The Definition and Forms of Censorship

Categories: Censorship

Censorship is a word of many meanings. In its broadest sense it refers to suppression of information, ideas, or artistic expression by anyone, whether government officials, church authorities, private pressure groups, or speakers, writers, and artists. It may take place at any point in time. communicators of information that create dissention from the status quo are punished and others that would follow them are subverted from the same expression. Restraints have the effect of limiting the diversity that would otherwise be available in the marketplace of ideas and so may be considered censorship in its broadest sense.

There are almost as many justifications offered for the suppression of communication as there are would be censors, but at root the motivation is always the same. Thus so-called obscene material is attacked because of a fear that it will corrupt personal morality or perhaps even lead to deviant sexual acts. School textbooks and library materials are sought to be purged by groups who fear that they may evoke immoral values in children.

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Information concerning national security is controlled by government, with particular severity in wartime, for fear that its revelation may aid an enemy. The fear of invasion of privacy, real or imagined, is what drives the censorial impulse. Censorship has been practiced in both the narrower and the broader senses as long as there have been organized cultures. Those societies which have been most confident of their principles and loyalty of their members have allowed the greatest freedom from censorship, for they have been the least fearful of the consequences of dissent.

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In societies whose values have not been fully accepted by their people or whose leadership rests  on shaky foundations, is where the heaviest hand of censorship has fallen. With the advent of technology and the expansion of resources via the interent and related mediums censorship as well as pornography has found new means of expression and a new problem for society to deal with. The Internet provides three major services to its users: Email, Usenet News and the World Wide Web (WWW). E-mail is the transfer of information from one user to another in an essentially private communication that has much in common with standard postal services. Pornographic material in this medium is limited to the transfer of picture files and text files and is extremely hard to regulate without gross intrusions into individuals privacy.

This service has existed as long as the Internet in its current form. Usenet News is the discussion forum of the Internet, consisting of around ten thousand different ‘Newsgroups’ dedicated to topics ranging from Adoption to Zoophilia, with circulation in the late 1980s was estimated at 22,000,000 people worldwide. In the late 1990s it is likely to have grown to over 100,000,000, with the quantity of information posted more than doubling each year since 1993. The Internet user can post articles to any newsgroup they choose, in by doing so distribute text, graphics, videoclips, advertisements, or inevitably, pornography. The World Wide Web is the resource most people refer to as “The Internet”. It is a method by which Internet users publish generally public information on Internet connected computers. With around 31.4 million readers and 1.6 million sites in January 1997, the World Wide Web is easily the largest worldwide mass communications medium. With the medium comes the potential for the distribution and advertisement of pornographic materials. This creates a debate over  what is censorship and what is really too explicit to be shown to the masses in any public medium. “The Net is the ultimate intellectual jumble. Brainy discussions of physics coexist with sophomoric essays, where sites that present satellite weather images are only a few clicks away from pornographic pictures” (Brody 11).

Even the freest of nations find some forms of censorship necessary. Many politicians have made the analogy between a child going to an adult book store and the Internet. According to this analogy, a student can be thrown out of the store by the store manager. Unfortunately, on the Internet, there is no way to effectively supervise children’s activities and as Edwin Diamond pointed out, ОThere are more children are on the Internet than adults. Ó Pornography, or obscenity (which is the legal term), is any material, pictures, films, printed matter, or devices dealing with sexual poses or acts considered indecent by the public. Traditionally, the distribution and sale of pornography has been illegal in most countries. Only in Denmark have all restrictions on pornography been withdrawn (since 1969).

Censorship of pornography exists in movies, books, and even in stores that make their profit from selling such materials. These stores are limited to their small parameters of what they can and cannot offer. Defining this enemy is an essential tool in the removal of children from this scenerio. An article in Time magazine recently triggered a major push to initiate governmental regulation on the Internet. Time portrayed the pornography on the Internet as something that is so common that the user could not go anywhere without finding these pictures. Statistics were given concerning the number of sites and then amount of visitors these sites attract. For the past two years, I have been quite active on the Internet and I disagree with the statement that pornography can be found accidentally. I am not saying that pornography does not exist on the Internet, but rather it could more often be found if one looks for these kinds of pictures. I do agree that there should be better restrictions for children so that they cannot access the kinds of material which they would not be able to access in the video media.

