Censorship reflects a society’s lack of confidence in itself. It is a hallmark of an authoritarian regime – Potter Stewart (U.S. Supreme Court Justice 1958-1981)
In a CNNMoney tech blog,1 Othman Laraki discusses how social media played a role in spreading dissent among individuals during the Arab Awakening.2 Laraki states that social media sites like Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube have impact on what he calls the “revolutionary equation,” and include:
- Fungible Identity: Online identity is fungible. People can appear as themselves, but can also impersonate others or invent new identities.
- Speed: Messages and information can propagate much faster than ever before. Entire conversations happen in the fraction of the time they have in the past.
- Global Connectivity: People can trivially connect to others down the street or across the world.
- Global Audience: A Tweet by one person can reach the entire world and be rebroadcast over CNN in a matter of minutes.
- Global Standards: Global and local opinions have become almost impossible to discern. Raising international outrage reverberates internally as well. Isolation of opinion has become almost impossible.
- Scale: The Internet is very very big. Billions of people are on it. Getting millions to hop onto any bandwagon has become almost trivial.
- Flattening: We are no longer in a world where governments have the biggest loud speaker. Individuals can sometimes have a reach that is broader and more global than entire governments.
Social media sites, and these common factors, are not only impacting the Middle East’s “revolutionary equation,” they are also affecting the way people advocate3 their opinions and express thoughts on these sites. These opinions and thoughts range from the political,4 religious,5 and personal.6 I am so guilty of this that the mere exercise of writing this blog post makes me question my ability to accurately think this post through to the end. I am almost driven to the point of doing a little self-censorship. And I hate censorship.
Censorship in the form of banning books is totalitarian. No one has the right to tell me what I can or cannot read. Here is a list of books that have been banned in America at one time or another. Nazi Germany banned books and I refuse to be quiet in a society that bans books. Banning of books is the same as censoring thoughts and ideas.
Censoring thoughts and ideas is akin to someone believing that they have a monopoly on correct behavior and feel they have the authority to inflict their beliefs and views on others.7 Yes, I am talking to you social conservatives. Social conservatism is a political, and usually morally influenced, ideology that focuses on the preservation of what are seen as traditional values. Social conservatism is a form of authoritarianism often associated with the position that the national government, or the state, should have a greater role in the social and moral affairs of its citizens, generally supporting whatever it sees as morally correct choices and discouraging or outright forbidding those it considers morally wrong ones.8
A recent picture (posted at the end of this blog) being shared on Facebook, however, has brought out my inner-Joseph Goebbles. This picture is of a bloody and well-developed fetus. There is no proof that this fetus is the result of a miscarriage or an abortion.9 This picture is highly disturbing.This picture is being used as a way to advocate against abortion. One may argue that this picture is a form of dissent against the legality of abortion. Regardless of my views on the abortion issue, I want to wipe this picture from Facebook.
And that is the rub. I am anti-censorship and I am all for people spouting their opinions, but I have a visceral reaction to this picture that makes me want to scream at FB friends that have decided to “share” it on their wall … and thus it shows up in my FB feed. With a bit of intestinal fortitude, I refrain from even commenting on the picture. This picture doesn’t affect my views one way or another on abortion.10 What this picture does: it makes me think about my views on social media, censorship, and the idea of sharing one’s opinion.
Social media sites like Facebook are a time-suck. Facebook can be extremely stupid, however, Facebook has allowed me to enhance my relationship with my sister and other family members. Facebook has been a tool that cousins and other family members have used to notified one another upon a death in the family. Facebook has allowed me to organize a camping trip that was originally meant to be a few cousins that turned into a full-blown family reunion. For all its potential ills, Facebook has actually enriched my life through a reconnection with family and old friends.
Facebook censorship exists. I cannot post pictures that shows a woman’s breast (nipples showing) or anyone’s genitalia. This sort of censorship indicates to me that Facebook has a definition for “pornography.” I am fine with that, I want to play on Facebook …I have to play by Facebook’s rules. Facebook (to its credit), however, doesn’t censor opinions or thoughts in a manner that I have been able to discern. If you think I am a douche, Facebook does not care if you express those feelings to me and others. If I think your views on Islam, and Muslims, are ignorant, Facebook will not stop me from educating you. Facebook censorship exists but it is limited and pretty much the product of its self-policing attitude toward its content.
Finally, Facebook allows you to express your opinion in whatever manner you are capable of. Grammar, punctuation, and well-constructed arguments are not a requirement. Whether or not you express your opinion on social media sites like Facebook is totally up to you. You and I are free to stomp into the digital world of Facebook and shout relentlessly and others are free to listen (read/view) or not.
I have no well-developed thoughts on how social media sites like Facebook are affecting society. I have no idea if Facebook is even responsible for its content, or at a minimum, governing the content more than it already does. I do know that I do not like this fetus picture being shared. I also know that I won’t de-friend anyone because of it. I have stopped de-friending people on Facebook, I figure I am not in a place to censor other people’s opinions, thus I allow them to voice their views and opinions regardless of my agreement or disagreement with these views and opinions.
What I do know is that someone (or some organization) realized that this picture would be a great way to advocate against abortion on Facebook. This picture is used specifically because of Laraki’s factors as identified early. Facebook is a useful tool to quickly advocate (with or without personal identification) to your friends, family, their friends and family, and ultimately a much larger (and possibly global) audience.
Social media, specifically Facebook, affects my life. I have to choose how to respond (if at all) when confronted with something that disturbs me. I am not participating in any revolutionary dissent, I’m not even asking for your prayers. And I am not going to censor you when you post pictures like this:
I am just going to be disgusted and wonder why so many of my FB friends don’t seem to be playing Farmville as much as they used to.
1. Othman Laraki, “Economics of dissent: How Twitter and Facebook tipped the revolutionary equation,” CNNMoney, March 17, 2001.
2. He uses some pretty sweet graphs, which indicates the brother has put some thought into this. My blog posts never have graphs.
3. Advocate as in spout their opinions while bullshitting themselves and others. I am extremely guilty of this not only on Facebook but also within the digital pages of this blog. I fantasize (and call myself) that I am the Internet police’s “Most Wanted Bullshitter.”
4. Examples: President Obama is the anti-Christ, the government is coming for your guns, Santorum is not only the name of a GOP presidential nominee but also a disgusting anal sex froth, and New Jersey Governor Christie is da bomb.
5. Examples: Pray for me, pray for my parents, pray for my kids, pray for my dog, God is dead, God is great, and Welch’s grape juice tastes like redemption.
6. Examples: My kid is smarter than your kid, I just ate a bologna sandwich, I need coffee, My [insert body part] hurts, look at these photos and be jealous of my exciting life, and hey! quit calling me a bitch/asshole… you bitch/asshole. Dirty laundry reeks so sweetly on FB.
7. Yes, I have a monopoly on correct behavior, however, I don’t assume to have any authority in forcing you to listen to me. You have free choice in reading this blog post or not.
8. Thanks Wikipedia and Zafirovski, Milan (2008), Modern Free Society and Its Nemesis: Democracy, economy, and conservatism, Lexington Books, p. 27, and Stenner, Karen (2005),The authoritarian dynamic, Cambridge University Press, p. 86.
9. Either the result of choice or because of life-threatening conditions to the mother.
10. Again I see no proof it is even a picture of an aborted fetus.