Censorship and free speech

Censorship has always been a hot topic, but I feel its importance has dramatically increased over the last few years. With the ever increasing use of the internet, along with other forms of new media, people’s right to say what they want has been called more and more into question, a question that I think has a simple answer. I think, like you would expect from a liberal socialist who disagrees with most mainstream politics, that everyone has a right to say what they want.

I wanted to cover this particularly well-trodden ground partially because it’s my blog and I can write what I want, but more because yesterday I used the word “nigger” in a post and I had to question myself as to why I used it before I used it.

As an explanation, I used it because I wanted to promote a reaction. We all know the stereotype of the Call of Duty player who, in reality, is barely halfway through puberty and is swearing like a hungover preacher on Sunday because they can. It’s free speech, and I support their right to do it, even if it offends people, but I also understand why people are offended. But what do you do to people like this? You have, fundamentally two options, and neither of them are perfect. One is that you mute them, which, in my experience, is always the better of the two, or you can argue with them. The problem with the latter is that it is like arguing over the internet. Well, in this case it is arguing over the internet, just on microphone. You can argue all you want that what they said is offensive and that they shouldn’t be using it so freely but, at the end of the day, they have a right to say it.

However, this follows onto a bigger point, one which the sooner people learn, the better; that words are powerful. A fairly crude example is that the word “selfie” is the word of the year for 2013 ( http://blog.oxforddictionaries.com/2013/11/word-of-the-year-2013-winner/ ) When you say this to someone they will, most likely, have an opinion on it. It’s the reason why “gigantic” conjures up a different scale in your mind to “huge” even though they both mean something really really big. Unfortunately I don’t have the time, nor am I experienced enough, to talk about how media uses word choice and spin to control what people are reading.

Moving back towards the point though, censoring anything is idiotic, in my opinion. In the recent UK election there was an extreme right-wing party called UKIP. I will save you the details but many people wanted to censor their leader Nigel Farage because of a lot of stupid comments he made. I dislike Nigel Farage and his party, and I especially dislike some of the comments he made, but I would never censor him for a number of reasons.

  • Censoring usually only brings more attention to the thing that’s being censored, for example, A Clockwork Orange was censored in the UK when it was originally released, however, many people still saw it at private screenings and, when it was eventually released, the film’s reputation spoke for itself and it has a more lasting legacy now. That’s also partially the reason why media is getting generally more gorey and more violent as time progresses.
  • Censoring criticism or outcry legitimises the critic and discredits the offending party.
  • If you think you should censor racists and bigots because they are just that then you aren’t helping the world get rid of racists and bigots, etc. This is like the CoD player example, but in real life you have the ability to engage people like this and show them why they’re wrong.

To finish this off I’ll give you an extreme example. North Korea censors everything so harshly that anyone caught with anti-government propaganda, or pornography for that matter, is sent to a labour camp, sometimes with members of their family. The result is that the country is often the butt of jokes, primarily because of ignorance. That ignorance stems straight from its isolationist government which blocks out, i.e. censors, everything it doesn’t agree with. Extreme, yes, but it is an easy to understand example of the point I am trying to make; censorship breeds ignorance and gives credence to the subject being censored.

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