According to the Lexico Dictionary, censorship is defined as the suppression or repudiation of any parts of books, films, news, etc. that are deemed offensive, politically unacceptable, or a threat to safety and security (Lexico Dictionary, 2019). In many countries, governments censor web content and information to protect their citizens from harmful and dangerous material, but some officials go as far as to fully ban certain websites and applications from their countries. Moreover, censorship also helps during times of rioting, in which officials censor some pieces of information in order to subdue the chaos that is ensuing. Even though censorship has its benefits in the blocking of certain types of information, some people argue that this motion interferes with the freedom of information and expression in society. In addition to that, some may agree that internet censorship and policing is quite expensive and complex to carry out on a mass scale. Internet censorship can be considered as a curse to society because a lack of information can lead to ignorance, it limits the flow of information, and it can have a negative economic impact on society.
Censorship has recently been a subject of many controversies, with network neutrality becoming increasingly important and supported in society, and censorship even appearing in famous works of writing, like George Orwell’s 1984, Lois Lowry’s The Giver, Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, and many more. All of these books have something in common, and it is the fact that the blocking or censoring of information can lead to ignorance, control, and complacency within society. These books give a dystopian and exaggerated view on censorship in society, but also somehow foretell what could happen if censorship were to be implemented heavily on a mass scale. In the book 1984, citizens are kept under intense scrutiny from the government, and they are blocked from accessing certain types of information that are considered as “dangerous” to the foundations of society. With internet censorship, there won’t be any legitimate information circulating around the web, and the truth will be concealed from members of society. This could lead them to be ignorant, making them susceptible to control and manipulation from government officials to think what they want them to think, and see what they want them to see.
One infamous example of this is the widely-spread internet censorship in China. Several observations and investigations from Freedom House, a US non-profit organization, have shown that China has the lowest score of internet privacy and freedom, and has the highest score of internet censorship in the world, with an internet penetration percentage of 54% (Freedom House, 2019). Western applications like Google, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, WhatsApp, and countless others have been blocked in the country, and have been replaced by their Chinese, censored counterparts, like Baidu, Weibo, Youku, WeChat, Taobao, and many more (Leonard, 2017). Even though it is possible to use Virtual Private Networks to bypass these networks, the Chinese government took major steps to also block out VPN services and applications in the country. For example, the government ordered Apple to remove VPN services from its App Store completely, and along with other companies also agreed to new data localization laws, where users’ data are stored in servers in the country (Freedom House, 2019). As stated by The Independent, many young Chinese citizens have become so accustomed to Chinese media apps that they don’t even recognize their Western equivalents at all. As they are acclimated to Chinese applications and online services, many Chinese people are uninterested in knowing what has been censored online, permitting the government to construct an alternative value framework that competes with Western liberal democracy (Yuan, 2018), and further administering complacency within society.
Moreover, the imposition of censorship can limit the flow of information, content, and data in the general public. This can include the restriction of the freedom of information and free speech online. Although false information and fake news can be restricted through the process of internet censorship, it can also be used to cover up and filter actual/legitimate information, as in the case of China. According to the World Economic Forum, about 27% of all internet users reside in a nation where they have been detained by authorities for content and information that they have published, shared, or even liked on Facebook, and in 2016, around 38 countries have made arrests based only on people voicing out their opinions online (Regoli, 2019). In terms of freedom of information, an uncensored internet gives people the chance to freely express their views, thoughts, and opinions on the internet.
Freedom of speech can be defined as the right to express one’s opinions freely without any judgment and/or harassment from others who might oppose one’s opinions (Merriam-Webster Dictionary, 2019). Freedom of speech is a requisite element of civilization, since without its presence, society would be driven into a somewhat totalitarian regime, devoid of privacy, and full of control and manipulation. Even though privacy and freedom are fundamental human rights, many have ignored them completely. As stated before, although censorship can be used to block out false information and hoaxes, it can also be used by some people to cover up the truth from the public. Moreover, if censorship were to be over-implemented and imposed on society, this could hinder the freedom of speech and flow of information, since no one would be free to voice out their opinions and thoughts, and some content that is perceived as “sensitive” online would be blocked entirely, even though they necessarily aren’t dangerous or contain illegal material.
Censorship and internet policing are very prominent and powerful in society, but they can come with quite a heavy cost. According to research by Brookings in 2015, it is shown that countries spend around $2.5 billion each year only on internet censorship and policing. For instance, when the Egyptian government decided to cut internet connectivity in the country, the cost was approximately $100 million, and the amount was so large, that the government had to also take extra money from a different budget line (Regoli, 2019). This would cost taxpayers much money and could disadvantage the economic and financial sectors greatly. Paying and supervising people who monitor and censor the internet are also expensive and quite complex, and implementing censors on a wide scale is very difficult to carry out, since there are over 1.5 billion websites on the internet today. This would require many people to achieve, unless a program/algorithm that would automatically censor and filter were to be created, but this would also take much time to do.
Allowing the government to predetermine what is “good” and “bad” for the community can have a dramatic economic impact. If a certain large company made a complaint against a smaller company because it claims that the other company “violates” their rights and don’t follow the guidelines/don’t pass censors, the smaller company won’t be able to sell their products online, while larger companies that follow the guidelines will. This reflects the truth in society that most governments and lawmakers tend to side with larger and more famous companies, since they would gain more benefits if they favored the larger companies.
In conclusion, internet censorship can be considered as a disadvantage to society because a lack of information can lead to ignorance and complacency, it limits the flow of information and freedom of speech, and it can have a negative economic impact on society. If censorship were to be heavily implemented in the community, this could have adverse effects. Although censorship can be considered as advantageous in some cases, like in the stopping of riots and the blocking of inappropriate information, it can also be abused to block legitimate information, and most of the time, censorship and internet policing would bring more harm than benefits to society.