OVER the next decade, approximately five billion people will become connected to the Internet. The biggest increases will be in societies that, according to the human rights group Freedom House, are severely censored: places where clicking on an objectionable article can get your entire extended family thrown in prison, or worse.
The mechanisms of repression are diverse. One is “deep packet inspection” hardware, which allows authorities to track every unencrypted email sent, website visited and blog post published. When objectionable activities are detected, access to specific sites or services is blocked or redirected. And if all else fails, the entire Internet can be slowed for target users or communities.
People in power are afraid of those they control becoming aware of their own situation; and what better place is there to shape your own perspective in a whole and discreet way than the internet? For those who want people to think uniformly, the internet is a weapon.
China is afraid of people coming together through common interests, and are more likely to censor content on the internet encouraging the forming of these interest groups. People thinking on their own is less harmful than people thinking together; censorship allows and encourages kinds of thinking that those who censor are trying to eliminate, but it prevents people from putting their thoughts into action.
The lifting of internet censorship could unleash what censorship has brewed inside of people; a curiosity for the truth and a resentment for what they did not have.
Child pornography is an extreme example and there is already sufficient legislation to deal with those who attempt to produce, distribute or view such material. Other forms of speech may well be truly offensive but the only way a society can deal with them is by being exposed to them and combating them. Otherwise these groups are driven underground and become martyrs.
However, internet censorship may encourage people to think for themselves.
Internet censorship results in the fear of different ideas, and therefore results from an aversion to thinking for oneself. Being exposed to limited content encourages you to think for yourself, and then not to change your mind.
What we need is a debate on what certain content means.