bloom, P., & Barrett, L. (2011). More than a body: Mind perception and the nature of objectification. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 101(6), 1-14.
Keen, R. (2012). Untangling the Web: Exploring Internet regulation schemes in Western democracies. San Diego International Law Journal, 13(2), 351–382.
Kozlowsky, R. (2016). The power of CEO communications – Critical for a startup. Web.
MacKinnon, R. (2011). Stop the great firewall of America. The New York Times. Web.
MacLean, J. (2016). When is censorship justified? Web.
Ringmar, E. (2007). A blogger’s manifesto: Free speech and censorship in the age of the Internet. New York, NY: Anthem Press.
Zuchora-Walske, C. (2010). Internet censorship: Protecting citizens or trampling freedom? Minneapolis, MN: Twenty-First Century Books.