April 23, 2013

In the Wake of Boston Bombings, Misguided Demands for YouTube Censorship

Frankly, I was expecting such a call, and sure enough it arrived yesterday. A reporter for a significant media outlet wanted my opinion on the thesis that YouTube and other video sites should be self-censored and/or censored by governments to remove "all materials" that could "be of help" to would-be terrorists.

This meme is not new, but was inevitably resurrected with word that the Boston bombing brothers supposedly were inspired and trained largely from Internet videos posted by various radical groups.

Now, before we proceed, a few words about the media. It's popular these days to paint mainstream media in particular with a very broad, largely negative brush. In my personal experience, this is mostly unwarranted.

Most reporters I come into contact with -- and this holds true for print, web, radio, and television venues -- are trying to do a good job, often under significant editorial time pressures and associated constraints.

The majority are interested in getting straight information to help them make an accurate presentation. I call these reporters the "seekers of knowledge."

There is however also a minority that are essentially only interested in getting quotes to try add "gravitas" to an already largely pre-written story, article, or other presentation that is predestined to take a particular point of view regardless of what facts come to the reporter's attention. We can call these reporters the "seekers of confirmation."

If your statements to the latter type do not well synchronize with their preconceived ideas and points of view, you can depend on your input being discarded and, most likely, you will never hear from them again.

The reporter who contacted me yesterday was indeed in this second category.

So after I explained to him that not only was the concept of video (or for that matter, other information) censorship that he was proposing a completely abhorrent and utterly impractical attack on civil liberties, I was not surprised when he suddenly "got another call" and quickly terminated the conversation without so much as a thank you.

I believe what really upset him was my explanation that such Internet censorship attempts could actually be extremely counterproductive. They would mainly serve to make it more difficult for authorities to easily observe what sorts of materials were circulating, since censoring of public sites would by no means eliminate "items of concern" from availability, but would instead drive them underground into the so-called "darknets" where, for example, photos and videos related to child abuse remain widely accessible, despite attempts by service providers and authorities to stamp them out.

Especially when dealing with videos or other information that are espousing radical concepts, even violence, censorship is not the answer. Censorship attempts will not be effective, and can very easily make the problems that censorship was aimed to address much worse, not better.

The appropriate response to information of concern is not to try eliminate or block access to those ideas and concepts, but rather to provide more information, better ideas and concepts, a powerful counterpoints.

Trying to censor even outright lies will almost always fail. The antidote to lies is not censorship, but truth.

And truth be told, often the forces of evil are much faster to adopt new technologies to their advantage, while their adversaries stay stuck in old, ineffective methods of battle -- like censorship -- that are as obsolete as lobotomies in the Internet world of the 21st century.

There's a maxim that "for every complex problem there's a simple, wrong answer."

In the wake of the tragedies in Boston, it is to be expected that even many well-meaning individuals and authorities would be desperately searching for a "simple" answer to the complicated, multifaceted specter of terrorism.

But that old saying still holds true. There are no simple solutions for terrorism. Attempts to counter associated videos and related materials with censorship are doomed to failure.

Rather, the answer again is more information, not less.

The answer is straight talk about why terrorism is a path not to justice, but to evil.

We must learn to use the tools of the Internet at least as well as our adversaries, not by playing desperate, hopeless games of censorship Whac-A-Mole, but by uploading light to push out the darkness.

Get to work on those videos.


Posted by Lauren at April 23, 2013 01:32 PM | Permalink
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