On April 27th, I posted an article entitled, “Internet Censorship: Why You Should Care,” in which I outlined the issue of Internet censorship around the world and here in the United States. The post was based on research I had done for a paper in my English class, and as promised, this post contains the full text of that paper. If you have not read the other post yet, I would advise reading this post first, then my earlier post, since it serves as a commentary to the following text. I have also included a few images, which were not part of the original paper, but are relevant to the discussion. Hopefully this paper will shed light on the problem that is global censorship of the Internet, and show you that free and open Internet access here in the US is something we should not take for granted.
The following is a research paper written by me, Ethan D. Smith for English 101. I submitted this paper on April 27, 2012. The content of this paper, save the documented quotes from other works, is my intellectual property, therefore the Creative Commons guidelines I normally use on this website do still apply to this post. Please refrain from copying any portion of the following text, and if you would like to share it, please link directly to this post.
Internet Censorship: Constitutional Squabble or World Issue?
Since its inception in 1991, the Internet and the World Wide Web have radically changed how the world accesses information, communicates, and conducts business. However, such an asset does not come without its share of controversies. Since the Internet has become the largest source of free and open information in the world, many countries have found the need to deny access to, or censor, certain information found on the internet. In the United States, Internet censorship in foreign countries has recently been overshadowed by Congress’s attempt to pass anti-piracy legislation. While many feared this would begin censorship of the Internet in the United States and deny citizens their Constitutional right to freedom of speech and expression, its effects would not have been nearly as bad as the current effects of Internet censorship in many other countries. Censorship gains mixed coverage from the popular media in the United States, with some articles pointing to the Constitutional battle between regulation and free speech, while others point out that something must be done to prevent Internet censorship around the world. However, a look into scholarly research shows that the Americans should be concerned with worldwide Internet censorship. Scientific research has shown that almost one-fourth of the world’s population is subject to extreme Internet censorship. Scholars in the social sciences argue that such censorship greatly hinders social interaction of the citizens of censored countries, and humanities scholars have given insight into the origins and causes of Internet censorship. Analyzing research from the three academic disciplines illuminates the global issue that is Internet censorship, something the popular media in the United States struggles to do. While popular sources argue over whether Americans should focus on their own freedoms or the freedoms of other countries, researchers and scholars in the sciences, social sciences, and humanities all agree that Internet censorship is an extremely important issue that threatens freedom around the world.
The popular media in the United States’ focus is primarily on censorship legislation since most Americans believe censoring the Internet will infringe upon their Constitutional rights. Congress recently attempted to pass the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), and the Protect IP Act (PIPA), stating that, “their primary purpose was to combat online piracy” (Taft).
While the bills seemed to promote a good cause, the popular media began reporting heavily on the two bills since the bills’ opponents argued that they “opened the door to internet censorship by allowing companies to sue and shut down certain websites” (Taft). Ultimately, both bills were met with such opposition from citizens and the popular media that they were postponed in January 2012. However, recent controversy surrounding a new bill, the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA) has led to more coverage in the popular media. Again, this bill could potentially infringe upon Constitutional rights, specifically the Fourth Amendment right preventing illegal search and seizure, since “CISPA is designed to help companies fight cyber crime–potentially in exchange for helping the federal government spy on users” (Koebler 1). Popular media coverage places a heavy emphasis on the Constitutional issues surrounding Internet censorship, since freedom is an important issue for most Americans. In an article regarding CISPA, U.S. News & World Report author Jason Koebler quotes Jim Dempsey, the vice president for public policy at the Center for Democracy and Technology. Dempsey states, “People really do care deeply about not having the government control the Internet, and the government intrusion into the technology is really the overarching issue” (Koebler 2). Despite the main voice of popular media focusing on censorship in the United States, a small voice exists in the popular media that strongly encourages the United States to be informed about global internet censorship. In his article, “Censoring the Web Every Which Way,” PC Magazine author John C. Dvorak states that, “it’s only too apparent that this notion of national censorship on a country-by-country basis will eventually lead to a completely censored and dumbed-down Internet” (1). Dvorak argues that censoring the internet to “protect the hopeless public from getting too alarmed by the crazy information found on the Web” will eventually lead to a global internet which will be controlled by governments, and which common people will have no access to. While the popular media seems to agree that censorship by the government could never happen in the United States, Dvorak maintains that the United States must pay attention to global internet censorship because “the key to censoring the net…in the U.S. is the FCC.” The Federal Communications Commission could eventually gain the power to regulate the Internet, leading to a person needing “Internet licenses for blogging, podcasting, and just about everything else” (Dvorak). While the popular media overwhelmingly focuses on censorship legislation efforts by Congress, some authors like Dvorak have still managed to show the importance of the worldwide censorship issue. The popular media effectively deny coverage to an issue which could directly affect First Amendment rights in the United States; rights that even the media holds as extremely important.
