We must not permit internet censorship

23.02.2010 00:10




The internet is the largest and most diverse source of information our planet has ever known. The internet is integrating our daily life transactions. This is possible because newspapers, television programs, movies, phone calls, computer data, commercial services such as banking and shopping, and a host of other sources of information and communication are all being reduced to the same digital format, and are all be sent along fiber optic cable (Harvard Law Review, 1994).

The libraries of the world, once on line will combine to form a larger base of information than anyone ever imagined. This vast library of information will be accessible in an instant, with the click of a mouse, where internet technology is available. We can compare the internet to another technological advance, which also changed the world. The knowledge potential created by the diverse information accessible on the web is similar to the energy potential realized when we discovered nuclear energy. Like nuclear energy, knowledge is very powerful, and can be used to for both good and evil deeds. Knowledge can indeed have the same converse negative side to it like nuclear energy does. Nuclear energy can be used to power entire cities, or it can be used to erase them. There is an important distinction to be made here. Knowledge is what we use to search for the truth in life, and this fact makes knowledge indispensable. Once we know the truth we can be free from manipulation. Because the internet is so unique in the way it allows access to information, we must protect the internet as a very precious resource. Censoring the internet, a cause, leads to a chain of related effects. The first of which is the upset of the natural balance of information on the internet. This happens when information is removed, thus narrowing the spectrum of available information. From this spectrum of information we derive bits of knowledge. So the second effect of censoring the internet is reduced knowledge. If we allow censorship to weaken the material our searching tool, knowledge, is made of, then we might even lose the truth. The loss of the truth is the third effect of censoring the internet. The final effect of censoring the internet is manipulation made easy. Before we follow this causal chain through its effects, I think it is important to explain what I mean by the truth.

I think of the truth in two related forms. The first, I'll refer to as personal truth. Personal truth involves a process that starts with a question. The person asking the question accumulates as much knowledge as possible from information. As knowledge accumulates, information becomes easier to navigate because knowledge increases the persons' ability to think critically. So, knowledge is used to find more knowledge until a satisfactory answer has been reached. In this way I am equating knowledge with a smaller, personal truth. The second form of truth that I envision is universal truth.<br>

This is the kind of truth that Plato is teaching in The Allegory of the Cave ( This is the kind of truth that the inscription on the south face of the UT Tower refers to. I imagine this form of truth to encompass all smaller, personal truths. The way I see it, the insights we gain from our personal truths are used as new knowledge in our search for universal truth. As our level of knowledge reaches new benchmarks, it is more difficult to manipulate us with inferior levels of information. The internet's diverse information has the potential to free us from manipulation at any level, because we will know the truth. Now that I have explained the two forms of truth, we can look at the effects censorship has on our search for truth. The first effect of censoring the internet is the upset of the natural balance of information on the internet.

This happens when information is removed from the web, thus narrowing the spectrum of available information. Until the Supreme Court ruled broad internet filters unconstitutional, all
public facilities would have soon been susceptible to information filters, which would effectively reduce the internet to the level of a child ( For example, you could not access any information on the web dealing with reproduction, because it contains the word "sex". This even included plant reproduction. How problematic might this censorship have been for a biologist at UT, a public institution? A person couldn't have found information on breast cancer, because it has the word "breast" in it. The attempt by several states in the U.S. is a recent example of how censorship reduced the diversity of information on the web. If we allow the spectrum of information available on the internet to be narrowed, we are allowing the reduction of the food for our thought. Consider the light spectrum, ROYGBIV. We all learned in school that light is made up of many different wavelengths, with corresponding colors. How different would the world look if there were no green light? Things would look pretty different. Has anyone ever tried on a pair of those blue-blocker sunglasses, or any sunglasses with amber lenses? The world looks pretty different. Some people like that look and others don't. What would you think if Congress announced tomorrow that it passed a law paving the way to eliminate all blue light from the atmosphere? This would mean no blue water, no green grass, and everything else which once reflected blue light, would look completely different. You had no choice in the decision, but your ability to see certain things would be forever changed. This is what censorship does. Censorship changes the mix of things and ultimately effects the way we see the big picture, our knowledge. The second related effect of censoring the internet is reduced knowledge. This is a simple but very important concept to understand. Our knowledge is derived from the information we think through. If censorship changes the natural diversity of information on the WWW, the way we think with our minds is changed in the same way that our vision is altered when the light spectrum is narrowed. This might change our knowledge in such a way that our ability to see the truth would be altered. Maybe the truth would just look different and unrecognizable under different light. Either way, we risk losing the truth.

If we lose the truth, what can we follow? The truth is what gives us orientation to what is right in life. If we lose the truth, our new truth would become the truth given to us by those in power. They would be able to filter the information we receive the, truth they give us, however they want. Hopefully, in such circumstances our leaders would act honorably and lead us in the direction of progress, but history suggests otherwise. Present day facts suggest otherwise. In China, for example, to access the internet you first have to register with the government ( The idea being, your log-in can be traced and monitored. This way if individuals access information on the Web that the Chinese Government does not approve of, then the Government can crack down on those individuals. Are we coming close to this ourselves in the U.S.? Knowledge is powerful; the act of censorship is a direct admission of this fact. The right to have access to information, to gain knowledge, is so important that it was the topic of the very first amendment the founding fathers of our country made to the Constitution. To see the full text of the First Amendment click here ( The loss of the truth leads to the final effect of censoring the internet.

Censoring the largest, most diverse source of information our planet has ever known makes manipulation easy. If we allow the Internet to be censored, we allow the essential diversity of information on the WWW to be altered. As the diversity of information on the web is reduced, so is the knowledge we might find to use in our search for the truth. If we lose the truth, we will be at the mercy of an artificial, filtered truth given to us by those in power. We will be at the mercy of whoever is synthesizing the truth, for whatever purpose they want to use us.