This House would Censor the Internet

The Internet is growing at a fantastic rate and is a huge resource for mass communication and information distribution. It can be used to spread information anywhere in the world at a minimal cost[1] and, due to the increase of computers or other electronic devices in the home.[2] It is one of the most accessible forms of information in the world. However, not all the information on the internet has a benevolent use. In the past few years, there has been growing concern over information available on the Internet which could be used to attack or damage society and vulnerable individuals; for example, radical political or opinion websites, including social networking sites, which can be used to attack and bully individuals[3] or to promote group violence[4].

            Currently, countries which censor such culturally controversial internet sites include China[5], Vietnam[6], Pakistan[7], North Korea[8], Syria[9], The United Arab Emirates[10] and Saudi Arabia[11]. These often focus on seemingly low-risk sites such as social networking sites like Facebook[12] and Weibo[13]. While the specific sites which are banned by each country varies according to what these countries deem to be a threat, the general case in the debate is to argue that the government should have a right to censor whatever material they see fit. This makes the debate an interesting discussion of the harms or benefits of censorship, and government power over the freedom on information.

            This debate will focus on the concept that a government should be able to ban whatever internet material they feel is not in the public interest to view, or which may actually pose a threat to that nation. For example, it would be legitimate for the government in a strictly Muslim country such as Iran to block overly ‘Westernised’ websites such as www.amazon.com and www.youtube.com, which indeed they already do[14] as they believe that it threatens their culture. Countries would also be allowed to block social networking sites if they believed that it was having a negative impact on the population, for example inciting violence[15] or losing work hours through procrastinating on Facebook[16]. Websites which feature things such as child pornography are already banned within the EU[17] for violating child rights and in countries across the Middle East[18] as it is seen to ‘mock Islamic beliefs’[19], therefore while some debates on increasing censorship would include it for the purposes of this debate it is excluded.

[1] Thinkquest, ‘The Impact of the Internet’, http://library.thinkquest.org/C0124364/impact_of_the_internet.htm, accessed 03/09/11

[2] Thinkquest, ‘The Impact of the Internet’, http://library.thinkquest.org/C0124364/impact_of_the_internet.htm, accessed 03/09/11

[3] Salkeld, Luke, ‘Facebook bully jailed: Death threat girl’ 18, is first person put behind bars for vicious internet campaign’, MailOnline, 21 August 2009, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1208147/First-cyberbully-jailed-Facebook-death-threats.html on 16/09/11

[4] Pollard, Ruth, ‘Elite college students proud of ‘pro-rape’ Facebook page, The Sydney Morning Herald, 9 November 2009, http://www.smh.com.au/technology/elite-college-students-proud-of-prorape-facebook-page-20091108-i3js.html on 16/09/11

[5]  Branigan, Tania, ‘Internet censorship in China’, guardian.co.uk, 14 January 2010, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/jan/14/internet-censorship-china on 09/09/11.

[6] AsiaNews.it, ‘Internet censorship tightening in Vietnam’, 22 June 2010, http://www.asianews.it/news-en/Internet-censorship-tightening-in-Vietnam-18746.html on 09/09/11

[7] GlobalVoices, ‘Internet Censorship in Pakistan’, 8 May 2006, http://globalvoicesonline.org/2006/05/08/internet-censorship-in-pakistan/ on 09/09/11

[8] Zeller jr., Tom, ‘In North Korea, the Internet is only for a few’, The New York Times, 22 October 2006, http://www.nytimes.com/2006/10/22/technology/22iht-won.3251122.html on 09/09/11

[9] Opennet Initiative, ‘Syria’, 7 August 2009, http://opennet.net/research/profiles/syria on 09/09/11

[10] Opennet Initiative, ‘United Arab Emirates’, 7 August 2009, http://opennet.net/research/profiles/uae  on 09/09/11

[11] Black, Ian, ‘Saudi Arabia leads Arab regimes in internet censorship’, guardian.co.uk, 30 June 2009, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/jun/30/internet-censorship-arab-regimes on 09/09/11.

