As opposed to American Net Neutrality, which is the demand that US government regulate Internet-connected US companies, the global problem of Internet Censorship, which is the struggle for freedom under oppressive governments regulating the Internet, is a very real concern.
The real seeds of this conflict started in the year 2010, in the Middle East, in a social movement we now call “Arab Spring.” Citizens of several Middle Eastern countries got together for a chat over Twitter and with the new floodgates of information opened, realized how oppressive their governments were and used social media to organize and rise up. Several countries had a minor revolution; some succeeded where others were pushed back.
Since then, governments around the world have shown a tendency to gradually restrict Internet liberties. Particularly if you want to do something with your naughty bits that certain religious influences don’t want you to do, you’ll find your freedom to talk about it on the Internet increasingly limited.
But on the flip side of this issue, most of the world agrees that there are certain things on the Internet thatshould be censored. Hate speech, disinformation, human trafficking, child pornography, terrorist activity: Surely we all see where that needs to be regulated. Just recently, new scandals are cropping up regarding Russia’s use of social media to manipulate elections in other countries. After the Christchurch, New Zealand massacre, Australia passed a hasty law against “abhorrent violent material” on social media. Obviously, we need some regulation.
Our troubles begin when regulation catches the bad stuff, but also inadvertently curtails the innocent as well. Then there are activities which some clearly condone but are still outlawed. Online gambling is one such hot topic; South Korea has beefed up laws against it. Porn seems to be the big sticky point, however. Sexual content is the number one most censored subject worldwide. India has again enacted a porn ban, which citizens are quietly working around.
Legendary Internet activist John Gilmore said, “The Net interprets censorship as damage and routes around it.” Gilmore is the owner of toad.com, one of the oldest surviving domains on the World Wide Web. The point of this quote is, censoring any topic, legitimate or not, is all but nigh impossible with an Internet around. The information will propagate, even if it has to be downloaded onto USB thumb drives and get passed around by hand.
The one consistent truth in the continuing story of the Internet is that we have unleashed a medium upon the world which we haven’t quite figured out how to govern. Figuring out where to draw those lines now may be a never-ending task.