Each year on March 12, World Day Against Cyber Censorship is celebrated with the intent of advocating for an Internet with no restrictions that is accessible to all. First created by Reporters Without Borders in 2008, it has been held annually to draw attention to the various ways in which governments worldwide censor and deter free speech on the Internet. Reporters Without Borders also annually awards a Netizen Prize to individuals or organisations that have made notable contributions to the protection of online freedom of expression.
There are many types of content that can be censored on the Internet, including news media, social media, or even foreign websites. While these kinds of censorship are not incredibly common in Canada, they are quite prevalent in several nations worldwide. The biggest example of this at the moment is the censorship and prohibition of foreign news outlets in Russia following its invasion of Ukraine. Facebook, BBC, Voice of America, and many other Western websites have been blocked in Russia. Independent news reporting about the invasion, or any public opposition against it, is now illegal. On top of this, anyone who spreads “false information” in Russia regarding the war in Ukraine can face up to 15 years in prison.
Clearly, cyber censorship can be very detrimental in many circumstances, such as the crackdown on free speech that is taking place in Russia right now. While there are many arguments against cyber censorship, however, there are also many arguments in favour of it. One argument favouring cyber censorship is that it can limit harmful, offensive, or unethical content, such as child pornography and hate speech. Websites that display or advocate for gambling, pornography, or child pornography are also typically censored in many countries around the world, including here in Canada.
One major example of this is Project Cleanfeed Canada, which was launched in November 2006 by several Canadian Internet service providers (including Bell, Shaw, Telus, and Rogers) in an effort to block websites hosting child pornography in Canada. It can also help mitigate the spread of false or misleading information, the pervasiveness of which is currently a prevalent issue both in Canada and around the world. Furthermore, it can prevent many cyber threats, such as identity theft and invasion of privacy. By limiting the amount of personal information that can be posted online, such as passwords, mailing addresses, and financial information, access to this information by people with harmful intentions can also be lessened.
As with many other complex social issues, internet censorship has both pros and cons. For more information about this issue, I recommend that you visit the Reporters Without Borders website. There, you will be able to find a wide variety of information and news stories about cyber censorship and journalism from around the world. I encourage you to stay informed about media and Internet censorship, and also consider how fortunate we are to have the right to express ourselves as freely as we are here in Canada.
By Catherine Gomes