[12] AsiaNews.it, ‘Internet censorship tightening in Vietnam’, 22 June 2010, http://www.asianews.it/news-en/Internet-censorship-tightening-in-Vietnam-18746.htmlon 09/09/11

[13] Tibetan Review, ‘New Chinese censorship targets social networking sites’, 29 August 2011, http://www.tibetanreview.net/news.php?id=9454 on 09/09/11

[14] Tait, Robert, ‘Censorship fears rise as Iran blocks access to top websites’, The Guardian, 4 December 2005, http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2006/dec/04/news.iran on 12/09/11.

[15] BBC News, ‘England riots: Two jailed for using Facebook to incite disorder’, 16 August 2011, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-manchester-14551582 on 12/09/11.

[16] BBC News, ‘Facebook ‘costs businesses dear’’, 11 September 2007, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/6989100.stm on 12/09/11.

[17] BBC News, ‘Child web porn law updated by EU to erase images’, 15 February 2011, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-12463290 on 16/09/11

[18] Ramezanpour, Ali Asghar, ‘Iran rounds up ‘porn site bosses’’, BBC News, 16 April 2009, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/7997997.stm  on 16/09/11.

[19] Ramezanpour, Ali Asghar, ‘Iran rounds up ‘porn site bosses’’, BBC News, 16 April 2009, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/7997997.stm on 16/09/11

 

Title 
Governments have a moral duty to protect its citizens from harmful sites.
Point 

In recent years, supposedly innocent sites such as social networking sites have been purposely used to harm others. Victims of cyber bullying have even led victims to commit suicide in extreme cases[1][2]. Given that both physical[3] and psychological[4] damage have occurred through the use of social networking sites, such sites represent a danger to society as a whole. They have become a medium through which others express prejudice, including racism, towards groups and towards individuals[5]. Similarly, if a particularly country has a clear religious or cultural majority, it is fair to censor those sites which seek to undermine these principles and can be damaging to a large portion of the population. If we fail to take the measures required to remove these sites, which would be achieved through censorship, the government essentially fails to act on its principles by allowing such sites to exist. The government has a duty of care to its citizens[6] and must ensure their safety; censoring such sites is the best way to achieve this.

[1] Moore, Victoria, ‘The fake world of Facebook and Bebo: How suicide and cyber bullying lurk behind the facade of “harmless fun”’, MailOnline, 4 August 2009, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-1204062/The-fake-world-Facebook-Bebo-How-suicide-cyber-bullying-lurk-facade-harmless-fun.html on 16/09/11

[2] Good Morning America, ‘Parents: Cyber Bullying Led to Teen’s Suicide’, ABC News, 19 November 2007, http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/story?id=3882520&page=1#.T0N_1fFmIQo on 16/09/11

[3] BBC News, ‘England riots: Two jailed for using Facebook to incite disorder’, 16 August 2011, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-manchester-14551582 on 16/09/11.

[4] Good Morning America, ‘Parents: Cyber Bullying Led to Teen’s Suicide’, ABC News, 19 November 2007, http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/story?id=3882520&page=1#.T0N_1fFmIQo on 16/09/11

[5] Counihan, Bella, ‘White power likes this – racist Facebook groups’, The Age, 3 February 2010, http://www.theage.com.au/opinion/society-and-culture/white-power-likes-t... on 16/09/11

[6] Brownejacobson, ‘Councils owe vulnerable citizens duty of care’, 18 June 2008, http://www.brownejacobson.com/press_office/press_releases/councils_owe_v... 09/09/11

Counterpoint 

While in a tiny minority of cases, such social networking sites can be used malevolently, they can also be a powerful force for good. For example, many social networking pages campaign for the end to issues such as domestic abuse[1] and racism[2], and Facebook and Twitter were even used to bring citizens together to clean the streets after the riots in the UK in 2011.[3] Furthermore, this motion entails a broader move to blanket-ban areas of the internet without outlining a clear divide between what would be banned and what would not. For example, at what point would a website which discusses minority religious views be considered undesirable? Would it be at the expression of hatred for nationals of that country, in which case it might constitute hate speech, or not until it tended towards promoting action i.e. attacking other groups? Allowing censorship in these areas could feasibly be construed as obstructing the free speech of specified groups, which might in fact only increase militancy against a government or culture who are perceived as oppressing their right to an opinion of belief[4].

