When internet companies start mass censorship, science, education, and freedom are the victims. Censorship will not stop bad ideas or offensive content, it will only feed into division and the void of ignorance. The notion that an opinion is so bad it can never be heard is anti-intellectual, anti-freedom, and not realistic. Another mass censorship campaign is underway after the recent Christchurch terrorist attack. It’s time to have an open discussion and move forwards, not backwards. The internet must remain free and our response to life events shouldn’t just be rooted in blind emotion or immediate reactionary outrage. Emotions are high after terrible events like this tragic mass shooting, but our decisions shouldn’t be made on raw emotions alone. We should embrace science in our lives and government to start moving away from a culture of superficial understanding and violence.
A recent March 2019 terrorist attack in Christchurch, New Zealand left at least 50 Muslims dead. An ignorant racist went on a shooting rampage, all-the-while live streaming it on social media. This created a monster amount of traffic because humans were curious as to what happened – they wanted to see the video.
Countries started blocking entire websites, such as Liveleak.com, which some consider to be an uncensored version of YouTube. Some countries even threatened people with jail and fines for just watching the video. There’s a huge censorship movement among the largest internet and content systems worth discussing – because it’s dangerous and doesn’t solve the problem. Unfortunately, tragic events are seen as an opportunity by politicians to get the support of the people because “they’re so emotional, they won’t even think, they’ll immediately give us what we want.” Like vultures, some see major tragic events as a way to fast-track something that would otherwise take more time and thought. We need to talk about censorship – not just the “kind” you see in China. Censorship is a human rights issue, it’s always wrong, and it never solves the original problem. It shouldn’t take a tragedy to get people talking or thinking. But this is the world we live in now.
Think of the internet as the world’s largest library – because it’s just that. Inside that library are all kinds of thoughts, opinions, and radical ideas – some of which might be offensive to some people. Overwhelmingly, the library has been a good thing throughout human history. The library is a place where someone learns more about nearly any subject. You can find anything and everything in it, and that’s a very good thing.
Imagine how life would be if we only taught our kids superficial thoughts or ideas that we thought couldn’t possibly be offensive. Imagine if we burned all potentially controversial books and reduced our vocabulary to 95% less words. Imagine if we never introduced challenging ideas to our kids – they go through life with no exposure to deeper life ideas, processes, events, and history knowledge. Imagine if we never listened to anything that challenged us, was seemingly offensive, or that we disagreed with at some point. We would end up with a massive amount of ignorant people with the narrowest mind possible – it would be horrible. Life under the regime of such people would be boring, full of wars, ignorance, mundane activity, and a dramatic halt to any actual progress in science or technology would be the result.
Our censorship actions are not solving any problems – it’s making things worse.
There have been numerous (and recent) major telecommunications censorship movements, ranging from blocking websites to throttling specific types of activities. Some of the largest companies are subjectively or “arbitrarily” censoring content, accounts, and search terms. YouTube is at the center of most of the censorship, especially as it begins to hurt innocent account holders. Their recent comment disabling is an example of this regressive policy that only hurts all the wrong people – and doesn’t solve the stated problem at all. Advertisers threatening to pull money if anything possibly offensive appears on a major platform is also not realistic. A 5-minute search of YouTube can produce a range of obviously offensive material – most of which is clearly breaking YouTube’s user policies and terms of service. Somehow, those videos remain up to this date. Censorship doesn’t solve problems, it makes them worse.
The Internet – A Public Utility
Internet censorship is extremely dangerous to the general public. Think of an internet connection as the only way to pay bills, get a job, interact with others, get entertainment, share family photos, buy items, check your bank account, arrange a vacation, date, etc. The internet is basically a public utility – you almost can’t live without it. Now, imagine if a service provider decides they will not sell you service because you are a liberal, right-wing nut, conspiracy theorist, too controversial, you are a racist, you don’t like fat people, you are pro-abortion, you didn’t vote for the right person, you supported Bernie Sanders, you don’t support school vouchers, you said something offensive 20 years ago, etc. – the list could go on forever.
