Should the Internet be Censored?

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Title:Who should be allowed to filter the Internet?

Internet censorship or filtering the Internet is a political and social issue that has been alive for many years now. Attempting to answer the question of who should have the ability to censor this platform poses many different questions itself. Who makes the rules of what is or isn’t censored? Is it even possible to filter the Internet? How effective and worthwhile will filtering the Internet be? Throughout this essay, these questions and the problems that can arise will be discussed and analysed. When designed, the Internet had, and still has, the ability to find and recognise filters and divert ‘around’ them as it’s seen as a disruption to the network (Gilmore, 2013). In saying this, it is still possible for particular, and powerful, entities to apply censorship to the Internet, however this can be somewhat problematic as what is considered dangerous content is completely individual and subjective.

Tim Berners-Lee, the creator of the Internet, gave the general public access to the Internet in April of 1991. Something that was of importance to Berners-Lee was the accessibility the Internet posed to allow for information, such as academic resources and other types of information sharing, to be freely available to everybody and anybody (Bryant, 2011). In our world today and the advances technology has made since the net’s introduction in 1991, the Internet allows us to create our own individual platforms, websites, applications and artefacts and share them with others who may be in other countries and time zones as us.

It is important that we define exactly what is meant by the term the Internet. Typically, the Internet is mistaken for the World Wide Web. The Internet, is the infrastructure that connects networks together in order for communication. It is a “…network of networks…” (Beal, 2016). On the other hand, the World Wide Web is the model of accessing the information that is transmitted over the Internet. It is built on top of the Internets infrastructure, and utilises browsers to access this information (Beal, 2016).

By understanding this difference, we can ask the question of how do you enforce censorship on a network of networks that is designed to circumvent any ‘damage’? Although, the Internet is not strong enough, nor was it intended to, reject all interferences, it is a dispersed network that resists these interferences and bypass said blockages (Leiner et al, 2007). This is, ultimately, the reasoning behind individual governments, corporations, and even school systems having their own filters, rather than a universal filter for the entire net user population.

However, these specific filters and censors can have problematic aspects to them, as they can often be over-censored/blocked or under-censored/blocked. Different governing bodies block different content, depending on things such as social constructs of that country, spin doctoring or propaganda, and graphic and inappropriate material. There are blocking technologies that those who impose censorship use, one of which includes ‘trigger words’, in which government bots will monitor sites and block them if they are deemed to have censored content. This can be challenging and shows signs of over-blocking, as the United States included words such as ‘team’, ‘Mexico’ and ‘pig’ (Miller, 2012). This system has the potential to shut down and censor hundreds of sites that are not malicious in content and may be wrongfully taken off the World Wide Web. Similarly, ASIC (Australian Securities and Investments Commission) were found to have mistakenly blocked over 250,000 websites. This was due to ASIC incorrectly blocking an IP address rather than the intention to ban a single domain name (Lawrence, 2013). These technologies that are utilised to assist in the blocking and censoring of technologies have been said to be inaccurate and often flawed, in which Brown (2008, p8) has said “as a by-product block access to very large amounts legitimate material”.

China is renowned for it’s extensive censorship of the Internet- which has been dubbed as the ‘Great Wall of China’ by people all over the world.  The Chinese government has compiled intricate web regulations for Internet Service Providers (ISP) and Internet Content Providers (ICP) to abide by. By having these rules in place, the data that has the ability to be accessed by Chinese Internet users is heavily managed and controlled (Villeneuve, 2006). A large reason behind a lot of the blocking that the Chinese government enforces is to block political debate (Brown, 2008, p1) and to minimize the potential for defeating the government system (Villeneuve, 2006). However, this excessive need that almost leans towards propaganda promoting the Chinese government, can be somewhat deterring to someone looking in from the outside. This unrealistic amount of content restriction sets the example for other Western cultures (e.g United States, Australia, United Kingdom), and therefore citizens of these countries are democratically against censorship of the Internet. Likewise, the Australian government value highly the public opinion of its citizens, therefore the implementation of filtering and blocking of the Internet poses an imposition of a hierarchy for those who implement it (e.g ISP’s), meaning the accountability is away from the government (Bambuer, 2008, p26) This causes vagueness and unrest from the public, as it’s assumable that censorship comes from government, however this is not always the case.

