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Muted, Deafened

·9 mins
blog politics society
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Lately, I’ve been hopping on Discord to talk to my friends. Mostly we play games and hang out in a socially-distanced way. It’s fun, and using Discord has revived a lot of weathered relationships and friend groups (would recommend).

On Discord, as admin, you can “server mute” someone (stop everyone else from hearing them) or “server deafen” (stop them from hearing everyone else) if they’re being inappropriate, annoying, but mainly it’s been in jest. This got me thinking about power and access to information (big leap, I know). So here we are, who gets to decide who talks, and who gets listened to?

Pros, cons…

Growing up in a society where expression is limited has it’s ups and downs. On the one hand, it can feel like there is a bit more stability around; less hate, less drama, fewer wildcards in the population. On the other, you can feel somewhat trapped depending on where your opinion falls on the overall distribution of the population’s opinions, or what you think the population’s opinions are (which is impacted by local laws regarding such topics).

This blog post goes over some of my thoughts about mass censorship, and will hopefully give you a chance to reflect on your own.

Introducing: The Internet Today

The hyper-connected world we live in has made us realize that we have different faces and filters for different people, places… I mean, think about private stories on Instagram, Snapchat… Many of us have even experienced culture shock when hopping on a plane to another country, and the number of people experiencing this is growing as access to travel becomes easier and cheaper than ever. But, access to the internet has also been growing and this has completely revolutionized our idea of a society, the way we communicate, and even the way we work. There are online companies, social media platforms, blogs ;) and so forth. In most situations, you can do and say more online than in-person. How far these two modes of expression deviate from each other is highly dependent on where you are in the world, and whether or not you know that someone with power over you is listening.

More on globalization: people are traveling across the world every day, our societies are becoming increasingly mixed, and in some places we are close to a fully open online world. Society is not what it was before, and inter-society “cross-pollination” is happening more often. So, we can’t tuck away ideas online if they are openly discussed elsewhere. By doing so, a populous remains suppressed and the censorship can lead to backward thinking of the collective, holding the society back. I’m not saying we should force certain ideas onto people (whether good or bad), but I am saying that if someone wants to discuss/share their own thoughts freely they should be able to do so without repercussions on platforms where people are not forced to listen (like this blog!).

I recognize that some private sites are almost considered public services now (I use Facebook/Messenger everyday) and the ads on these sites really are being forced on you; we can be manipulated if we aren’t careful. But regardless of this, people should be free to have discussions. I hope that naturally these malicious sites will come and go as peoples’ trusts sway and we learn about the web’s rabbit-holing tactics.


Let’s imagine for a second that you can access anything online. The good, the bad, and even the ugly. You will probably choose to read/watch/listen what you find interesting or content that suits your persona (unless you are berated by propaganda/tailored ads – that’s a topic for another day). If someone shares an idea with you in this world, whether bad or good, you can always look it up. Now what happens if the information that is available to you is different from what is available to your peers, e.g. people living in another country?

As an example, imagine you’re in a class and given an assignment: write 10,000 words on religion. You might write about your own experiences with religion, or focus on one particular branch of faith, but you probably would do at least some of your own research on the topic starting with Google/Wikipedia and learning about other people’s perspectives. Now, what if this particular topic is unsearchable where you are? Or your search results depended on your IP address (which is already the case)? Well, the playing field in the class is uneven, and the assignment doesn’t seem fair anymore. Taking this a step further, what happens when some group of people get to decide what information is deemed appropriate and for whom?

There are two points I want to focus on now:

  1. To be able to perform at the highest level, you require the full, unfiltered information.
  2. The people deciding who gets to listen/speak on the internet always have too much power.

To be able to perform at the highest level, you require the full, unfiltered information.

