Censorship and the Internet: Part I

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With the recent leaking of nude photos of celebrity, Jennifer Lawrence, the issue of internet privacy once more rears it’s ugly head. The immense growth of the internet in recent years and its ever stronger grip on personal information has opened a Pandora’s box which no one really seems to know how to control. In the first part of this series the issue of censorship will be tackled in relation to Jennifer Lawrence and wider concerns about government censorship.

This week, naked photos of Hunger Games actor, Jennifer Lawrence, were posted on numerous file and photo-sharing websites like 4chan and Reddit. Lawrence’s lawyers have since tried to have these photo’s taken down when they can. It is not the subject of this article whether Lawrence’s lawyer’s claims of a “violation of privacy,” were justified, but rather the potential of websites like 4chan and Reddit to within a matter of hours, distribute photos to millions of PCs around the globe. However justified their case may or may not be, it is incredibly difficult, if not impossible to completely remove content from the Internet; illustrated by many past examples.

However, the problem lies in this uncertain relationship we have with our new tool. Should our internet ever be censored? Are there some things we should not see?

Something which would be very alien to people living in the UK is the way in which Chinese citizens interact with the Internet. In a recent attempt to ‘harmonize’ the Internet, the Communist Party has created an automatic filter which blocks certain words and phrases anywhere they appear on someone’s internet browser. These words and phrases range from the ‘explicit,’ things like “sex,” “scrotum” and bizarrely “bra” to the more serious, “Tiananmen,” “Tibet” and tellingly, “multiple parties.” Whether the government is trying to engineer perfect citizens or fear access to these words would immediately prompt people to become sex-crazed political fascists is unclear. China is not alone, Germany for example filters websites with Holocaust denying content.

Yes the Internet can be a force for good: online petitions allow people to globally affect change, social media fundraising chains raise money for worthy causes and Facebook lets us connect with those we may not otherwise. However, the uneasy relationship between people and the Internet remains fundamentally worrying and without simple solutions.

The next article in this series will explore the ‘Anonymous’ movement, Wikileaks and whether information wants to be free and accessible.

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Tom was the previous Comment and Politics editor for 2014/15 A History student at York, his main writing interests are contemporary controversies/debates, History and Health and Fitness.

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