Over the next couple of days, I will be completing a two part series on the role of censorship and freedom of speech as it relates to the internet as well as its affects on Canada and other countries around the world.
Here in Canada, we often take for granted many little things that people in other countries would give anything for such as the right to free speech. The right to freedom of speech is something that no one can truly put a value on because it is fundamental to our way of living here in North America. Most of us Canadian’s couldn’t imagine our lives where we couldn’t speak our mind because of the repercussions that would follow. Unfortunately this is a reality for many people living in countries such as China and Cuba because their governments regulate and control what can be said and read. For example, the governments of Cuba and North Korea make it virtually impossible for citizens to communicate with people all over the world via internet because of their censorship laws.
What is Censorship?
Censorship is defined by wikipedia as the “suppression of speech or other public communication which may be considered objectionable, harmful, sensitive, politically incorrect or inconvenient as determined by a government, media outlet or other controlling body.” In Canada, we view censorship as a negative act by an intrusive government because we don’t have to deal with that burden on a daily basis. This unfortunately is a reality and a way of life in other countries simply because their government is controlling. I don’t think is right in any respect because everyone has a right to their opinion and should be able to express it through what ever outlet they see fit. Of course most will argue that I only think this way because I have grown up in a Western society which contributes to my point of views, which in a sense I would say is correct. I like to think of it, as having respect for human beings and repeating everyone’s fundamental rights that are brought alone with being born onto this planet. Now, seeing as how I have grown up in Canada I have been exposed to many Western aspects of life such as social media. Social media has consumed the vast majority of the population as many people not only use it but depend on it throughout the day. Social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter act as outlets in which we are able to express our opinions and thoughts with our peers. I for one, use Facebook on a daily basis for just about anything from status updates to posting photos of the weekend because I like the social interaction with my friends. If I were to live in countries such as China, Cuba or North Korea, not only would I not be allowed to post status updates, but I could forget about using social media sites all together. These types of sites are banned by their government because they are not approved. A form of social media has come to fruition in China though even with the strict censorship laws. Sina’s Weibo is a mircoblogging website which basically boils down to a hybrid of Twitter and Facebook. It has roughly 200 millions users and growing in popularity across China. This new platform allows citizens of China to express different ideas even though it is highly scrutinized by Chinese censors. It is not only China that bands these kinds of sites as we can see from the world map below. This map outlines every country and their level of censorship from extremely high to none at all. As you can see, North America including Canada are extremely lucky to not have censorship weigh into our daily lives. From the map we can also see that countries such as Australia are in a state of change with regards to censorship giving hope to other countries.
We are able to dissect and obtain this data solely because of the work the OpenNet Initiative has done. Countries censor information through internet filtration services which block content deemed to be sensitive by the government. Sensitive information could be anything from pornography, gay rights pages, or social media. In the case of China, they block any content to do with Tibetan independence, freedom of speech, and police brutality to name a few. To put this into perspective, Australia is in a state of change but they still block some content such as hardcore pornography. This seems pretty lenient in comparison to China’s censorship and all of this is can be determined by the OpenNet Initiative as they classify the magnitude to which a country censors information. They classify these magnitudes into 5 categories which read as the following:
Pervasive: A large portion of content in several categories is blocked.
Substantial: A number of categories are subject to a medium level of filtering or many categories are subject to a low level of filtering.
Selective: A small number of specific sites are blocked or filtering targets a small number of categories or issues.
Suspected: It is suspected, but not confirmed, that Web sites are being blocked.
No evidence: No evidence of blocked Web sites, although other forms of controls may exist.