Censorship: Asset or Hindrance?

In the United States, we are granted five liberties in the first amendment of the Constitution: freedom of speech, press, religion, as well as the rights to petition and assemble. Censorship is an issue in American society which reveals the unclear boundaries of what these freedoms protect. Although not a new issue, the growth of social media has made censorship increasingly prevalent as the ability to disseminate information and opinions is made easier.

In certain situations, the censoring is justifiable, like banning sexually explicit or vulgar novels from elementary schools. The main problem with the act of censoring, however,  is that it becomes a slippery slope of sorts. Once a certain kind of message is censored, a standard is set, normalizing the future censorship of messages which evoke similar responses. Additionally, it forces a sort of picking and choosing what can and cannot be said. There is a necessity for free speech, as it exposes individuals to ALL points of view on issues, rather than only seeing one side. It seems wrong that members of hate groups are still given platforms to distribute their ideals, but to censor them because they offend certain demographics would allow the censoring of activist groups on the other side for similar reasons. Currently, the legal limits on free speech involve speech which may directly encourage violence. Even with these limits explicitly noted, there is still no clear boundary on what constitutes directly inciting violence.

In September 2018, conservative radio show host, Alex Jones, was suspended from Twitter due to his harsh messages, which violated Twitter’s community guidelines; specifically their “abusive behavior” guidelines. As expected, those who follow and support Jones and his ideologies criticized Twitter for banning him. Prior to his suspension, however, Twitter also received criticism from those who oppose Jones for initially refusing to ban him. Because Twitter is a social media company with its own set of rules, it absolutely reserves the right to ban those who violate the set guidelines they agree to follow upon signing up. Although the ban was justified for that reason, I still see it as harmful to remove users with as large of a following as Jones has, because there are certainly other well-known, inflammatory individuals with exact opposite ideals utilizing the website in a similar manner–to ban him but not others who are also violating the guidelines creates a double standard.

Generally speaking, censorship does more harm than good. It is difficult to draw the lines of what can and cannot be said and to make a misstep in these situations would be an infringement of the freedoms granted to all United States citizens in the First Amendment. Censorship can be avoided by recognizing and accepting the presence of views which oppose your own, as well as keeping an open mind and allowing those who disagree with you to speak their mind as loudly as you wish to speak yours.

 

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Katie Hopewell, a Freshman Political Science and English double major with a concentration in Writing, Rhetoric, and Publication. Katie is from Emerald Isle, North Carolina and spends her summers coaching cheerleading at Camp Woodward in Woodward, Pennsylvania.


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