Without social media as a place to express our ideas and our emotions, what would we do? Social media has vastly changed the way we receive and give out information. It has introduced a whole new way of communicating and expressing ideas and views on a great range of topics. With social media and today’s technology, we can say what we want, where we want, whenever we want. We are able to express our ideas on personal, political, and social views freely; and since it’s of so little cost and very convenient now days, it has become one of the most accessible forms of information in the world. However, there has been much controversy over whether there should be limits to the things we say and the content we post, and limits to our freedom of speech and expression online. Some people, along with the government, believe that there should be great limits to what people can say and post online. They believe that more websites should completely censor any inappropriate comments or materials seen and that the government should have the right to censor anything that they believe shouldn’t belong online. I agree to a certain degree that some things shouldn’t be allowed on the Internet, censoring content on the Internet will not solve anything; the problem will only continue to grow. The Internet is a free domain, so we should be given the right to express ourselves freely online and the government shouldn’t be able to take those rights away.
Censorship is the suppression of publishing or accessing information on the Internet and it can be carried out by governments or by private organizations, either at the order of government or on their own initiative. Individuals may sometimes self-censor what they post online now days due to intimidation or fear of getting in trouble for what they post. Over the past few years, censorship on the Internet has become a growing concern and many different websites are already being affected by censorship for different reasons. These reasons for censorship are rising from the growing concern over content found on the Internet that could possibly be used to attack society, attack and bully vulnerable individuals, or promote group violence—most commonly an issue on social networking sites and political websites. The government believes that they should be allowed to remove and censor any content found in the Internet that they feel is not in the public’s interest or popular view or anything that they feel may be offensive or hurtful to other individuals.
Not only our freedom of speech is important to be protected, but also our individualism and self-expression. One of the reasons why so many people around the world go on the Internet is because it’s a forum for free expression. We like to express ourselves, in various ways online—through videos, blogs, pictures, and music—but now days we are often getting penalized for doing so. Today there are many Internet censorship bills going through congress, including the ones called PROTECT-IP (Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act) and SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act). These acts focus on censoring the Internet to the entertainment industry; that is, when users post content that include music or video that don’t necessarily belong to them. These acts will allow private corporations to shut down unauthorized sites where people download movies, music, and television shows. It will give the government the power to block access to sites containing this content, sue search engines and blogs that have links to any of these sites, and cancel accounts and reduce funds on websites that infringe copyrighted content.
To those who are convicted, the government would say, ” Under Protect-IP and SOPA, you are a criminal for using this content without permission. And now, you will be sentenced for your crime, which you can’t really deny, because it was on the Internet and seen by all these other users” (Frevele). The intentions of this bill are not completely bad though. I understand that these bills were made to protect the properties of producers of entertainment, but I think the government might take it a little too far. Under these bills, it would be considered illegal to post a video where a song can be heard in the background. It would also be illegal to post a link to a song or video that they really like onto their personal blog. Getting in trouble for just trying to share content on Facebook or Twitter is unfair. The individuals who are sharing the content aren’t even the ones who posted it on the Internet in the first place! They shouldn’t be getting in trouble for simply posting a link somewhere; and I’m sure hundreds of others also shared that same link too. The government would have to track down every single person who did so to make things fair, and that would be going way too far. And to make it even worse, this bill would cost us $47 million tax dollars a year. That’s $47 million for something that majorly disrupts the Internet and infringes on creativity and doesn’t protect our rights.
As of today, not many people have a say as to what will be censored on the Internet. How soon will it be until all of us are getting in trouble by the government for posting something on Facebook that is seemingly offensive, when it really wasn’t intended to be? Before we know it, we won’t be able to express ourselves at all on the Internet! Many people argue that by the government censoring content on the Internet, they are threatening our rights to the First Amendment—the freedom of speech and the freedom of expression—and I agree with this argument. In Pybus’s view, “When people are allowed to speak their minds, right or wrong, others are able to make decisions for themselves about what’s best for themselves an their country. Sometimes, by defending opinions they know to be true from falsehood and erroneous opinion, their understanding of those truths is sharpened. The best response to something we don’t agree with is not silencing that opinion, but more speech” (Bethel). What he’s saying is that when people speak their minds, it will most likely cause controversy; but by hearing what other people have to say about something, it betters others’ understandings and allows others to also contribute their own ideas and views on a topic, especially if they don’t agree with what someone else is saying. In this way, it’s important for people to be allowed to express their thoughts, good or bad. This form of expression is especially important on the Internet because it’s a great tool for free speech and a great tool to distribute and let your views be heard by many different people.
