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ESSA X Cainz Debate: That censorship is necessary for a functional society.

March 27, 2021
Editor(s): Oliver Soo
Writer(s): Jason Suhartanto, Julia Hu, Yee Xuan

Disclaimer

*The speakers in this article are competitive debaters, and therefore the views expressed may not necessarily represent their beliefs or the beliefs of the organisation they belong to.*


First Affirmative (Nigel Pereira)

To expose a child to the raw animalistic nature of humanity is dysfunctional and horrendous. How can we nurture future generations if we affront them with emotionally, psychologically and morally questionable arts?

Censorship is a means of protecting and ushering a productive generation. Censorship is the prohibition of art forms that are considered obscene or a threat to security.

Censorship has been around since the ancient kingdoms; a notorious example is the Greek myth of Pandora’s Box. An artifact that colloquially represents a present which may seem valuable but is in reality a dreadful curse. Yes, curiosity is wonderful, but didn’t it also kill the cat? Closed doors can act as our opportunities but there are some doors that are closed for a reason. Look behind every door is an opportunity, but what form does that opportunity take may not always be in our advantage. Censorship provides a metaphoric door to aspects of society that society, itself, is frightened by. Let’s say we do allow public nudity or openly present texts about necrophilia and suicide are we not encouraging a form of anarchy? Then does it not elicit by using selecting what works are openly available we weave structure and stability into society. Censorship helps society build a secure wall where people can thrive, albeit censorship does not entirely restrict citizens from learning the truth but acts as a mere barrier to accidental wanderers.

Imagine a world where censorship didn’t exist, a world that promotes illicit drugs and illegal happenings. Not only is there a contrived depiction of freedom but it’s a world where every corner you turn you run the risk of confronting disturbing art. For example, confronting people shooting up in the office space doesn’t only derail the productivity in the office, but creates unwelcome associations of your environment. The purpose of coming to work is then disrupted and hence the practical and collaborative workspace has been run amok with fragments of nostalgia to your early university days and a different time in your life. Censorship creates a conservative crevice. One where humanity can work to achieve their full potential without potential mishap of stumbling onto material which they had no intention, nor purpose, of uncovering. Censorship is parents to us even when we become the adults. 


First Negative (Jason Suhartanto)

The most fundamental reason why censorship is not necessary is simple: the existence of societies and nations that can thrive without these constricting practices.

Many argue that censorship prevents the spread of unwanted information like hate speech (racist, sexist, homophobic and other), conspiracy theories, or terror. While this is true, censorship is not a sustainable long-term solution for these problems. As a society, we must identify the underlying issues here, then create a well-educated society where people do not feel inclined to participate in the distribution of hate speech, terror and/or conspiracies. This is well illustrated by the continued fight against racial injustice in America. Rather than censor the injustices many African American people have experienced throughout history, many Americans are working to ensure that future generations treat one another equally and recognise the ills of the past for what they are. This is a clear reminder that a society grows more resilient when its members recognise the true facts opposed to selectively chosen ones.

In essence, the necessity of censorship comes down to whether people can distinguish truth from falsehoods. In an economically and socially developed country like Australia, we reject the idea that citizens cannot handle or do not deserve the full truth and only the truth. Meanwhile in developing countries, if issues like misinformation are tackled with the practice of censorship, this may create more opportunities for the abuse of power rather than solving the underlying problems. As explained by Charren (1993)[1], creating a proper education system is more effective than censorship because no public trust is sacrificed. While censorship may restrict certain risks associated with misinformation and harmful language, such benefits are countered by the limitation of freedom of thought. Censorship creates a world where people feel less inclined to innovate and push boundaries out of the fear that society will punish them for challenging what censors dictate is truth.

We must recognise that a censored society is one that obliges to a system controlled by powerful institutions, in which the system is not driven by the interests of society even if on paper it says so. This concentration of power could easily lead to the abuse of power by the regulator. In a world driven by power, regulators could use their authority and influence to fulfill their own personal interests instead of creating a functional and free society.


Second Affirmative (Diego Machillanda)

There exists no country in the world without some degree of censorship. This is because every contemporary society has deemed it necessary in one way or another.

Although the word ‘censorship’ may have a nasty connotation, it is often an unquestioned fact of life. Censorship does not only suppress taboo material and hate speech; it also suppresses misleading advertising, the use of copyrighted material, and unjust defamation. After all, to censor fundamentally means to supress expression – but genuinely free, unbridled expression would be incompatible with any existing society.