[1] BBC News, ‘Teenagers’ poem to aid domestic abuse Facebook campaign’, 4 February 2011, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-12367525 on 16/09/11

[2] Unframing Migrants, ‘meeting for CAMPAIGN AGAINST RACISM’, facebook, 19 October 2010, http://www.facebook.com/events/168254109852708/ on 16/09/2011.

[3]BBC News, ‘England riots: Twitter and Facebook users plan clean-up.’ 9 August 2011, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-london-14456857 on 16/09/11.

[4] Marisol, ‘Nigeria: Boko Haram Jihadists say UN a partner in “oppression of believers”’, JihadWatch, 1 September 2011, http://www.jihadwatch.org/2011/09/nigeria-boko-haram-jihadists-say-un-a-partner-in-oppression-of-believers.html on 09/09/11

Title 
The government here may legitimately limit ‘free speech’.
Point 

We already set boundaries on what constitutes ‘free speech’ within our society. For example, we often endorse a ‘balancing act’[1] an individual may express their beliefs or opinions, but only up to the point where it does not impede the ‘protection of other human rights’[2] – other peoples’ right not to be abused. In this case, if an individual expresses abuse towards another – especially racism - they may be deemed to be outside of the boundaries or free speech and can be punished for it. This motion is simply an extension of this principle; the kinds of sites which would be banned are those which perpetuate hatred or attack other groups in society, an so already fall outside of the protection of free speech. The harms that stem from these kinds of sites outweigh any potential harm from limiting speech in a small number of cases.

[1] Hera.org, ‘Freedom of Expression’, Human Rights Education Association, http://www.hrea.org/index.php?doc_id=408 on 09/09/11

[2] Hera.org, ‘Freedom of Expression’, Human Rights Education Association, http://www.hrea.org/index.php?doc_id=408 on 09/09/11

Counterpoint 

Outright banning this kind of prejudice does not directly tackle it – it ignores it. A better way for the government to tackle derogatory and prejudicial speech is to engage with it in a public forum and reasonably point out the flaws and ignorance that it embodies, rather than desperately trying to hide it from public view. In this way, those who are being attacked by these websites would feel as if the government is actively protecting them and their rights and punishing those who have violated them, rather than simply closing a few websites and allowing their authors to continue in other ways. This motion does not solve the problem of prejudice in the way it claims to.

Title 
Even sites that appeared innocent have had a devastating effect on society.
Point 

Some governments, such as the Vietnamese government[1], have already seen sufficient cause to ban social networking sites such as Facebook. Recently in the UK, many major cities witnessed devastation and destruction as social networking sites were used to co-ordinate wide-scale riots which rampaged over London, Manchester, Birmingham, Worcestershire, Gloucester, Croydon, Bristol, Liverpool and Nottingham[2]. Rioters contacted each other through Facebook and blackberry instant messenger to ensure that they could cause maximum damage[3], which resulted in the destruction of property[4], physical violence towards others[5], and even the deaths of three young men[6]. These events prove that seemingly innocent Internet sites can be used by anybody, even apparently normal citizens, to a devastating effect which has caused harm to thousands[7]. To protect the population and maintain order, it is essential that the government is able to act to censor sites that can be used as a forum and a tool for this kind of behaviour when such disruption is occurring.

[1] AsiaNews.it, ‘Internet censorship tightening in Vietnam’, 22 June 2010, http://www.asianews.it/news-en/Internet-censorship-tightening-in-Vietnam... 09/09/11

[2] BBC News, ‘England Riots’, 8 February 2012, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-14452097 on 09/09/11

[3] BBC News, ‘England riots: Two jailed for using Facebook to incite disorder’, 16 August 2011, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-manchester-14551582 on 09/09/11

[4] Hawkes, Alex, Garside, Juliette and Kollewe, Julia, ‘UK riots could cost taxpayer £100m’, guardian.co.uk, 9 August 2011, http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2011/aug/09/uk-riots-cost-taxpayer-100-million  on 09/09/11.

