Is censorship sensible?

I’ve been following discussion of the Federal Government’s proposed mandatory internet filter initiative.  Support seems to be fading for the program as the public ironically gathers more information about which sites could be blocked.

With the rise of social networking sites, the net has become a kind of bastion of democracy where free speech and freedom of information reigns.  Yet even in China, the internet has become a battleground between the state and the citizen.

As an educator, I am critical of any form censorship since it’s a rather blunt instrument to solve a complex problem. Add to this that technologies are not as perfect as claimed and often only encourage deeper attempts to by pass them and it’s easy to see why we should be more questioning.

I think we should opt instead for greater discernment on the part of teachers/students.  First and foremost, students need to cognisant of the challenges and opportunities provide by access to the web and of the responsibilities this sort of technological access brings. In many ways we face the same challenges as early mankind did when they discovered how to draw on cave walls and the society did with the invention of the printing press.

History is littered with failed attempts at controlling how citizens should communicate, collaborate and express themselves.  What we have learned from these experiences is, the best form of protection is a deeper understanding of how you teach people social responsibility.

A Catholic worldview puts a greater emphasis on responsibility and perhaps we should be using a Catholic imagination to discuss what is a ‘virtual conscience’ and how might it apply in a world of converging technologies.

Sadly, the allure of the net is anonymity.  When I was at school, you knew who the bully was but in the virtual world, you often don’t and there seems to be little protection against this.

Rosemary Neill has written a provocative piece in the Weekend Australian on whether we need to censor the net to contain the spread of racism, hatred etc.  Neill cites recent examples of Facebook vandalism and teacher bullying.

I found author Clive Hamilton’s comments in the piece interesting; Hamilton supports internet censorship:

I think that it [a filter] would send a very strong signal, because at the moment the social signal is ‘anything goes’ and many people are disturbed by that.

As educators, we must be addressing these issues on a daily basis with students because we cannot let the technologies define the society we become.   The moral character must define social norms and behaviours.




One thought on “Is censorship sensible?

  1. Hi Greg,

    A number of very thought-provoking and multi-lateral issues raised here. I particularly like your discussion on the intersection of the critical and the moral. On that score, it seems that the Catholic world view should be more concerned with what is right – the ‘freedom to’ offered by the internet – than what is wrong – the ‘freedom from.’

    Fundamentally, I think that oppressive regimes with internet censorship in place reveal how easy it can be for freedom of expression to be curtailed by leaders with relatively fixed notions on what is wrong. In terms of the way that Berners-Lee and others conceived the internet in the first place, such notions have very little to do with what the internet as a free and open network stands for.


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