While Dvorak may be in the minority when it comes to reporting on global censorship in the United States popular media, studies and collected data from the academic sciences have proven that Internet censorship is indeed an issue that should concern everyone. Through scientific studies, researchers are able to observe processes in order to better understand them. In this case, scientists can observe technological phenomena across the globe to better understand the issue of censorship. In a scientific study published in 2010, University of Kansas researcher Barney Warf gives a very in-depth look into global Internet censorship statistics. His study entitled, “Geographies of Global Internet Censorship,” analyzes the number of Internet users who are subject to censorship, while also raising valid points as to the causes of censorship. Warf states, “governments that seek to impose censorship do so using the excuse of protecting public morality” (4). Warf’s study takes many motives for censorship into account and measures the levels of censorship on a scale of zero to 115.5, zero being no censorship, and 115.5 being extremely heavy censorship. The study found that the world’s worst offenders of Internet censorship are China, Vietnam, Burma, Iran, and Turkmenistan, all with scores of 80 or higher. The statistics of the study also show that in 2010, 1.9 billion people around the world used the Internet, roughly 28% of the world’s population (Warf 1). Of these 1.9 billion Internet users, almost 500,000 of them are from countries whose censorship ratings are greater than 80. This means that “roughly one-quarter of the world’s people and Internet users live under governments that engage in very heavy censorship” (Warf 5). These staggering numbers seek to give insight into just how pivotal the issue of Internet censorship is globally. As if the numbers alone do not tell the story of censorship, Warf’s study then goes into an analysis of the worst offending countries. In China, the Communist Party “has long exerted strict, centralized, control over flows of information within and across the nation’s borders” (Warf 8). This denial of information has strengthened the government’s control over its citizens, leading to a more oppressive society, despite the Chinese government’s assertion that censorship is necessary “to maintain a ‘harmonious society’” (Warf 8). The statistics are the same in the other countries on the worst offender list. Warf’s study says that in Burma, the State Peace and Development Council censors 84% of websites which have content deemed sensitive to the Burmese state (10).Warf’s scientific look into global Internet censorship reinforces the idea that censorship is an extremely important global issue that everyone should be made aware of. His study brings to light the scientific and statistical aspects of global censorship of the Internet, proving that Internet censorship is far more than just a Constitutional struggle in the United States, as the popular media portrays it. Observing censorship directly and collecting data on it allow for a much better understanding of just how much of the world is affected. Without researchers in the sciences, the wide-reaching effects of Internet censorship would never be known.
While scientific studies show just how many people are subject to Internet censorship, social scientists have also analyzed the social effects of censorship on the citizens of censored countries. As the Internet has grown larger, its relevance to interaction and communication has become apparent. Studies in the social sciences offer insight into the extent of the Internet’s effects on social aspects of humanity. In one study conducted in the social sciences, analysis of the online public sphere in Laos presents information about the social connections and discussions that take place despite Internet censorship by the government. Laos is one of the world’s most censored countries, scoring above 80 on Barney Warf’s scale of censorship. In the article, “Unsettled Post-Revolutionaries in the Online Public Sphere,” author Warren Mayes points out that Laos is economically and socially capitalistic, but still remains in a post-revolutionary state that needs social and cultural change (90). Mayes also discusses the importance of post-revolutionary debates online, since such discussions are “almost non-existent in the tightly controlled authoritarian public sphere within Laos” (89). The article evidences the importance of access to information as well as communication within the country, and the role that the Internet plays in communications. Despite the importance of the Internet in these discussions, censorship becomes a prominent issue because discussions online about what Laos should become “are limited by…attempts from the government to survey and control online activities” (Mayes 93). Despite the article’s many mentions of positive results of online discussions in Laos, the fact remains that the government is one of the world’s worst offenders of Internet censorship. Mayes’s research clearly shows that removing all traces of government intervention in the online sphere would be greatly beneficial to the citizens of Laos. The social impact of Internet censorship in Laos cannot be overlooked. In an emerging society that makes use of the communication tools on the Internet, government censorship clearly hinders social and economic growth from reaching its potential in Laos, according to Mayes’s study. In the United States, citizens never face the social challenges faced by the people of Laos. According to Mayes, many claim that the Internet can produce radical new forms of interaction in countries such as Laos, but these claims “sit alongside fears of a dystopia of government control, denial of access, and a digital divide” (116). Mayes’s article brings to light research showing Internet censorship is detrimental to the social growth of the countries that experience it, something that the popular media in the United States rarely reports. Observing censorship from a social scientific aspect allows understanding of its direct effects on the citizens of censoring countries. Knowing the social consequences of censorship can help raise awareness of such oppression, which will hopefully lead to a resolution of the issue in the future. Like Barney Warf’s scientific study, Mayes’s social study confirms the need for Americans to look past their own struggles for freedom and understand the struggles of citizens of other countries, who are striving for freedoms that can be accessed because of the Internet’s far-reaching capabilities.