For instance, there are several ideas that have been proposed in order to place safeguards to prevent transmission of X-Rated material onto the screens of the child’s computer. Self-regulation through responsible parenting is encouraged by vendors of “minder” software such as Net Nanny and SurfWatch, however there are no official watchdogs for these programs that will tell users exactly what sites are filtered. The minder software Cybersitter was claimed to censor access to the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission and the National Organization for Women due to their references to lesbianism, as well as cites containing the phrase “Don’t buy Cybersitter”. Organizations devoted to protecting children from online criminal abuse but still promoting free speech have a high on-line presence. They Promote a responsible policy of fighting against activities such as child pornography while still retaining Internet standards of etiquette. SurfWatch is the leading content filtering solution, having founded the industry in 1995 and having distributed more than 7 million copies of SurfWatch.

Features include, Simple installation. Install and run SurfWatch in five minutes Ñ even if youõre a computer novice. Powerful filtering. Block 16 topics across the four core categories of sexually explicit material, violence and hate speech, gambling, and illicit drugs and alcohol. Easy customization. “Fine tune” Internet access by customizing your SurfWatch filtering and creating custom filters of your own preferences. Daily filter updates. Update your filters daily with the click of a button. SearchWatch, restricts searching for objectionable material in all search engines. ChatBlock, blocks access to Web-based chat sites and all Internet Relay Chat servers. Prices for these software packages range from twenty dollars to fifty dollars and offer updates at additional charges. For every method of physically restricting access to Internet sites there is at least one Internet user breaking the rukes, what few substantial rules there are, or finding ways around it. Regulating the Internet is not cheap and is not completely proven to even be effective with the infinite ways there are to disable and to circumvent these software packages. These packages are regulated by private companies and offer their Osyntheticó regulation without any government sanctions. The government must first resolve squables within itÕs ranks and define Òpornographyó in a universal sense. The politicians must mobilize against the enemy of ignorance with some tough legislation. Despite a statement made by Andrew Kantor’s, senior editor of Internet World, that pornography represents Òless than one percent of the Interneto (Lloyd 39).

The Internet has a serious image problem with regards to pornography. It is generally accepted that pornography has psychological effects on the behavior of people. Last year, a University of Michigan student was arrested by the FBI for posting a story to the newsgroup, Òsex storiesó describing an “encounter” with a female student, which he named. His story was a “violent narrative of rape and torture” and he later e-mailed his friend that “just thinking about it his fantasies doesn’t do the trick anymore. I need to do it” (Diamond 24).

The government is mobilizing but without a clear enemy attidute, legislation and progress toward a final solution will get lost in beaucratic lag. As a result of the accessibility of the “adult” material on the Internet, the United States government is getting involved in the fight to stop pornography. Senators Jim Exon (D-Neb.) and Dan Coats (R-Ind.) pushed a bill through the House of Representatives, the Senate, and eventually to President Clinton, that would require certain material on the Internet to be removed. In February, 1996, President Clinton passed this bill into law, making it a crime to send or receive pornographic material over the Internet. The intent of this law is that it is supposed to prevent the vile and hateful material on the net from being transmitted to the screens of computers being operated by children. Computer networks have special qualities of their own that are not captured by analogy to any other medium. In some respects, network exchanges resemble the sorts of exchanges people might have with one another in face-to-face meetings. Conversations among strangers in chat rooms are completely unlike the traditional point-to-point communication in a telephone call. Where one would be unlikely to converse with a total stranger for no particular reason, and much more like the casual mingling that one would see in a real-life social gathering.