[5] Allen, Emily, ‘We will use water cannons on them: At last Cameron orders police to come down hard on the looters (some aged as young as NINE)’, Mail Online, 11 August 2011, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2024203/UK-RIOTS-2011-David-Came... on 09/09/11.

[6] Orr, James, ‘Birmingham riots: three men killed ‘protecting homes’’, The Telegraph, 10 August 2011, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/crime/8693095/Birmingham-riots-th... on 09/09/11.

[7] Huffington Post, ‘UK Riots: What Long-Term Effects Could They Have?’, 10 August 2011, http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2011/08/10/uk-riots-cleanup-could-co_n_9... on 09/09/11.

Counterpoint 

Given the number of people who actually use Facebook[1] and other social networking sites, these occurrences were remarkably small[2]. These riots cannot be attributed to Facebook; it was the mindset of the rioters rather than Facebook itself which provided the raw determination for these riots to occur. If Facebook had been censored, they may have simply used mobile phones to co-ordinate their actions instead. Censoring these sites would not prevent such events, and would anger those who use Facebook to communicate with friends[3] and share photos[4] innocently.

[1] BBC News, ‘Facebook hits 500m user milestone’, 21 July 2010, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-10713199 09/09/11.

[2] BBC News, ‘UK Riots: Trouble erupts in English cities’, 10 August 2011, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-london-14460554 on 09/09/11.

[3] Santos, Elena, “The ultimate social network”, softonic, http://facebook.en.softonic.com/web-apps on 09/09/11.

[4] Santos, Elena, “The ultimate social network”, softonic, http://facebook.en.softonic.com/web-apps on 09/09/11.

Title 
As an extensive form of media, the Internet should be subject to regulation just as other forms of media are.
Point 

Under the status quo, states already regulate other forms of media that could be used malevolently. Newspapers and books are subject to censorship[1], and mediums such as television, film and video receive a higher degree of regulation[2] because it is widely recognised that moving pictures and sound can be more emotive and powerful than text and photographs or illustrations. The internet has many means of portraying information and opinion, including film clips and sound, and almost all the information found on television or in newspapers can be found somewhere on the internet[3], alongside the millions of uploads from internet users themselves[4].

[1] Foerstel, Herbert N., ‘Banned in the Media’, Publishing Central, http://publishingcentral.com/articles/20030215-85-f98b.html?si=1 on 09/09/11

[2] CityTVweb.com, ‘Television censorship’, 27 August 2007, http://www.citytvweb.com/television-censorship/ on 09/09/11.

[3] Online Newspapers Directory for the World, ‘Thousands of Newspapers Listed by Country & Region’, http://www.onlinenewspapers.com/ on 09/09/11

[4] Boris, Cynthia, ’17 Percent of Photobucket Users Upload Video’s Once a Day’, Marketing Pilgrim, 9 September 2011, http://www.marketingpilgrim.com/2011/09/17-percent-of-photobucket-users-upload-video-once-a-day.html on 09/09/11

Counterpoint 

Any information from television or newspapers has already been regulated, so it is not a problem that it may now appear somewhere on the internet. It is exactly because the internet is a forum for free information and expression that so many people engage with it; removing this is a dictatorial move against ordinary citizens who seek information without bias and undue censorship.

Title 
Censorship is fundamentally incompatible with the notion of free speech.
Point 

Censoring particular material essentially blinds the public to a complete world view by asserting the patronising view that ordinary citizens simply cannot read extreme material without recognising the flaws in it. This motion assumes that those who have access to material such as religious opinion sites will be influenced by it, rather than realising that it is morally dubious and denouncing it. The best way to combat prejudice is to expose it as a farce; this cannot be done if it is automatically and unthinkingly censored. Meanwhile, it is paradoxical for a government to assert the general benefits of free speech and then act in a contradictory and hypocritical manner by banning certain areas of the Internet. Free speech should not be limited; even if it is an expression of negativity, it should be publicly debated and logically criticised, rather than hidden altogether.

