Today we are living within the golden age of free speech, aided by the influence that the internet exerts on our population, not only as a nation but on a global scale. In today's networked society, seemingly anyone can publicly post, share and broadcast live their opinions and ideas — actions that would be regarded as impossible 100 years earlier. Our society has grown into one that flourishes under being united digitally, but now, our community is being threatened due to a growing issue: censorship.
Censorship is formally defined as the suppression of speech, public communication or other material that may be considered offensive, harmful, sensitive, politically incorrect or inconvenient as determined by governments, media outlets, authorities or other groups or institutions. A tricky definition, as opinions and ideas fluctuate within a population, and not everyone has the same beliefs. Therefore, a larger body determining what's "appropriate" is nothing but a red flag for concern.
As a result, our public body is seemingly becoming more and more opinionated and fragile to the ideas and opinions that used to start philosophical debates and spark movements. The influx of more ideas, all towards the betterment of society, are becoming censored — silenced. Though the internet's vast spread gives everyone a voice, it also backfires to give punishments to users for speaking. African American writer Ijeoma Oluo, called out racist hate speech on Facebook and promptly got suspended from the social media site. Laura Moriarty, another writer, faced intense backlash on Twitter, for leaking from her unpublished novel (set in a world where detainment camps for Muslim Americans are a reality) in which her savior-narrator is white.
Censorship used to only be about protecting the public from obscene material: full nudity, cursing and so forth. But now, it has become more about shutting down voices of those who challenge society rather than for protection. This is where the problem lies, as the new generation is increasingly relying on the internet as a source of entertainment, communication and education. By shutting down these voices, we are only promoting the growth of conventional ideas to remain controversial, taboo and unsolvable.
It's no longer an issue when children are exposed to these ideas and beliefs, but how they are exposed to them. In a real-world scenario, you interact with others around you, and though you may disagree with them, you treat them humanely. But on the internet, an avatar isn't a person anymore; we are objectified. It is easier to share and promote harmful sites and information behind an avatar than in-person. Even today, it is almost near impossible for children to use the internet without becoming exposed to something that would be considered dangerous or harmful in the news. In a sense, censorship is corrupting our golden age.
Censorship is the enemy of social progress because it silences its opposition: those in the interest of changing life's strict regime. For example, when the Abolitionists were working to abolish slavery, many of its members were censored to stop from spreading the idea of freedom. The Women's Rights Movement was heavily censored too, using the writing of feminists against them. Both of these movements were positive but hindered due to society's inability to accept and approach each situation. Placing a block on these people was easier than changing society's long-standing ways.
A common argument for censorship is that it protects the innocence of young users on the Internet from its dangers and upholds the social harmony, therefore protecting the large population on a grander scale. However, though protection may be morally correct, it itself not precisely effective. If someone willing is able to, all that is needed to find anything illegal is a web browser and new window. It's illogical to assume that censored information is locked tight away from the general public because leaks and the resharing of information are always a possibility. Killing the host does not guarantee the death of the rest of the virus. For example, Jake Paul's recent incident of mocking a dead body in a vlog he posted online resulted in his account termination by YouTube, but his influence and delayed response to delete the video resulted in mass sharing and re-uploads of the video, not only on YouTube's platform but across the mass social networking sites of the Internet. If a child should want to, finding and watching Paul's deleted video is not impossible.
Leading to the question: because the internet can sometimes be dangerous, should the entire Internet be even more restrained and confined within the growing box around it? No, it's illogical! Just because a few individuals use the Internet for the wrong reasons does not mean it should be revoked from the masses. It is used to find new places, explore new locations on Earth and test the abilities of mankind. Because of the internet, information is available to more people than ever before — allowing creativity and innovation to reach new heights and levels.
Who are we to stop that? But more importantly, who are we to try to?