Twitter Censorship And Free Speech: What Should We Be Scared About?

Posted: 16/01/2013 in Uncategorized

reblogged http://www.faronics.com/en-uk/2013/twitter-censorship-and-free-speech-what-should-we-be-scared-about/

Reading the online edition of the Guardian, it appears that two of the papers’ own contributors kicked off the new year by getting their respective knickers in a twist regarding the thorny subject of online censorship. You can read Jason Farago’s appraisal of France’s proposed censorship of Twitter here, and Glenn Greenwald’s subsequent inflamed repost here.

If you can’t be bothered to read both articles (and I don’t blame you if not), I’ll be happy to give you the gist of them. Farago is delighted that French minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem is demanding that Twitter assist the French government in censoring ‘hateful tweets’, claiming that online ‘outrageous messages are instantly amplified, with sometimes violent effects’. Conversely, Greenwald bemoans the ‘hubris’ of his colleague and others like him, claiming that ‘few ideas have done as much damage throughout history as empowering the government to criminalize opinions it dislikes’.

Oh dear. It seems we find ourselves in the midst of a sticky and inextricable moral conundrum. Both points have their merits, of course. Censorship is all well and good when the things being censored are unpalatable – no-one likes to see racist or homophobic tweets being allowed free reign – but giving governments the power to censor online content has more than a whiff of fascism about it.

In my opinion, it would be lovely to think, as Greenwald clearly does, that the internet is capable of policing itself and that hateful, dissenting voices will be forced out by the reasonable majority, but it’s more than unlikely to ever happen. Censorship, however, is no sort of solution either – even if we lay aside the notion of free speech for a second, it would be naive to think that trolls and other poisonous online pontificators won’t be able to find a way past whatever preventative measures are put in place.

In a nutshell, there’s nothing we can do about distressing online opinions that won’t leave one party or another tearing their hair and bemoaning the degradation of society as whole. If we are to live in a democracy then the internet will continue to be the ultimate extension of those societal ideals – complete with everything that goes with it. The solution to these online ills is to employ the same tactics you used with bullies, devils’ advocates and wind-up merchants at school – simply ignore them. It’s attention such people crave, and if we keep giving it to them, this problem is only going to self-perpetuate.

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