This new censorship law marks an extraordinary extension of “decency” regulation to casual encounters. “Anything as massive as the global system of interconnected networks that is the Internet can not be ‘regulated in any meaningful manner. The very nature of the Internet precludes its effective regulation. It was designed to be a self-healing network of diverse platforms capable of  operating under the most adverse of conditions – nuclear holocaust.” (Albert Gidari) Creating an effective roadblock on the “Information Super-highway” is technically difficult and practically impossible. ISPs (Internet Service Providers) cannot easily prevent the flow of information due to the enormous quantity of network traffic and hundreds of different protocols by which it is transferred. News items the equivalent to the storage space of thirteen CD-ROMs is posted to the Newsgroups every ten days, 37 megabytes per minute. It is technically difficult, expensive in both computer-time and cost, and inaccurate for an ISP to attempt to censor the content of Newsgroups, unless they block access to particular newsgroups completely.

Studies show Internet pornography only represents a small portion of Internet traffic. OLess than one percento (Lloyd). Getting pornography is quite effortless. Basically the only thing one needs to do is select any of the search engines and simply type: sex. This will pull up a host of different sites where one can easily click on any of them and view pornography. What is happening is that the term pornography is which a broad word used in many different contexts and is difficult to determine what should be censored. Pornography is defined in Websterõs dictionary as pictures, film, or writing which deliberately arouse sexual excitement. Well one thing might sexually excite one person but not another person. So by this definition one can understand why there is a lot of room for discrepancy. Until there is a universal definition of what is meant by pornography there will continue to be heavy debate on what exactly needs to be done. If you cant define the problem you cannot solve it. The fact is that down-loadable pornographic images are in existence on the Internet and are extremely popular. “It doesn’t take a magnifying glass to find hard-core pornography on the Internet … and since many youngsters can navigate circles around their elders on the Net, some adults are in near panic” (Diamond 30).

There is no doubt that any reasonable person would want to keep pornography out of the hands of children. The only question is by what means should our society take these steps. ÒAs the most participatory form of mass speech yet developed, the Internet deserves the highest protection from governmental intrusion.Ó (Judge Stewart Dalzell, United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, 12 June 1996) How much of the Internet is freedom of speech and how much should be protected and what part should be defined as pornography and censored. This question is one that is at the heart of this debate. Most people believe that the government’s intervention will do nothing to stop the problem. “It’s virtually impossible to regulate the net because of the global nature of this communications device, It would mean monitoring every phone call into the Internet which is impossible to do” (Lloyd 39).

This is a serious social problem that will do nothing but grow and multiply into a monster that will become uncontrollable. The infinite ways to attempt to block such action and the infinite ways to circumvent such actions create a paradox of effort and leave one perplexed as to where their efforts have gone. The twenty first century will pose problems that have never been dealt with before and some extremely innovative solutions will be produced. Will these innovations be enough to keep our children safe from predators and pedafiles? Software, better regulation, expanded monitoring of servers these things will do very little for the protection of our children. ÒChildren are very impressionable and do not realize the implications behind the pornographic materials: without censors on the material, they will be able to freely access information that will corrupt their moralsó (Caleshu 4).

Children will only be safe if they are informed by their parents on the perils of this new Òvirtualó world before they enter it. This means better education for parents as well as children a win-win situation all the way around. The topic of pornographic censorship will continue to be heavily debated as long as people have such strong views. Censorship will forever be in debate since it deals with the First Amendment rights so closely. If the issue is important to you as an individual, then take action, get involved and make a difference.


Works Cited

  1. Albert, Gidari. “Bringing the Law to the Internet”, Time, January 1995.
  2. Caleshu, John “Flame On: The State of Nature and the First Internet War,” (April 1996) pp.28, 31.
  3. Diamond, Edwin. “Five Difficult Issues.” Technology Review. October 1995: 24-33.
  4. Dworkin, A., and MacKinnon, C.A., Pornography and Civil Rights (1988).
  5. Gates, Bill. “Support Freedom of Speech on the Internet.” Online posting.
  6. Lloyd, Steve “Privacy and Human Rights” (Manchester University Press, 1968).
  7. Thomas I. Emerson, “The System of Freedom of Expression” (Random House, 1970) Wetzel, Brian. ÒThe Internetó, Time, November 1995 pp. 5,7.

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The Definition and Forms of Censorship. (2021, Oct 07). Retrieved from

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