We’ve read about censorship before- in books like Fahrenheit 451 and 1984– and it was based partially on experiences. Now we see the same issue cropping up in the internet. It would be very convenient for many people, for governments, for dictators, and for corporations to only show us what they want us to see on the internet. This happened recently in 2010 when Google agreed to censor certain sites in China that the Chinese Industry and Information Technology’s Telecoms Development Department didn’t approve of. Essentially, China’s “Information Department” is acting here as a ministry of propaganda. There’s no way to sugarcoat good old fashion censorship of information from the masses. Omission of information is just as bad as falsified information. There are hackers and people who are able to find ways around such internet restrictions, but not every Chinese citizen can be expected to do this. And while this agreement with Google may have started to prevent the dissemination of pornographic or “subversive” material, who is to say where the line is drawn? Who decides at that point what is considered “subversive” or threatening to national security? The scary part is that citizens might not even know what is being kept from them. Who is to say that opinionated articles on the censorship of free speech won’t be censored next?
This isn’t just happening on search engines in communist countries, either. It’s happening here in the US and even on our cell phones. In 2008 Common Dreams reported on instances of Verizon blocking subscription text messages from the pro-choice group NARAL. Verizon cited reasons of censorship of texts that, in their opinion, “promote an agenda or distribute content that, in its discretion, may be seen as controversial or unsavory to any of our users.” Not only did this block the free exchange of information between an organization to people, but prevented those supporters from being able to organize amongst each other and efficiently rally support. Verizon was basically suppressing information that they didn’t like that could POSSIBLY stir up change.
The Common Dreams piece also cited the example from 2007 of Comcast blocking peer-to-peer file sharing sites. Are some of these sites pushing copyright laws? Yes. But that’s not all they’re used for. And the act of slowing down certain sites like this is data discrimination. While these sites may take up more bandwidth, it’s crucial to maintain equal treatment of internet traffic- net neutrality– if we want to keep the internet an open and egalitarian place for intelligent discussion and growth. Net neutrality is essential for independent media sources to be heard in a sea of mainstream media (who can afford the more expensive bandwidth for heavy traffic). If we lose this, we’re truly spiral into a nation of state-approved media, with the power of the media in the hands of the few and the rich.
In this video, internet veterans Hank and John Green (of Vlogbrothers fame) explain the importance of free speech and expression on the internet through preserving net neutrality. They also get some help from other famous Youtubers. Hank and John Green have been spreading stimulating and educational content for years now on Youtube, as of lately through their educational project ‘Crash Course’. John Green will use his channel to explain to his subscribers everything from the economic futility of pennies to the current Syrian crisis. They are successful because they are funny and dedicated to their fans, but also because they are capable of explaining things as complex as net neutrality to their young viewers.