Just because you disagree with someone or plain don’t like them doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be sold food, healthcare services, car insurance, dental help, gas, or an internet connection. But that’s exactly what’s going on when we censor ideas we disagree with or don’t like. It’s getting really bad. At some point, the government will need to step in and ensure internet and cell phone service is available for all, regardless of political affiliation or what you say or think.
The notion that science cannot survive disagreement or bad ideas is just plain ignorant. There are some companies that censor anti-vaccination groups because they see it as fighting against the facts of science – as if science cannot survive ignorant people. Even the crazy conspiracy theorist Alex Jones of Infowars was deplatformed from nearly every major internet service for similar reasons. You might not like the guy, and he might be crazy, but that doesn’t mean he shouldn’t get power or water service. There are much worse people out there that continue to go unchecked. Besides, science has facts and objectivity on its side.
Science gave us nearly every useful physical tool we enjoy today (beds, air conditioning, modern medicine, cell phones, satellite, the internet, etc.). Science has always won – in the end – and it will continue, whether we exist or not in the future. Rather than ban these people from using a public utility, we should work better to educate them (and their audiences), and we should continue spreading science, facts, and reason through open discussion – not mass censorship.
Our reaction to life events should be to seek more information, understanding, apply science, and begin to heal – not perpetuate misinformation, blind outrage, digital lynch mobs, and sweeping censorship. Too many leaders (especially political) see opportunity to further their unscientific agendas after tragedy. Like vultures, they circle and wait for the next event. And social media is a great medium to spread blind outrage and reactionary culture – rooted in nothing more than blind emotion and ignorance. It’s extremely dangerous to continue and react primarily with emotion to events like terrorist attacks, major shootings, and other tragic events.
Emotion is a great way to bypass critical thinking, reason, and logic. Decisions should be made with sound, reasonable, scientific input, not split-second reactionary emotion-based thinking. We should not be outraged that science isn’t always inline with our pre-existing biases and the comfortable no-challenge thinking we were raised with or frequently get exposed to through the media and popular entertainment programming. We should embrace science in our lives and lawmaking processes – life would be much better that way.
Almost all terrorist attacks are a result of ignorance and anti-science belief systems. Despite living in modern science times, a large number of world citizens continue to hold ignorant beliefs – and some of them base their life or government on them. This continues to create endless conflicts, which sometimes results in unnecessary violence – like the Christchurch attack. Religion has often been the center of violence and ignorance – and is often in direct conflict with modern science. Until the world more embraces modern science, these events will continue. We may never have a perfect world, but we can certainly work towards it. Embracing science could solve so many problems, but it won’t happen overnight and it’s going to take hard work to make it happen.
Terrorism comes in many forms but the root cause is generally the same. And how we react to it makes a huge difference. We shouldn’t react with more blind outrage or ignorance. The internet is an entity, a tool, something most people cannot live without – it’s become a huge part of everyday life. There will always be bad people or bad ideas that try to use an otherwise neutral tool. If you claim to support net neutrality, then you must be consistent and support net neutrality, even if there’s a chance something could be offensive, unwanted, or a bad actor may use it. Censorship isn’t the way to combat ignorance.
Life is more than a bunch of superficial memes and trendy catch phrases. There are too many people addicted to superficial social media trends. They wake up every morning and take in the garbage they see, and both left and right-leaning people are guilty of this. Pseudoscience and offensive content comes from both sides. Social media can spread outrage and misinformation, sometimes to fragile people that are emboldened or radicalized by the superficial things they see. Censorship only makes it worse and doesn’t educate them. Superficial understandings offer no logic, reason, or deeper meanings, at least enough perspective to call yourself informed on any one subject. But this is the culture we’ve developed in just the past 10 years.