If you want to avoid re-inventing the wheel you require access to the latest-and-greatest information. This is especially true in science & technology, but why not extend this concept to society and how we live? Why wouldn’t you want your own team to have the most up to date information from all over the world? For a society to thrive, we need to be able to obtain unfiltered information from as many sources as possible so that information “shocks” are dissipated over a large number of people; so that the bad ideas get filtered out through discussion. For example, take same-sex relationships. Regardless of how you feel about them, or even whether-or-not you know about them, they exist. So what happens when someone (e.g. a government) censors material portraying or discussing these types of relationships when they are being portrayed elsewhere in the world? The censored society is left behind and “stuck in the past”. They do not progress, and the population (on average) becomes less tolerant of the censored topic because they have never learned, or had lived experience (even via reading/watching/listening) regarding these things. This type of censorship can cause some serious harm on both sides, and this harm is the main reason why I believe that people should freely be able to read and write whatever they want, and doubly so online.

People whose identities are repressed in a society can experience bullying, intense feelings of shame, mental stress and, in some cases, are put in unfortunate and dangerous situations. This has been repeated throughout history and I am sure you can think of your own examples. On the other side of the aisle, people who are not given full information or sensitized to certain global topics are exacerbated when presented with it in an uncontrolled environment (e.g. via travel), which can induce intense reactions (culture shock, fear) because they are not ready for it, no one prepared them for it, and no one could have if the material was hushed where they lived!

"I have lived a thousand lives and I've loved a thousand loves. I've walked on distant worlds and seen the end of time. Because I read." - George RR Martin

Maybe I am naive, but I do not think people are inherently bad, only that those we think are “bad” are misinformed or ignorant, which lets the needle in their moral compass to go awry. The problem is that people have not empathized with the other side. Sometimes it’s hard to do so because of language barriers, geography… But this isn’t the case online. In a perfect world, I imagine the internet as a place where all views are held equal and the consumers decide what they want to indulge in, learn about, or empathize with. This would mimic a conversation in real life: don’t like it? Disagree? Discuss, or walk away. There is no forcing of people to listen only to certain views, or suppressing people from formulating and sharing ideas.

In my ideal world, we all, as adults, get to decide on what material we ingest and what we share on platforms. This is the internet, an augmentation of our world without borders. Let people share what they want! It will regulate itself over time if you trust in people to educate themselves freely – which is also increasingly accessible, lovely!

The people deciding who gets to listen/speak always have too much power.

This is true by construct. If you believe that all people should be treated equally, then anything you think you deserve should be given to the rest of the population as well, i.e. who gets to say what material you should/shouldn’t ingest as an adult? The person making the decision to ban certain material already knows about it, and maybe has already accessed that information. I’m not arguing for no-moderators, allowing hate speech, or the Wild West online; I’m arguing against mass censorship. If a site is live, and a moderator/admin of that site wants to remove posts, I think that this is fine. It is their site after all (think of Twitter removing accounts, Reddit removing subreddits …), and if enough people disagree with the moderator’s decisions, then they are able to move away to another corner of the internet, and start their own sites which is now becoming easier than ever.

Having a central organization trying to censor the whole internet is scary. They can choose what histories to show, what opinions to allow etc… Don’t even get me started on the even scarier thought of algorithms governing our web access.

Banning the idea of something is… strange

I visited Berlin in 2018 and it was eye-opening. I learned a lot about Hitler/Nazism and the atrocities of the Holocaust. None of it was hidden away, and the Germans talked about it openly. They discussed what went wrong and why they do things a certain way today. I wish that this were the case around the world. Where people are allowed to acknowledge their mistakes, learn from them, and move on. All ideas (even when flawed) are talked about, and this is what leads to progress. If we cannot discuss ideas freely, then we cannot move forward, wholly, as a society.

In closing, we should never stop people from learning and opening up their minds, or sharing their experiences and thoughts freely. Let people decide what information they want to trust, and from what sources. This will take time, and it won’t be something we learn to do online over a single generation. But, we have to move in this direction because the alternative is not sustainable in this modern world, and the cons of mass censorship online outweigh the short term benefits it may bring.

This post’s image is a photograph I took of some artwork on the Berlin Wall.

I’ve been focusing on the internet here because it’s easier for me to explain freedom of speech within this context, but really I am advocating for free speech in all situations where people are not forced to listen. I apologize to you now if these thoughts were scattered, I figured that this is an informal site and I would rather post this without spending too much time editing (and deleting) the whole post. Please do point out any holes in my logic, or share your thoughts! I would love to hear from you.