That aside, censorship in the more current sense – against online hate speech, radicalisation, conspiracy theories – is necessary for societal wellbeing. While it is true that censorship without education will not solve the issues underlying these phenomena, censorship is crucial in curbing their damaging influence. For example, Facebook has long been accused of facilitating far-right extremism and political misinformation, which the data seems to support: a recent study has found that U.S. far-right news sources on the platform significantly outperform others, especially those which peddle misinformation. With their success radicalising American users and contributing to the nation’s hyperpolarisation, the need for greater censorship of misinformation is evident. Indeed, the events of January 6 may epitomise the dangers of insufficient censorship, and are hardly characteristic of a ‘functional society’.

This thriving proliferation of online misinformation clearly demonstrates that people cannot always distinguish truth from falsehood. In fact, another recent study has explicitly tested this, finding that their participants could identify fake news with only a 64% success rate. This is a testament to the realities of the digital age, where it is impossible for our society to cope with its overabundance of unverified information without the assistance of censorship. And while there are real, authoritarian dangers with excessive censorship, there are also real, anarchic dangers with zero censorship. ‘Freedom of thought’ is central to our liberal democracies, but it ought not extend to ‘freedom to mislead’. There is a reason why Facebook has censored MP Craig Kelly’s posts on COVID-19 – because his misinformation defies medical advice and poses a preventable danger to society.

Censorship exists all around us, in ways we seldom realise and usually take for granted. It’s in the advertisements we see, the curation of news by reputable media companies, and the delivery of clear and reliable medical advice. It would be impossible to envision a functioning society without it.


Second Negative (Julia Hu)

By painting society as a frail child in need of protection, the affirmative team would have you believe that censorship will protect the public by hiding content deemed frightening or disgusting. However, they have failed to consider how little it does to actually unify people, and instead creates channels for further discontent and extremist behaviour. 

The affirmative team suggests that censorship prevents the proliferation of harmful information, however, it also removes the modes of communication necessary to challenge and educate mis-informers. Censorship removes the voice and agency for action from targeted groups to combat abhorrent content, and instead infantilizes them as helpless people unable to defend themselves. Additionally, it drives the propagators of harmful content into more subversive avenues of communication where they are free from accountability and constructive debate. This can be explicitly seen in Twitter’s mass censorship of the QAnon community. While this has protected the average Twitter user from uncomfortable, extremist content, it has also driven QAnon members into safe havens, such as Gab, Parler and Telegram, where they remain unchallenged and revel in their own limited spheres of communication. The lack of exposure to differing opinions and the reinforcement of stubborn personal belief systems creates destructive echo chambers. When members of these enclosed spaces eventually leave their safe havens, their disagreements with others inevitably escalate into intense and uncivil conflicts that are a drain on society. In this way, censorship leads to a dysfunctional society in the long-term, where any opportunity to dismantle and debunk harmful content when it arises is forfeited. It is counterproductive to always default to censoring content when it is incorrect or misleading, as to truly be stopped, it must be challenged and defeated in an open forum for all to see.

Furthermore, censorship creates opportunities for the abuse of power, as the public has restricted access to arenas of authority, making definitions of ‘harmful content’ easily manipulated. For example, Thailand’s lese-majeste law prohibits insulting the monarchy, and has been used to criminally charge people for sharing critical commentaries on the monarch. In this instance, the definition of “insulting” is flexible, and can be used to censor and punish anyone the Junta views as a threat. If society relies on censorship to instil safety, then it gives itself away to vague laws, an ever-expanding bracket of censorable content, and an increasingly authoritarian body of power.

Hence, censorship is not necessary for a functional society, as it can in fact inhibit the lives of many people and communities. Indeed, in the long run, censorship can not only inadvertently grow the very things it is trying to censor, but also harm the groups it is trying to protect. 


Third Affirmative (Nigel Pereira)

By all means the negative team would have you believe that censorship is not necessary because it does X, Y and Z. But the affirmative team, would have you decide for yourself where you stand on this debate.

The second speaker conduces that censorship does little to unify people, but that begs the question of how practical any restriction is in when your nation is already unstable and government unreliable. Censorship is by no means a form of stabilisation or a platform where people can gather and come together. Rather, it is a protocol that fosters and collaboratively shows a consensus for sophistication and understanding of social etiquette.

