A Contrast on Censorship

8/30/16 Tuesday

A Contrast on Censorship

We now live in a culture of anonymity. Thanks to the internet and so many choices of social media platforms, we now have the ability to discuss, comment, harass, insult, and debate freely and instantly with others who are miles away. How does censorship affect our online lives? What does censorship mean to us in the digital age?

Censorship is a pretty touchy subject among many people. If you even mention the word, some people may become instantly riled up. With people online bandying about terms like thought police, SJW, which stands for Social Justice Warrior by the way, we see a wide array of opinions surrounding this hot topic.

According to the Beacon for Freedom of Expression censorship has existed for thousands of years. It was introduced in ancient societies as a way to control the population. It was used to control what they knew, the information that they had, as well as to supposedly shape the character of the people in its respective society.

Euripides said of liberty and freedom of speech:

This is true Liberty when free born men
Having to advise the public may speak free,
Which he who can, and will, deserv's high praise,
Who neither can nor will, may hold his peace;
What can be juster in a State then this?

As we can see, even our ancient philosophers were thinking about censorship, freedom of speech, and the ability to express ourselves effectively. It has been ingrained in us from very early times to be aware of our communication and our ability to communicate with each other.

You can’t really talk about censorship without talking about online communities. These things go hand in hand as our society is continuously evolving toward expanded abilities to reach out in electronic ways. We delve into the online world of communication by first examining our goals, desires, interests, and preferences. We choose who to interact with, what groups to join, as well as what topics to read about and comment on. Communicating about common interests often stirs debate, criticism, and good-natured arguments. But the other side of this is the frequent encounters with trolls which many on the internet have had the displeasure of experiencing. Unfortunately the internet is filled with those among us, for whatever reason choose to intentionally and deliberately antagonize the forum, message board, or comment section that they participate in. These social pariahs are the ones for which many of these seemingly restrictive rules were probably intended for.

But even reasonable and passionate people populate the internet arguing about many subjects, both simple and complex, taboo and mundane. So what does this mean for censorship? Where do you fall on the censorship debate? Is there good censorship and bad? Is there censorship that is effective, positive, and beneficial? Or is all censorship a method meant to silence, control, and restrict its audience?

IMDb, a long-standing and well-known database for finding information on actors, musicians, and even some pop stars has forums and a variety of message boards in which you can participate. You can sign up for a free account and participate in the message boards, discussing a wide range of entertainment-related subjects. There are even tools to create lists of your favorites, polls for others to take part in, and quizzes with fun topics on popular movies, TV, and actor trivia to answer. But this online database has its limitations. They have conditions which you must abide by in order to discuss these topics. They have strict rules against profanity of any kind. They have a ban on all profanity, on hate speech, abuse, etc. Some of their rules often seem a bit arbitrary though, like most online forums, there are strict rules against certain language and words, but not the intent, nuance, and or proliferation of rude and hateful speech which sometimes falls outside of these guidelines. As wonton body-shaming and fat hatred proliferate the message boards, any mention of race or observations of same may get your posts and comments deleted by an administrator. While it is a very varied source for debate and discussion of all things entertainment related, it has its downsides and flaws. If you do happen to use profanity, it won’t block your post it will simply replace your  word with a “beep” that’s right any swear words will be replaced with *beep*. So you can still pretty much figure out what I was trying to say with this statement in the the message boards for the series The Night Of.

Netflix is another well-known brand in the realm of entertainment. With its wide selection and variety of TV shows, movies, documentaries, and even some web series converted to long-form video, they’ve got a very unusual and strict set of regulations which must be adhered to in order to post and write a review. Despite having movies, which while labeled as “steamy” and “romantic”, are little more than erotica, however when you write a review you are barred from using words like sexy, erotic, naked, and they even (for some reason) disallow use of their own website and company name in reviews posted on there. Yes that’s right! You’re not allowed to use the word Netflix  on Netflix. But if you scroll through to older reviews, you may catch a glimpse of words like sexy or naked or even Netflix in a Netflix review, but after a certain point, they’re no longer tolerated. It makes one wonder how they arrived at this odd, and strict, set of criteria and conditions for their website. If you take a look at many of the reviews. They often fall into a category of what we’ll call, a bit language and image sensitive, so it is perhaps these folks who have a very low tolerance for any perceived harsh or profane language that these rules are for. The ones with the most sensitive sensibilities are often the ones who complain the loudest. There are many reviews on there which seem, let’s be honest a bit puritanical and moralistic in their overly judgmental proclamations and viewpoints.

I wrote a few reviews for Netflix, some of which I ended up having to completely reword as a result of their strict maxims.

Censorship presented to keep certain material away from children is usually met with agreement. While others may question it in adult-only circumstances and environments. Perhaps we don’t need strict censorship rules of any kind, but an assessment of ourselves, our motivations, as well as our ability to argue and communicate effectively, both online and in the real world.

Tell me what you think about censorship? How do you think it affects our lives with so much online activity?

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