Should the Internet be censored? It’s a topic of ongoing debate. And it’s not an easy question to answer, not least of which because one of the questions is who will do the censoring and how. The global nature and the reach of the Internet pose difficulties in controlling content that have never come up with other mediums for communicating and disseminating information. Some countries already censor parts of the Internet, blocking websites and shutting down social media services like Twitter in times of unrest. We sometimes feel uncomfortable around a word like “censor”; it sounds too much like our freedoms are being denied. However, the Internet can be censored in such a way that it remains a good source of information and a lively social space while protecting those who are most vulnerable to Internet exploitation.
Pornography is a big business on the Internet. This is perfectly legal in many places, and plenty of people would say that consenting adults should be able to do as they like as long as they aren’t hurting anyone. Those last four words are key; porn has always been an exploitative industry, and the Internet has only made it worse. At one level there is the exploitation of adults, men and women, who may have been coerced into appearing in porn clips for any number of reasons. This problem isn’t unique to the Internet, but some other problems are. One of these is the proliferation of amateur porn. Too often, clips of people are uploaded without their knowledge or consent. The two worst problems concern sex trafficking and child pornography. It’s one thing if someone is coerced into porn because they need the money or have a drug problem; sex trafficking, however, crosses the coercion line into abuse, rape and kidnapping, and victims may be forced to perform in pornography. Child pornography is a particularly big problem on the Internet, and unfortunately pedophiles are now literally able to network in a way they never have in the past. While both sex trafficking and child pornography are already illegal, the Internet provides a whole new world of profit and distribution for those behind these crimes. Do the rights of people to freely surf the Internet trump the rights and protections due to children and victims of sex trafficking?
Just as the Internet can become a breeding ground for pedophiles, it’s also a place where hate is spread. A number of Internet sites exist simply to promote hatred of different types of people. Once upon a time, a racist might have been isolated or only had contact with other people in the immediate community. Now, a disgruntled person nursing racist tendencies can go online and have those fanned into full-fledged hatred. Future terrorists can be made and recruited online as well, too. This is an issue of exploitation as well. In the past, an angry, alienated young person might pass through such a phase more or less unscathed. Today, angry young people go online and find people who are waiting to prey upon them and convince them to direct that disillusionment toward hate and terrorist activities. Both so-called home-grown and foreign terrorists can be nurtured in this way. Does anyone in the world really benefit from an Internet that allows sites to spew racism and hatred toward other types of people? Whose rights are being preserved here?
A final reason the Internet should be censored is due to violations of intellectual property rights. Many people may imagine that such people as artists and writers would be wholly in favor of a free and open Internet, but the truth is that people who create movies, music, books and more are hurt by an uncensored Internet. Every year, pirates get more and more clever about skirting national and international laws and distributing intellectual content illegally. People may think of piracy as something that only hurts big companies like movie studios, but individuals are hurt by it as well. If no one wants to pay for musicians’ music, how do musicians support themselves so they can make more music? Many on the other side of this issue claim that information should be free, but they forget that real people are taking time out of their lives to create that information. Writers, for example, have the same 24 hours in a day as anyone else, and writing a book takes time; if writers can’t make any money in the seven hours a day they are working on the novel, they will have to shift their time management and use those seven hours to make money in some other way. Furthermore, the work creative people do belongs to them in the same way any other possession belongs to a person. Again, the right of people to have a free and open Internet does not take precedence over the right of creators to own and distribute their creations.
Censoring is a word that frightens many people, but if applied in a thoughtful, measured way that is in accordance with community standards, censoring the Internet can protect vulnerable populations including children from sexual exploitation, reduce hate crimes and terrorism and better protect intellectual property. Internet “freedom” is an abstract concept, but these are real people damaged by real problems that are the result of an uncensored Internet. Censoring the Internet will make both the Internet and the world a better place.