Some countries—including China, Vietnam, and North Korea—have already been censoring many culturally controversial Internet sites and have even been banning some seemingly low-risk sites, such as Facebook and Amazon because of their own views on what is thought to be a threat or distraction to their culture. Citizens in these countries often times don’t react to these actions by the government very well. They view it as unfair and it sometimes leads to public outrage, heavily criticizing the government for their actions. Of course the governments are compelled to do things that the people wont always agree with, in order to insure good long-term outcomes, but I believe that censorship can sometimes be used in an unfair manner in which the public has no say in the situation. The government often automatically and unthinkingly censors online content. I believe it’s better to let the people at least have some say in what is considered a threat online. If someone finds something to be inappropriate or offensive, they should report it, and only then should the government look at that issue. That would be better than taking away something that the majority believe is completely fine and doesn’t really affect anyone in a negative way. Letting the people have a say would reduce the unnecessary banning of content on the Internet. The government wouldn’t get as much negative feedback and the people would be a lot happier too.
Governments are the ones who are left in charge to determine what gets censored on the Internet, but there have been many debates today focusing on the concern of even allowing the government to make the decisions to ban and censor anything on the Internet that they believe shouldn’t be there. Since the Internet is something that is used widely all around the world as an international and public space to communicate and exchange information with others, I believe that the government doesn’t have the right to censor any information found online. Governments are elected to serve for their own countries. They should focus only on creating and maintaining laws and the population that are relevant to their specific nation. The Internet is international and free, so no government at all should have a right to any of the information found on it. On the other hand, many people argue that even though the Internet is a global resource, the government has the right to attack any information that they find might have a negative effect on their country. They argue that it’s the government’s responsibility to protect their society, and they do so by censoring threatening information or content. I believe that simply censoring or removing content on the Internet won’t solve any problems. The government can’t stop the problem in that way! Those who post this content will eventually find another way to post that same information somewhere else, and the problem will only continue to grow. David Goldberger—a professor of law that specializes in issues like these—says, “Free speech, protected by the First Amendment, is communication that flows into the marketplace of ideas that allows us to decide what we think is right, what we think is wrong, what truth is and how to best govern the country” (Bethel). Goldberger backs up my argument with this quote by saying that everyone’s opinions are necessary in order to make the best decisions in governing the country because controversial opinions really makes us think about what is right and what is wrong. Censoring these views on the Internet won’t benefit anyone; in fact, it would be considered a great loss to the country. Majority of people are more comfortable expressing their views online, but if they’re not allowed to do this anymore, then practically no one would really have a voice in decision making in many countries.
I think the best way to make the Internet a safer place would be by self-censorship and education; not censorship by the government. Internet users are increasingly aware that anything they post online can be viewed by possibly anyone—parents, teachers, employers, and peers. They choose what they want to post, and the ones who view it have a choice to take that information or content in certain ways.
Everyone has their own opinions, their own expressions, their own views—and the Internet is the best tool to out there let their voices be heard. If that right is taken away from us, like I mentioned before, no one would have a voice. No one’s opinions would be heard. Some people might have great ideas, but if the government thinks it’s not in the popular opinion, they’ll censor it. Almost everyone gets their information off the Internet now days. If only certain things are censored, everyone would be looking at biased views on everything. They would only be reading about what the government thinks is right. We wouldn’t get to express ourselves and speak freely. Our First Amendment rights would be diminished, and the Internet would definitely loose all its charm. The Internet is a free environment; no one should be able to take it away from us.