Social scientists study the current effects of censorship on humanity, but studies in the humanities, specifically history, allows understanding of the origins and motives behind Internet censorship in other countries. When analyzing the history of the Internet, scholars in the humanities are only able to look into a window of fifteen to twenty years, however the unregulated history of the Internet in the United States is starkly contrasted by the history of Internet regulation in censored countries. For example in China, Internet censorship began as soon as the government realized the Internet’s importance. In his article, ” A Snapshot Of Internet Regulation In Contemporary China: Censorship, Profitability And Responsibility,” Jinquiu Zhao outlines the history of the explosive growth of Internet activities in China along with the continued regulations placed on the Internet by the government. According to Zhao, the first Internet regulation law was passed in 1996, followed by more laws leading up to a December 2000 legislation specifying that “spreading rumors, defamation, or publishing harmful information…should be deemed as cyber crime or cyber dissidence” (37). Zhao also observes, however, that China “seeks to benefit from the economic advantages offered through openness to the global information” (37). The article goes on to discuss the issues China faces now that the Internet has become so large and contains so much information. The Chinese government must always monitor new sources of information on the Internet, which is a “formidable task…considering the sheer breadth of information” (Zhao 40). Zhao explains that despite the changing methods, China continually treats the Internet as a news media source, which must be in line with what the Communist party approves and disapproves (40). Despite all of China’s efforts to keep up with the growth of the Internet, Zhao says that users can still find ways to bypass the censorship and make their voices heard. As China struggles to keep its users from having a voice on the Internet, its government must make a decision regarding the strictness of the censorship. Zhao argues that China should consider openness regarding the Internet, since it “fuels the innovation of the technology as well as economic and political freedom” (41). Zhao’s historical look at China’s censorship laws further confirms the findings of the scientific and social scholars in that global Internet censorship is a crucial issue in today’s society since it deters social and economic freedom. Looking at censorship through the humanities, specifically historically, allows insight into the motives of countries for censoring the Internet, as well as current and future issues that censoring countries face. Knowing the historical trend allows relevant discussion on ways to globally promote free and open access to information.
When discussing the issue of Internet censorship, too often the popular media leads people to believe that threats to free speech only exist in the United States. Despite the occasional mention of foreign censorship, the media fails to expose how important global Internet censorship actually is. In order to fully grasp the effects of Internet censorship, one must understand how many people are actually subjected to censored web access, knowledge which can be gained through the analysis of scientific studies. Scientific data lead to the discussion of how Internet censorship affects human relations and communication in censored countries, a discussion which is aided by studies in the social sciences. Finally, once the effects of Internet censorship and the affected number of people are understood, the humanities offer insight into the roots and causes of Internet censorship. The knowledge gained from the sciences, social sciences, and humanities must be used alongside reports from the popular media to fully understand that the effects of Internet censorship reach far beyond Constitutional struggles in the United States. Internet censorship is an extremely important global issue that the world will continue to face as technology progresses. Protecting humanity’s free and open access to information should be a priority for not only American lawmakers, but lawmakers across the globe, because denying access to the internet effectively denies many from accessing academic information that could lead to a much better understanding of the effects of Internet censorship.
Dvorak, John C. “World Censorship News.” PC Magazine.com. Ziff Davis, Inc., 6 Feb. 2012. Web. 21 Apr. 2012. <http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2399894,00.asp>.
Jinqiu, Zhao. “A Snapshot Of Internet Regulation In Contemporary China: Censorship, Profitability And Responsibility.” China Media Research 4.3 (2008): 37-42. Communication & Mass Media Complete. Web. 21 Apr. 2012.
Koebler, Jason. “Expert: New CISPA Bill Isn’t SOPA, But Still Attacks Constitutional Rights.” US News. U.S.News & World Report, 12 Apr. 2012. Web. 21 Apr. 2012. <http://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2012/04/12/expert-new-cispa-bill-isnt-sopa-but-still-attacks-constitutional-rights>.
Mayes, Warren Paul. “Unsettled Post-Revolutionaries In The Online Public Sphere.” SOJOURN: Journal Of Social Issues In Southeast Asia 24.1 (2009): 89-121. Academic Search Complete. Web. 21 Apr. 2012.
Taft, Nathan. “Breaking Down the Internet Censorship Debate.” NextGen Journal. 18 Apr. 2012. Web. 21 Apr. 2012. <http://nextgenjournal.com/2012/04/breaking-down-the-internet-censorship-debate/>.
Warf, Barney. “Geographies Of Global Internet Censorship.” Geojournal 76.1 (2011): 1-23. Environment Complete. Web. 21 Apr. 2012.
Once again, the content of this paper, save the quotes from the listed sources, are expressly owned by me, Ethan D. Smith. Reproduction of this work is prohibited. Please feel free to share the link to this post, but do not copy its contents. Thank you.
© 2012 Ethan D. Smith