To censor or not to censor? This has been a popular topic of conversation, particularly amongst the younger generations (whose lives essentially revolve around social media). The question is, how much can be deemed too much when it comes to government involvement in their citizens’ online affairs? Several concerns have arisen regarding the matter of whether or not the government should have access to and control over what one chooses to view and publish online. Some governments are less restrictive, while others condone full-fledged censorship. In short, the line distinguishing a safe amount of censorship of social media by authoritative figures and an ultimate infringement of privacy in some countries has become increasingly blurry (the most extreme cases exhibited in the Eastern world).
Firstly, context as to what’s been occurring when it comes to internet censorship in Eastern countries is important. For background, more and more eastern governments (more often than not, authoritarian governments) have been implementing strict internet censorship regimes. This occurs for several reasons, one of which includes preventing citizens from talking poorly about the government and its decisions. Erik C. Nisbet, Olga Kamenchuk, and Aysenur Dal, researchers from Ohio State University, state that objective Authoritarian regimes commonly justify Internet censorship by framing the Internet as a threat to their citizens that must be tightly controlled for their own protection. This threat would then, in turn, support government censorship and creates a 'psychological firewall' driving public support for a censored Internet. News of this spreads, and soon enough, there are entire governments replicating Russian national TV news predicted greater Internet threat perceptions, and in turn these threat perceptions significantly increased support for online political censorship. Conclusion Approval of the Putin government further amplified the impact of these threat perceptions on support for censorship (Dal, Kamenchuk, and Nisbet, 2012).
Secondly, one should note the sentiments that may arise with the implementation of censorship. Researchers from the University of Sun Yat-sen in China Jiayin Lu, who specializes in Communication Law, Political Communication, and Communication and Media, and Yupei Zhao, whose research focuses on new media, political communication, and international communication, examined the impact of Internet censorship on young adults’ political expression and protest through DAILR and DPPIC. DAILR stands for the Degree of Internet Laws and Regulations, and DPPIC is the Degree of Psychological Perception of Internet Censorship (Lu and Zhao, 2018). They based their research upon the assumptions that censorship may bring about anti-censorship sentiments (such as anxiousness, anger, or curiosity), and that censorship will therefore be rendered useless as these sentiments cam fuel the need for citizens to actively seek out posts that have been deleted by censors (Lu and Zhao, 2018). This illustrates the idea that censorship may instill negative sentiments within citizens, and can oftentimes have the opposite effect of what is desired by the government. In observing the effects of the two dimensions of Internet censorship, it was found that DAILR can contribute to young adults’ political protest directly or accelerate their political protest through political expression, whereas DPPIC can directly weaken political protest or indirectly limit it by reducing young adults’ political expression. Therefore, Internet censorship acts as a symbolic means of control when it is involved in an individual’s routine life. However, it cannot fully forbid young adults’ free speech and overall actions. This only differs when Internet censorship acts as a perceived threat - that is when it can it directly limit young adults’ political protest. Not every reaction to government censorship in the East is negative, though. According to researchers from Hong Kong Baptist University Steve Guo & Guangchao Feng, stances on internet censorship and whether or not it should be strict depends on one’s personal upbringing and ultimate personal beliefs. Where support for censorship is concerned, individuals that harbor authoritarian views would be more likely to prioritize synching with those in authority despite any personal losses that might occur. Whether this is done willingly or unwillingly is beside the point for domination. There exists an authoritarian personality scale in which several studies have shown that approval of censorship is significantly predicted by a person’s score on it (Guo and Feng, 2011).
Finally, it is important to look at different solutions that may arise concerning the ethics of internet censorship. Two solutions, presented by Eric Fish, a Federal Public Defender who has obtained a Ph.D. from Yale Law School, illustrates how the citizens themselves can help bring about change in their governments’ regimes. In his research, Fish observed the ethics of executing severe internet censorship regime within countries otherwise considered “democracies”. The first involves utilizing different social media platforms to publicize censorship as a means of embarrassing those who implement it. An issue that comes about with this solution, however, is that while it aims to help bring about change in countries with authoritarian governments (examples being China and Iran), it is more likely to have an impact in countries that are largely democratic. The second solution would involve providing citizens with tools that they can use to spread information online without having to go through the censors. Governments such as South Korea have a hole in their ability to control foreign websites, of which activists can and have exploited to spread information and criticism without needing to use their own names, or having to worry about their commentary being taken down. This has been evident when YouTube, for example, became a major resource for South Koreans in 2007 when it came to criticizing Lee Myung-bak during the election. Creating discussion boards, video hosting sites, and internet blogs that are connected to the Korean Internet public sphere could then be deemed an immensely effective way to help people get by government filters (Fish, 2009).
To censor or not to censor? Is it appropriate to deem how certain governments interfere with their citizens’ online affairs unethical? Several concerns have arisen regarding the matter of whether or not the government should have access to and control over what one chooses to view and publish online. Ultimately, it comes down to whether or not the country has been accustomed to the severe regime. Those who are used to having been controlled in such a manner tend to have less of a problem with being controlled than those who are not used to being controlled.