Censorship As Activism

– by The Shitty Activist

censorship-sucks_440You just read something online that you find wrong-headed, idiotic, or downright disgusting. A statement that goes against everything you stand for and believe in. Something so vile it almost literally makes you sick to watch it speeding along the Information Superhighway.

As an activist, you have three options for how to deal with this nonsense.

The first option is to ignore it, resting easy in the fact that it’s so ridiculous that you know it won’t influence anyone, and in fact, will probably just result in a backlash.

The second option is to respond to it, dismantling this person’s argument, laying out the facts plain for all to see. You can even mobilize allies to respond en masse, uncovering the lies with the blinding rays of truth.

The third option is to do everything in your power to have the statement removed from the Internet, and get the person banned from that particular website or page, in an effort to shut them up.

The first two are examples of good activism. The third is censorship.

It’s surprising the amount of effort some activists expend to keep others from having their say. You can call a viewpoint you don’t agree with inaccurate, ludicrous, or just plain nasty. But a viewpoint is all it is – one that belongs to someone else. Whether you agree with it or not, that person has as much right to express their “wrong” opinion as you do your “correct” one. In fact, it’s the prerequisite for any and all activism: one person’s truth is another person’s lie.

Obviously, there are some examples of censorship that may be warranted, including threats of violence, libelous personal attacks, or penis pill spam. But the vast majority of articles, posts, and comments that have been deleted from the Web have simply been arguments that someone simply doesn’t agree with.

I have been an admin for websites where those with opposing views have posted comments, making statements I think are way off base. Colleagues of mine have insisted I delete those comments, arguing that people don’t visit the site to be exposed to those alternate views. However, except for pointless name-calling and personal attacks devoid of content relevant to the issue at hand (or sheer irrelevance, or porn), I resisted the temptation to censor.

Eventually, I realized those comments, even the angry rants, were actually helpful to our cause, if only to show how irrational the other side could be. And if it was a well-thought out disagreement, it was an opportunity to refute it calmly and kindly, modeling to others in the movement how to deal with “the enemy.”

But even if it wasn’t effective in that way, does erasing their comments mean they no longer believe what they said? Has it changed their minds? Will it keep anyone else from relating to those positions?

Further, what’s so threatening about a statement that you know is wrong…unless you unconsciously (or consciously) know it’s right and it’s excruciating for you to see it out there in the world, where others might see it. Whether that’s always the underlying reason for censorship or not, it’s something I wonder when I see an activist trying to silence someone’s voice – not simply disagree with them, but take away their freedom of speech.

On Facebook especially, censorship as activism runs rampant. It’s not always a pretty sight when thin-skinned, otherwise powerless people become admins of Facebook groups, deleting posts willy-nilly and banning users on a whim, like a king decapitating a court jester because they don’t get the joke.

If you don’t care for a particular sentiment, guess what? You don’t have to read it. You reserve the right to look away. The Internet isn’t some sort of Clockwork Orange torture where someone straps you into a chair, pries your eyelids open, and forces you to watch something horrible.

Unless, there’s some truth in that, and you’re so addicted to the Internet – or controversy – that you find you have to read every post and respond to it, a case of online OCD. If that’s the situation, then it’s not really about the opposing view, it’s something you’re struggling with inside yourself. And there are ways to resolve that, if you’re honest with yourself.

Now, let’s just say what someone has to say truly is awful. Shouldn’t it be left up as a red flag? How many people go on to commit crimes who have once posted their nefarious intent online?

Let these people spew, let them blow their cover, so we can keep tabs on them. Driving them underground doesn’t make them disappear, it just forces them to operate in the shadows where they’re far more dangerous. Not to mention, someone who has their views suppressed often becomes a martyr, attracting sympathy and more adherents.

So the next time you see something online you just plain hate, go ahead and rebut it (see “Consciousness Raising or Brow Beating?”). Or you can ignore it.

Because isn’t it bad enough that we have the media and our government routinely censoring voices, supposedly in the public’s best interest? Do activists really need to help them subvert the Constitution, as well?

In fact, who’s to say that someone won’t take it upon themselves to keep this very article from [CENSORED CENSORED CENSORED CENSORED CENSORED CENSORED CENSORED]