Counterpoint 

We already frown upon certain forms of speech[1] as we recognise that it is important to protect groups form prejudice and hatred. Allowing the expression of hatred does not automatically mean that ordinary people will denounce it as evil; rather, it normalises hatred and is more likely to be acceptable in the public domain. It also appears to show implicit acceptance or even support from the government when we take no steps to prevent this kind of damaging expression; as such, the government fails in its duty to ordinary citizens to protect them and represent their best interests.

[1] Tatchell, Peter, ‘Hate speech v free speech’, guardian.co.uk, 10 October 2007, http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2007/oct/10/hatespeechvfreespeech on 09/09/11.

Title 
The Internet is a free domain and cannot becontrolled by the government.
Point 

Given that the Internet is used as an international[1] and public space[2], the government has no right over the information which may be presented via the Internet. In Western liberal democracies, governments are elected on the basis by which they can serve their own country – how they will create or maintain laws that pertain specifically to that nation, and how they will govern the population. The Internet is not country-specific, but international and free. As such, no individual government should have a right to the information on it. Asserting false authority over the internet would paint the government as dictatorial and a ‘nanny state’[3], demonstrating a lack of respect for its citizens by assuming that they cannot protect themselves or recognise the nature of extremist or potentially harmful sites and take the individual decision to distance themselves from such sites.

[1] Babel, ‘Towards communicating on the Internet in any language’, http://alis.isoc.org/index.en.html

[2] Papacharissi, Zizi, ‘The virtual sphere’, New Media & Society, Vol. 4 No. 1, pp 9-27, February 2002, http://nms.sagepub.com/content/4/1/9.short on 09/09/11

[3] BBC. ‘A Point of View: In defence of the nanny state’. Published 04/02/2011. Accessed from http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-12360045 on

Counterpoint 

The Internet may be a global resource, but if information on it is have a detrimental effect upon a particular country, it certainly is that government’s responsibility and right to tackle it. If it affects their society and the citizens within it, it affects the government and the means by which they can govern, particularly in relation to social policy. Moreover these websites, and specifically religious opinion websites, often seek to ‘recruit’ others to their school of thought or even to action; their purpose is often to gather support and followers[1]. Therefore there certainly is a risk that these people, who are often very intelligent and persuasive[2], might lure others to them without protection by the government. It is a very real danger, and needs real protection.

[1] Kiley, Sam, ‘Terrorists ‘May Recruit On Social Networks’’, SkyNews, 12 July 2011, http://news.sky.com/home/uk-news/article/16028962 on 09/09/11.

[2] Ali, Iftakhar, ‘Terrorism – The Global Menace’, Universal Journal The Association of Young Journalists and Writers, http://www.ayjw.org/articles.php?id=944449 on 09/09/11.

Title 
People often react poorly to being censored by their governments.
Point 

In countries that do currently practice censorship of Internet information, their citizens often interpret this as suspicious and dictatorial behaviour. For example, in China growing discontent with the government’s constant censorship has led to public outrage[1], and political satire which heavily criticises the government[2]. Censorship can easily be used malevolently and is not always in public interest; this motion supports the ignorance of the population by hiding information and the reality of the situation. Therefore the cost of suspicion by the population of the state makes censorship of any kind less than worthwhile and it is better to allow individuals to make their own choices.

[1] Bennett, Isabella, ‘Media Censorship in China’, Council on Foreign Relations, 7 March 2011, http://www.cfr.org/china/media-censorship-china/p11515 on 09/09/11

[2] Bennett, Isabella, ‘Media Censorship in China’, Council on Foreign Relations, 7 March 2011, http://www.cfr.org/china/media-censorship-china/p11515 on 09/09/11.

Counterpoint 

Governments are often obliged to do things that the population doesn’t like – raising taxes is an obvious example. However, it is also recognised that sometimes the government has to do these things in order to represent the long-term, best interest of its people – whether or not it is a popular measure at the time.

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