Social media could be a tool for good, but it’s mostly used to spread misinformation, short-lived trends, and fringe beliefs. Behind social media are just plain people, so it’s not a good idea to blame the medium – blame the people. We must have an open discussion about information, understanding, modern science, fact-checking, being reasonable, working out problems between people in a constructive way, and embracing science. Memes are fun, but making any serious decision based on memes is not wise – the results can be devastating.
Unfortunately, the truth can be ugly and hard to accept. Many journalists have seen the entire uncensored Christchurch shooting video and learned about the history of the murderer that committed this act of terrorism. His guns had memes written all over them, he talked about memes in the video and apparently elsewhere online before the attack. This was a cold-blooded attack. The world’s population is about 7.6 billion people. This was not because of guns or video games or the internet. It only takes 1 person with any tool – whether that be gas, a car, a truck, a gun, a knife, or chemicals, to cause unimaginable death and destruction. No amount of laws or censorship will stop a terrorist attack. We even learned after 9/11 that even airplanes and civilians could be used to carry out an act of mass death and destruction. Censorship and more laws will not stop the ignorant lawbreakers that act apart from civilized societies. We have an opportunity to move in the right direction, towards something bigger and better.
The remarkable thing about science is, it’s the best way to learn and make informed decisions. It’s the most productive tool on our planet. It operates independent of biases – like personal emotions.
Our emotions are on high after events like this mass shooting. I can state as someone that lived through the “era of school shootings” and now as a professor at the front of the class, I worry a bit about the world we live in, about crazy things happening, and am I safe. Sometimes, but not always, I do fear for my life. I’ve participated in active shooter drills and training. You’re not safe anywhere, basically. I’ve been an EMT that’s been to shooting scenes and worked in the emergency room. I’ve visited foreign countries that are in the middle of war. The world can be a scary place and our emotions can get the best of us – we’re human. But reasonable thinkers must prevail. It’s these huge decisions that really require a deeper understanding and application of scientific thinking. Our laws, internet, government, education system should embrace modern science.
A part of my heart goes out to these families that lost the people they loved. I wish I could treat them to dinner and offer a hug, which isn’t enough for their loss at all – but it’s something. Even though this was thousands of miles away, it stings a bit inside. The popularity of media just highlights these events, even though mass attacks have happened throughout history. This is an ongoing global problem. There’s a difference between speaking and doing. There’s a cultural problem. There’s a violence problem. There’s a science solution.
Our culture is one of superficial content, short attention spans, laziness, third-party outsourcing (even of fact-checking, people won’t do it on their own), misinformation wildfires on social media, and perpetual outrage. It’s not surprising that so many people are radicalized or go to such lengths to kill and destroy. Every time a mass shooting happens, your heart sinks. You take a deep breath and begin to analyze information. The politicians and social media will always be quick to the opportunity, but this is not the right path. Nearly every day people make social media posts, sometimes directly saying they are ready to kill for something they heard about on social media. Thankfully, most of them are just stupid and have no intention on acting out what they said, but what about that one person?
We should look deeper, search ourselves, and look at the people behind spreading misinformation and legitimate hate speech, not the medium itself. We shouldn’t censor ideas or speech we don’t like – let’s expose it – it’s no match for science, objectivity, critical thinking, logic, or reason. We need communication. Let science ignite a fire in the hearts and minds of those willing so we can move away from a culture of violence. Don’t shut down channels between people, open them up.
Science is a very powerful tool and it’s underutilized. You’d be surprised just how far we could go towards solving mass shooting situations by embracing science. It’s not such a radical idea, it works. But we have to be willing to try. We can’t begin to work on the problems, until we admit they exist. We need open discussions, understanding, and to embrace science in our lives and government.
Picture credit: Photo in this article courtesy of Perthnow. Caption: Christchurch shooting victim named as Sayyad Milne. He was 14.
Telecom companies begin mass censorship after Christchurch article (more reading):https://www.9news.com.au/2019/03/19/16/47/telcos-block-access-to-4chan-liveleak
YouTube LGBT censorship. Article: https://abcnews.go.com/US/youtube-addresses-complaints-lgbtq-censoring/story?id=46248982