There is much speculation on the responsibility that tech companies have over censorship. Maybe you've seen conversations circulating about it over social media or heard about them on the news or perhaps you've even had these conversations with your own friends and family.
Simply through speculation, you will notice most people with an opinion on the matter hold a very strong and polarizing view while still being well aware of the opposing viewpoint.
To understand this social dilemma even further, we will discuss what censorship is, what power it has, and explore a new way of enforcing censorship.
What is censorship?
Censorship is any action that is taken to change, restrict, or omit content that is occurring naturally with the intention of protecting and creating a safe environment.
Censorship in media may be done by blurring images which may be defined as obscene. It is done through algorithms making it more difficult for content that may be deemed as threatening to be found. It can also be done by restricting a user's use of the application or website. These are only a few examples.
Recently, President Donald Trump has been banned from using Twitter and Facebook because his haphazard way with words often leads to a roaring response of both uprise and outrage. While Twitter has reinstated Donald Trump's use of the social media service, Facebook and Instagram have revoked his use 'indefinitely'.
Censorship is especially important when we consider vulnerable people (children especially) who we share these online communities with. Censorship may also make for a more enjoyable user experience because users are protected from obscene or disruptive content.
The issue of censorship really comes down to what content we consider obscene or threatening and why.
It is difficult to define what exactly is obscene or threatening as there are countless ways that things can be interpreted and the setting of the particular content can mean everything. Thus, it leads to the belief that certain censorship needs to be taken case-by-case.
Many have speculated that there is deliberate suppression of certain ideas or beliefs, but this is could simply come down to an algorithm that lessens the traction of a particular post based off of users' engagement with it. However, having a case-by-case censorship system would make these doubts in the morality of censorship more prevalent as people would not easily be able to compare the 'justness' of some censorship decisions.
The real concern here is that society and government can be controlled by changing the content that people are able to see.
With great power comes great responsibility and our tech giants are being placed in the cross-hairs of a battle that will not be easily won. It raises immediate questions in my own psyche: Should any company have this much power? What is the power that we are giving them exactly? Do we have control over the power we give them? What do we fear? Do we propose a better way?
Perhaps the greatest voice on the matter is none other than Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerburg himself where he poses great questions: “What should be the limits to what people can express?”. “What content should be distributed and what should be blocked? Who should decide these policies and make enforcement decisions?”
Should there be limits on what people express? Is a completely uncensored social media platform something that interests people? Would you want to be apart of that community? I personally enjoy censorship with the trust that the company censoring is doing so with my best interests in mind as opposed to control my beliefs.
I am more concerned about why content is being blocked and the intent behind blocking it than the blocked content itself. If we believe that something is imposing harm to others, then I believe, it should be blocked.
It is a question between right and wrong. How do you make these decisions in your own life? What works best for me is going with my feelings.
We all have feelings and many of us trust them to make the greatest decisions we make in life through them, but can we run a system that allows us to simply go with our feelings? Imagine that something is blocked simply because we felt like it was the right thing to do. That would be my ideal scenario.
In regards to 'who' should decide what should be blocked or distributed, I think it would be a wonderful opportunity for community service. Imagine a board of people with different backgrounds whose job is to make a collective decision on blocking or distributing content. The service terms would be short and would allow more people to understand and appreciate the value of censorship. It would divide and circulate the immense power of censorship through more of the community.
Ultimately, this fear of censorship stems from a belief that someone else controls your beliefs. To ease the burden of this fear, let me ask you this: have you ever tried to shift someone's beliefs before? Perhaps you wanted them to become a vegetarian or the opposite or be a certain religion or belong to a certain political party. You may present them with whatever knowledge you want to or testimony that you believe and while you may convince some to entertain the notion, they will ultimately believe whatever they want to believe regardless of what you have to say.
Though censorship could be used for the manipulation of information or fabrication of interpretation, we may rest easy knowing that the truth always comes out and good always wins. We know these two things to be true because we have beared witness to them in our own lives. That is experience you can trust.
As far as our own power over censorship, perhaps if we were all considerate of the vulnerabilities contained in each of our social ecosystems, we would create environments where all can thrive.