Censorship: a “Double-Win”

It’s not that Google or Yahoo were opposed against all kinds of restrictions on internet content, writes the Telegraph. But information filtering as advocated by the Australian government – and scheduled to be passed as law by parliament this year – is raising concerns even at government level. “Our main message of course is that we remain committed to advancing the free flow of information which we view as vital to economic prosperity and preserving open societies globally,” the paper quotes Michael Tran, US State Department spokesman.

Only few people would probably contest that child pornography or bestiality need to be off-limits as internet content. But when filtering kicks in on contents such as “details on how to carry out criminal activity”, the problems that will arise are apparent. It’s hard to see how a filtering system should be more intelligent than a search machine – whose search results won’t usually hit the bull’s-eye either.

The filter also faces practical problems, with many considering it to be technologically unworkable and a waste of resources, writes the Telegraph. And a waste of resources it is. It has become conventional wisdom that in every project, the focus should be on avoiding flaws in good time, rather than to clean up their aftermath. The Philippine’s UNESCO National Commission chairwoman Rosario Manalo observes that

… past educational goals focused on economic skills, materials demands and the transfer of cognitive content. Today’s objectives give priority to arts, civics, history and values education around which new attitudes should be developed.

And she feels that

… civics education should be strenghtened. Civics teaches the student to understand his human rights and corresponding responsibilities. She notes that civics education programs described in different UNESCO handbooks are political in their orientation. The idea of responsibility for all aspects of tangible heritage – national and global, cultural and natural – must be emphasized, for this is required of the twenty-first century world citizen. In short, there should be a balance between the emphasis on the philosophies of political science and the concerns of heritage conservation.

The political framework (which critics may view as a “world government” ambition) may be dubious. But while there should be no misunderstanding about human rights, which apply even when individuals act irresponsibly, I still do like the link between rights and duties. In the long run, I can only expect others to respect my own rights, when I respect the rights of others myself. Manalo uses a beautifully old-fashinoned term: nobleness of heart. Noone with some nobleness of heart will be interested in consuming the kind of internet content the Australian government claims to worry about. There has been a lot of talk about “information literacy” or Medienkompetenz in Germany’s education system during the past decade or so. It usually (and conveniently) seems to amount to the use of the internet in the first place.

But many students know the internet better than their teachers. Computer literacy should be an aspect of information literacy indeed – but it’s the easiest skill to implement. A lot more needs to count here.

Every packaging is a medium. It suggests high value when there is consumer electronics inside. And when I’m opening a pack of cat food, the sound of it will make the cats come in from anywhere. Consumption is lit by the package. Or, as Wayne Millage told Der Spiegel years ago, 70 percent of all purchases [in America were or still] are made on impulse. The package must speak to consumers all over the world, and does it in a split second.

That’s what information is doing to us – constantly. And nobody recommends filters in a supermarket to protect the poor consumption monkeys from their own impulse. “People must decide what is good for them.” Those of them who understand how this kind of information works can do that. But for those of them who don’t, the result of the trick is constant disappointment – and an odd desire for more of the same.

Reasonable purchasing behavior, and reasonable use of the “new media” alike, don’t require censorship. They require practical education. But given that private enterprise is frequently “advising” the school bureaucracy, chances for such training may turn out to be dim.

We’d rather raise information junkies first, and then sell them mandatory filtering software. That constitutes double-win – for the supply side.


CRI: Google in the Mirror of Colonial History, March 22, 2010
Information Literacy, different view, Feb 24, 2010

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