Scanlyze

The Online Journal of Insight, Satire, Desire, Wit and Observation

Computerized Internet Censorship is Morally Wrong

This is taken from a response I made on a mailing list discussing technical means of implementing “filtering”, or computerized censorship, of children’s access to the internet in a school environment.

I’m a bit disturbed when I hear people using the euphemism “filtering” for automated, computerized censorship. I understand there may be legislative or political mandates. However, we should never talk about this as though it is a good or desirable or acceptable thing.

I realize this may be seen as off topic from the merely technical discussion of how to implement computerized censorship, but when we calmly discuss technicalities of something which is obviously wrong without questioning it, then the discussion needs to be aired.

“Filtering” is what you do to the water in a fish tank. “Censorship” is when a state or quasi-state agency proscribes and limits access to certain classes of written material.

Here are a few tests we should apply to any such proposed system.

Does it allow access to information about “Romeo and Juliet”? (Underage sex, gang-oriented violence, suicide, murder)

Does it allow access to “Huckleberry Finn” (Slavery, frequent use of the word “nigger”)

Does it allow access to “The Catcher in the Rye” (Use of “fuck”, blasphemy, drinking, smoking, lying, promiscuity, implied pederasty)

Does it allow access to “Heather has Two Mommies” (Lesbianism)

Does it allow access to “Our Bodies, Ourselves” (Information about human health, sex and sexuality)

Does it allow access to “Slaughterhouse-Five” (Genocide, strategic bombing, sex)

Does it allow access to “Of Mice and Men” (Retardation, sex, rape, murder)

Does it allow access to “The Handmaid’s Tale” (Sexual roles, patriarchy, racism, and theocracy)

Does it allow access to “The Kite Runner” (Homosexuality, rape)

Does it allow access to “His Dark Materials” (Anti-state, anti-catholic, magic and witchcraft)

Does it allow access to “One Hundred Years of Solitude” (Alchemy, murder, debauchery)

Does it allow access to “1984” (Torture, illicit sex, anti-state and anti-party politics)

Does it allow access to “Canterbury Tales” (Promiscuity, anti-clericalism)

Does it allow access to “The Decameron” (Anti-state, anti-Catholic and general ribaldry, such as the Third Day, Tenth Story, “How to put the Devil in Hell”)

And in terms of websites particularly,

RateMyTeachers.com

Peacefire.org

Facebook

Myspace

Orkut

Google

YouTube

Sites which criticize the ruling party or government.

Sites which criticize or parody the predominant religion.

Blogs, in general

And classes of internet services such as

Usenet

FSP

Peer-to-peer file-sharing services such as Bittorrent, EMule, Gnutella

In general, censorship is bad and morally wrong; and automated, computerized censorship especially so; and we should never refer to it by a purpose-made and innocuous-sounding term like “filtering” or treat it as though it is morally or pedagogically acceptable.

What progress we are making. In the Middle Ages they would have burned me. Now they are content with burning my books.

–Sigmund Freud, 1933

See: Filtering / Censorship

Copyright © 2009 Henry Edward Hardy

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27 April, 2009 - Posted by | books, censorship, culture, education, file-sharing, filtering, literature, scanlyze | , , , , , , ,

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