The World Wide Web isn’t the same across the wide world.
Well, technically it’s the same network but Internet censorship limits what people around the globe can access.
What is Internet censorship?
Internet censorship is the control of information that can be viewed by the public on the Internet and can be carried out by governments, institutions, and even private organizations. Censored content can include copyrighted information, harmful or sensitive content, and more.
People and organizations can self-censor for moral or business reasons, to meet societal norms, or in fear of legal consequences. Government involvement in Internet censorship varies from country to country. Some countries have moderate Internet censorship while others strictly limit access to certain information, including the news.
What is the purpose of Internet censorship?
Stop people from accessing copyrighted information
Keep people from viewing harmful or sensitive content
Control Internet-related crime
Monitor the billions of people on the Internet
There is a range of reasons for Internet censorship and some are more well-intentioned than others. There are use cases for protecting children from accessing sensitive information and then there are authoritative attempts to gate a group of people’s access to important information in order to control the narrative.
While we typically think of Internet censorship being controlled by governments, it’s commonly used by other organizations like your Internet service providers to limit your access to certain sites.
Global Internet censorship
Internet censorship is very different around the world, ranging from little to no oversight to very pervasive control and surveillance. Let’s take a look at two countries on opposite sides of the spectrum.
Internet censorship in America
Internet censorship in the U.S is among the least controlled in the world.This is mainly due to the fact that most online activity is protected by First Amendment rights. There is still some surveillance and control when it comes to publishing certain content that may contain libel, child pornography, and intellectual property. While the Internet in the U.S. isn’t highly censored, it is highly regulated which leads to a lot of self-censorship in America.
Internet censorship in China
Internet control and surveillance in China is one of the strictest in the world. The Chinese government blocks a range of websites that contain content related to various historical independences, protests, freedom of speech, and pornography from its estimated 500 million Internet users. There are also international media and news sites that are flagged, including Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.
Pros of Internet censorship
It’s important to keep in mind that Internet censorship has its advantages when used with the best of intentions.
Create common-sense limits. Let’s be honest, there’s a ton of content on the Internet that no one should ever see (re: Momo Challenge), and the concept of Internet censorship can start a constructive conversation about it.
Stop fake news. If more content was closely monitored, it could cut down on the mass amounts of fraudulent information including false advertising.
Curb access to harmful activities. The dark web is unchartered territory to the majority of Internet users, but there are sites that are shockingly easy to find that are dedicated to illegal acts like sex trafficking, child pornography, illicit drugs, and more.
Less identity theft. If there is less content on the Internet that requires identity information, in theory, there would be less identity theft.
Cons of Internet censorship
There are some big disadvantages to Internet censorship that affect the way people access information.
It restricts too much information. It’s entirely possible that real information is blocked along with fake information, which opens up a large debate about what you should and shouldn’t restrict/access.
Who’s in charge? How are rules defined? Are there checks and balances? Internet censorship could quickly turn into a matter of opinion on what is acceptable and what isn’t.
Censors free speech. Internet censorship not only limits the content you can access but potentially the content you post as well.
Cost. This kind of goes without saying but the workforce required, and associated cost, to control and survey Internet users would be astronomical - most likely coming at the expense of taxpayers.
The good, the bad, and the ugly
Internet censorship is a touchy subject, but it’s important to underline the facts and lay out both sides of the argument. It’s typically handled at the government level, and there are a lot of factors in play with different laws and societal norms at the center.
Bridget Poetker is a former content team lead at G2. Born and raised in Chicagoland, she graduated from U of I. In her free time, you'll find Bridget in the bleachers at Wrigley Field or posted up at the nearest rooftop patio. (she/her/hers)