Additionally, the negative team suggests that censorship removes mode of communication necessary to challenge and educate mis-informers. Ironically, it is just the opposite. Censorship builds nuances and structural integrity to what content is deemed as misinformation, and hence ‘mis-informers’ contend their opinion on the subject matter only after it is censored. Therefore, suggesting that censorship adds to subtle structural systems to communication channels.

Beyond this, the negative team further suggests that censorship is counterproductive and to truly stop abhorrent content it must be challenged and defeated. The affirmative team would like to applaud the childish naivety that Cainz revels in. The heroic romanticism at ESSA isn’t as misguided, as that of Cainz. We understand that to due to the nature of flow many things do can never truly be stopped. They merely die down before they resurface. For example, freedom, you can try to create a dictatorship or totalitarian state only to realise the whispers of coups or rebellion surround you as you rise up to power. Natural law dictates that the optimal route would be to rewire content, as censorship does, rather than try to control/brainwash people into believing that X content needs to be squandered and defeated.

Censorship provides a safeguard, there’s no question about that. However, we, the affirmative team, would like to go that one step further and suggest that censorship creates a medium which absorbs negative externalities and hence makes society a more operable and appropriately comfortable place to be. Therefore, the motion stands, censorship is indeed necessary for a functional society.


Third Negative (Yee Xuan Chai)

Censorship may indeed be implemented as a means of compassion and protection of society. However, it is naïve to believe that those in power are completely justified in selecting that which should be censored. Determining what is right from wrong is inherently an individual decision and slight incompatibilities in ideals and beliefs may drive wildly differing conclusions. The affirmative stresses the importance of halting the spread of misinformation and the ability to provide the public with what is the ‘truth’. But under what pretence allows for a singular centralized figure to control all information on the matter.

Throughout history there have been cases where those in control may choose to restrict information from the public or outright lie under the guise of protection. A prime example was the Pentagon Papers, where in which the United States chose to hide critical information on their operations in Vietnam to protect themselves from ‘humiliating’ defeat and to ‘emerge from the crisis without unacceptable taint from methods used’[1]. This of course was to protect societal integrity and trust within the people; however, it shows how compassion and protection can be subverted into deception from the very group we must believe in. Censorship under the rationale of public compassion and protection does not go hand in hand with representing truth. Without truth, who are we to say that we are correct in our own actions.

Blindly trusting censorship is not reasonable as it is easily liable in suppressing the truth. Indeed, it may act as a means of controlling those involved. As a further example, let us look at recent events such as the military coup d’état in Myanmar[2]. A new draft bill may be passed which enables the government’s ability to control and censor information available on the internet[3]. In a fragile society where both governing powers wholeheartedly have their own versions of the truth, it is dangerous that one has the power to suppress the other’s information. Consistent information between both parties is critical and having a one-sided version risks repeating history long past. Information, knowledge, is power. If you can control information, you can control people[4].

To allow censorship is to wholly believe and trust in those you entitle the rights with. It is impossible to expect a centralized figure to consistently control what information is deemed ‘correct’ for the people, thereafter this motion fails to stand.


Citations:

[1] Corell, J. T. (2007, February 1). The Pentagon Papers. Air Force Magazine. https://www.airforcemag.com/article/0207pentagon/

[2] Myanmar coup: Aung San Suu Kyi detained as military seizes control (2021, February 1). BBC News. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-55882489

[3] Sasipornkarn, E. (2021, February 15). Myanmar coup: Military hardens online censorship campaign. Deutsche Welle. https://www.dw.com/en/myanmar-coup-military-hardens-online-censorship-campaign/a-56574941

[4] Tom Clancy Quotes. (n.d.). BrainyQuote.com. Retrieved March 23, 2021, from BrainyQuote.com Website: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/tom_clancy_290236

The CAINZ Digest is published by CAINZ, a student society affiliated with the Faculty of Business at the University of Melbourne. Opinions published are not necessarily those of the publishers, printers or editors. CAINZ, our Partners and the University of Melbourne do not accept any responsibility for the accuracy of information contained in the publication.

Meet our authors:

Oliver Soo
Editor

Oliver is a second year Bachelor of Commerce student. He is interested in business, politics and science and hopes to improve his written communication skills by writing for Cainz Digest. When not focusing on Uni commitments he is either digesting world news, participating in some form of sport or reading a book.

Jason Suhartanto
Writer
Julia Hu
Writer
Yee Xuan
Writer