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Censorship: The Downfall of American Democracy?
“We can never be sure that the opinion we are endeavoring to stifle is a false opinion; and if we were sure, stifling it would be an evil still.” These words once written by John Stuart Mill in his book, On Liberty, still ring true in the minds of Americans everywhere. Regular citizen or government official. The topic of censorship when dealing with the Internet continues to be a sensitive issue, and one that needs to be addressed. Countries across the globe vary in their opinions on Internet censorship. Some believe that it is a proper way to govern their people, and others contend that governments have no right to interfere so severely in the lives of their people. Delving into the age-old debate, one will discover censorship of the Internet in America would crush the American economy, contradict the constitution and government, and dilute American culture.
The consequence that American citizens will feel most directly if censorship were to occur is the damage to the economy. Previous incidents with Internet censorship and Blue-Chip companies have exemplified the negative consequences and impacts it will have. The most noteworthy being Internet giant’s, Google, debacle with China.
The basics of the problem are that China’s government has a strict and extensive censorship system that doesn’t allow companies, such as Google, to operate freely. Eric Schmidt, Google’s CEO, explains in an interview with “Newsweek” that China is the only major country with an elaborate censorship system that forces their system on information based companies. That same article goes on to cite China’s Internet censorship system as a driving force that led Google to cease business activities with China. According to further questioning in “Newsweek’s” exclusive interview with Google’s CEO, Google is uncomfortable doing business in a country that participates in censorship because it blatantly defies the idea of free speech.
CEO Schmidt stated, “Operating in China was better for everyone—us, the Chinese people—than staying out of the Country. We have decided that we cannot participate in censorship anymore.” Concluding the interview, Schmidt said China’s decision to continue on the path of censorship would hurt them in the long run, economies are much better off in a free system in which people can be free to invent, imagine, and connect with each other.
Due to the fact that the American and Chinese economies are intertwined as explained in Zachary Karabell’s Superfusion: How China and American became one economy, the effect on China would be mirrored in the United States. Throughout the history of America, a free market, capitalist system has been in place. As David Landes, Harvard historian, explains, an installation of Internet censorship would reverse the economic aspect of that system and hinder economic growth. Past regimes employing these tactics, the Soviet Union and Chile, have been carefully studied and the result continues to be a loss as stated in a Newsweek article titled “China’s Silicon Ceiling”. According to Amol Sharam of the Wall Street Journal, in 2007, Google made the move to India and created a market of 52 millions users and over 100,000 jobs. These previous event provide insight into the possible business America could lose due to censorship.
Sydney J. Harris once proclaimed, “Democracy is the only system that persists in asking the powers that be whether they are the powers that ought to be.” The democratic ideals of the American government have held true for centuries and should not be spoiled with censorship of the Internet. It was decided in the late 1700’s that Congress shall never pass laws limiting
freedom of speech or expression. These rights were guaranteed as inalienable rights in America’s contract with her people, the Constitution, and should be upheld in the interest of the American people forever. Censorship would give the government the authority to control the information that goes out to the public and the authority to interfere in the private lives of 300 million plus American citizens.
The idea that the United States has faced temptation to censor information but remains adamant in rejecting censorship has spoken volumes to developing democratic nations around the world. Many other countries that aspire to be democratic turn toward America as an example. Most other countries that censor have one thing in common; they sport authoritarian governments who oppress their people. Censoring the Internet would also mean censoring political opinion, which could spark an incredible scare in a nation where so many take comfort in the freedoms of expressing their opinions. Countries such as Iran and China have tried to distort the public’s opinion of current events by shutting down servers that allow the in and outflow of information. By doing so, these countries will lose the battle and are simply acting idiotically. If the United States hopes to return to its position as a global hegemony, censorship of the Internet should be denied.
From Tinsel Town and the Big Apple, to the Big Easy and the Windy City, America has always been regarded as the cultural hub of the world. America is unique today because of the full freedom of speech it offers, while it hasn’t given in to the evils of censorship. Censorship will surely ruin many cultural advances American takes pride in. In his book, Should Speech be Restricted?, McMasters finds the effects of possible censorship in America. He has realized that mass media, such as the Internet, is designed to entertain us, not define us as people. He continues to say, the “speech police” are driven by motives that would only benefit themselves, therefore making censorship inefficient and unnecessary. “At bottom, the urge to censor and sanitize public discourse and entertainment comes of fear—fear of youth, fear of new technology, fear of tastes and values that don't match their own,” says McMasters, a strong advocate of freedom of speech.
Some of the greatest contributors to American culture would otherwise have their works go unnoticed in the future if Internet censorship was employed in America. Poets like Maya Angelou have been criticized for sexual references in her work, and many other poets for
references to drugs. If Internet censorship laws were to be passed, these great works would be prohibited from the public eye. The Internet has always provided a platform for expressing one’s self, whether it be about politics, or in extreme cases, pornography.
After careful consideration of the impacts of Internet censorship in America, the United States should heed the words of John Stuart Mill, stifling an opinion of any kind is a true evil, and should in no way be condoned in America because it would cause heavy damage to the economy, contrast classic American beliefs, and reduce the impact of American culture.