posted Aug 28, 2000

Censorship Vs. Free Speech Personal Commentary8/28/2000; 7:43:16 PM Ever since I converted over to news items for this site, I've had two separate sections, one for and one for Free Speech. While I was converting all the old stories over, I just made them into two categories, and just sort of separated them.It's bothered me ever since... What's the difference? Recently I realized... yes, there is a differenceFree speech is the right to express certain concepts, without fear of retribution from higher authorities (or at least, in theory without fear), and the corresponding right to seek out expressions of these concepts. There's two parts to it, both of which are necessary. Our free speech rights don't affect people in China, who do not have the right to seek out our expressions on certain forbidden topics.Censorship I've talked about in my Censorship Definition. Basically, I define censorship as the attempt to modify a message between the receiver and the sender without the permission of both. Between the two concepts, they cover the entire communications path, from sender, via medium, to receiver. However, the methodology of suppressing free speech and imposing censorship are quite different.Suppression of free speech, to my definition here, is an attempt to prevent the sender from sending some message, or the receiver from receiving it at all. This almost invariably takes the form of political action, since the sending and receiving don't involve technology. People are jailed for expressing concepts, or people are prevented from accessing them at all, perhaps by preventing them from using the Internet, or somehow blocking the internet indiscriminately.What has traditionally been called "censorware" isn't, for the most part. A censorware program installed on the end computer, blocking for just that user or users in a single household unit, is a suppression of the right of some household user to absorb certain expressions, traditionally ones expressed either as drug use messages, or as pictures of naked people. This is probably why censorware isn't a large political issue, despite the attempts of some people to make it one... suppressing the free speech 'rights' of children is not considered terribly objectionable by most people.Take the exact same censorware software used in the previous paragraph, and instead install it on the ISP computers, causing the exact same effect but now affecting everyone, and you've got censorship. Messages are stopped en route. A lot less censorship goes on then you might think. Why do these definitions matter? Well, the words are too well established to change their meaning now, but the important thing is the recognition that there are two distinct things occurring. Censorship and the suppression of free speech occur in very different ways, and thus demand two different strategies to combat. I do not think this separation is being made, and I think it is hampering the effectiveness of our efforts to combat it. For instance, most people don't understand the difference between censorware in the home, an acceptable if ineffective use, and censorware in the library, which if mandated for everybody is a serious blow to their right to absorb other's free speech. (This is separate from the issues of community taste, which might preclude one from viewing pornography on a publicly visible terminal, or other similar activities. Those restraints are often considered acceptable suppressions, and I'd tend to agree.) What's OK at home may not be OK in the library, because it's very different.(Oh, and before you check the Site Index... no, the distinction probably isn't made yet. I'll go through later and re-categorize them correctly.)


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