An issue that arises from filtering the Internet come back to the idea of diverting around said blocks. However, in this case, it is from the perspective of the user rather than the network itself. There is a multitude of different ways that users can access and even distribute ‘blocked’ information through these censors. Ding, Yang, Chen and Guo (2011) conducted an experiment on the different methods and systems that were speculated to bypass and access censored content during their time in China. Their results found that using a ‘single proxy’ or a ‘proxy pool’ was the most effective in breaking through the filters.

Likewise, it is a matter of assessing whether or not it is important to focus on the accessibility of dangerous content, or whether it should be beaten at the core and those who are producing and distributing the content should have a heavier target on them before it even has the ability to reach the Internet. It is important to acknowledge that there are genuine reasons to filter the Internet, such as legal acts and policies, however the less legitimate (such as political agenda in China) result in the filtering becoming inaccurate and controlling. The structure of the Internet is majority of the reason that filtering is problematic. Anyone has the ability to apply and act in place of the governing body that applies thee filter, and on the other hand this same freedom the Internet provides us allows anyone to have the ability to bypass this filter.

The issue that needs to be addressed with regards to filtering is to understand each individual ‘need’ for a filter and find a more constructive and specific answer to their problem. Filtering is a simplistic outlook that is not effective and can be easily overridden. Educational opportunities lie with each specific person who accesses the Internet- understanding and educating users on what is right and wrong in the web universe will, in time, lessen the need for and amount of filters and blockages that appear on the net. As mentioned previously, there will always be a legality when it comes to filtering, however the opportunity and issue lies within targeting and minimizing the amount of damaging content that gets produced in the first place.

References

  • Beal, V. (2016). The Differences Between the Internet and the WebWebopedia.com. Retrieved 3 September 2017, from http://www.webopedia.com/DidYouKnow/Internet/Web_vs_Internet.asp
  • Brown, I. (2008). Internet censorship: Be careful what you ask for. In S. Kirca & L.
  • Hanson (Eds.), Freedom and Prejudice: Approaches to Media and Culture. Istanbul: Bahcesehir University Press. Retrieved from http://ssrn.com/abstract=1026597
  • Bryant, M. (2011). 20 years ago today, the World Wide Web was bornThe Next Web. Retrieved 3 September 2017, from https://thenextweb.com/insider/2011/08/06/20-years-ago-today-the-world-wide-web-opened-to-the-public/#.tnw_8OMEQFj5
  • Ding, F., Yang, Z., Chen, X., & Guo, J. (2011). Effective Methods to Avoid the Internet Censorship. 2011 Fourth International Symposium On Parallel Architectures, Algorithms And Programming. http://dx.doi.org/10.1109/paap.2011.54
  • Gilmore, J. (2013). John Gilmore’s home pageToad.com. Retrieved 3 September 2017, from http://www.toad.com/gnu/
  • Lawrence, J. (2013). ASIC admits to blocking another 250,000 sitesEfa.org.au. Retrieved 3 September 2017, from https://www.efa.org.au/2013/06/05/asic-blocked-250000-sites/
  • Leiner, B., Cerf, V., Clark, D., Kahn, R., Kleinrock, L., & Lynch, D. et al. (1997). A Brief History of the InternetIsoc.org. Retrieved 3 September 2017, from http://www.isoc.org/oti/printversions/0797prleiner.html
  • Miller, D. (2012). Revealed: Hundreds of words to avoid using online if you don’t want the government spying on you (and they include ‘pork’, ‘cloud’ and ‘Mexico’)Mail Online. Retrieved 3 September 2017, from http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2150281/REVEALED-Hundreds-words-avoid-using-online-dont-want-government-spying-you.html
  • Villeneuve, N. (2006). The filtering matrix: Integrated mechanisms of information control and the demarcation of borders in cyberspace. First Monday, 11(1).

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