Writing 07: Censorship

In the first class this week, we discussed the pros and cons of Net Neutrality. For the most part, we students seemed to believe that Net Neutrality is ultimately a good, and I stand by that. I personally feel that the Internet is as essential to modern life as water or electricity, and hence should be treated as a public utility. There are so few service providers available to most Americans; about 40% only have access to one or none, and a majority have access only to 1 or 2. With such cornered markets, you have to logically fear monopolies gouging customers and restricting access to certain sites. If your Internet Service Provider makes a deal with the New York Times and throttles (or outright blocks) the Washington Post, that is a gentle form of censorship. Additionally, we have to worry about the bundling that is occurring between Internet Service Providers and online services. While free bundling seems nice, it allows a company to select which platforms win or lose (like picking Hulu over Netflix), rather than the market deciding based on each platform’s merit. I know some people spoke about how that was unfair due to the current pricing model, where there is a flat fee and some use more internet than others. But I contend that people truly feel that the current system is so disastrous, then moving to a system where you pay for what you use would be fair in those eyes, and still congruent with the ideals of Net Neutrality. We have to have barriers against monopolistic control and market manipulation, as access to the Internet has become a basic right.

But that was speaking about censorship on the order of providing access to the Internet, what about censoring its content? I personally believe that those who own websites fall into a strange gray area between a content medium and a publishing authority. Obviously, a company should not be penalized for one rogue user simply posting a terrorism manifesto. But if that type of content is allowed to stay up and proliferate, if they do not take it down, then a larger issue arises. Online censorship is a necessary evil. I have distaste for the idea that a corporation will decide what is and is not appropriate.. Censorship harms not only those who are being hateful and divisive, but also those who simply fall outside the norm of acceptability. But I understand that when individuals with harmful goals are given a platform that allows them to carry it out, we must take action, so there must be some moderation of content online. I believe that most of the responsibility for this should lie with the individual actually posting the content, that they should be held accountable for their dangerous/hateful ideas, but I think some responsibility also falls to the forum that hosts such ideas. Leaving up harmful content like hate speech or other immoral content implicitly approves of (or at least tolerates) it, and sends a message that such things are okay. Obviously in real life if someone started yelling racial slurs in their company building they would not allow it. So why allow it online?