Op-Ed: Censorship in the Digital Age

We have all probably heard the story about the infamous anti-Islam video floating around the web, more specifically on YouTube. It has been said that the result of this video are the recent attacks on American embassies in the Middle East while others believe these attacks are the result of planned terrorism. Whichever way, the video has caused a stir.

The video has been removed from all media sources in the Middle East due to their policy on freedom of speech. At the same time, the White House asked Google to remove the video from YouTube in the United States. Google responded to the White House request by saying that the video was criticizing a religion rather than a group of people so Google decided to keep it on YouTube here in the U.S.

It is absurd to think that the government would request to take down this video protected by the U.S. constitution. The United States enjoys an extraordinarily open free speech law. This law allows individuals freedom of speech rights from speaking out against politicians up to burning the U.S. flag.

This request from the White House has no space in American political culture. In the Islamic world, the film was interpreted as negative and hateful. Many people would argue that this is how free speech works in the U.S., that we can criticize and demonstrate hate if we choose to and other countries and cultures should learn to respect it.

If we analyze the way we exercise our free speech rights daily, we would not always speak our mind. At times, when we interact with our friends, family and co-workers we keep some comments to ourselves. For instance, when a delicate topic is being discussed and we strongly disagree with someone’s opinion we might not react to these comments or perspectives but rather hear them, try to understand them and let them go. We agree to disagree. Does this mean that we are censoring ourselves? Many of these times we do this is not because we do not want to defend our ideas and beliefs, but because we like to stay in harmony with those who surround us. And if we truly need to express our differences we do it in a thought out manner that will hopefully not disrupt relationships. Speaking our mind all the time could possibly only create a hostile environment.

In today’s world we are closer then we have ever been. Technology has created a strong connection amongst all of us in this world. What we see today on an American website, it will reach the other side of the world instantaneously and this is also true for criticism and hate speech. There might be laws in foreign countries like Libya, Egypt or even Germany prohibiting certain types of speech that will eventually be censored. But the internet is big and information reaches people– censored or not.

Freedom of speech is an immensely important right. It helps us question any kind of institution, which results in change and improvement. But we have to bear in mind that this free speech is not happening in a bubble and some decisions can go much farther than we can imagine and affect many more people than ever before. This means that the way and the how we exercise our freedom of speech has to be more carefully thought out and constructed. We are interacting with the world on the daily.

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